The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has virtually launched its “Three Sisters Project,” a new educational outreach effort to ensure a steady pipeline of fresh ideas, talent and diversity to the ranks of tomorrow’s scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians and other professionals.

In agricultural jargon, “’The Three Sisters’” are crops planted together in a shared space: maize, beans, and squash,” said ARS administrator Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young during the project’s virtual launch. “Developed through indigenous agricultural practices, these three plants protect and nourish each other in different ways as they grow and provide a solid diet for their cultivators.”

In the same way, ARS’s Three Sisters Project will engage its scientists and national program staff in fostering opportunities for urban high school students across the country to explore careers in agricultural science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields overall.

ARS will start a pilot phase of the project with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS), whose students will participate in various learning activities with scientists from laboratories in the agency’s Midwest Area and with Office of National Program leaders headquartered in Beltsville, Maryland.

Jacobs-Young said CHSAS was a natural choice to partner with given the robustness of the college preparatory school’s agricultural program and focus on helping students from across the city of Chicago to develop marketable skills and college-level competencies.

The program’s curricula expose participating students to everything from agricultural finances and economics, to mechanics, food technology and animal science.

Student-enrichment activities will include:

  • Virtual seminars with students.
  • ARS laboratory field trips. 
  • Science fair consultations and competitions.
  • Experiential training for faculty.
  • Cohort mentoring sessions.

The Agricultural Research Service is the USDA’s chief scientific in-house research agency.


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