New CFANS position hopes to diversify student body

Through the newly created position of Partnership Outreach Coordinator, CFANS hopes to get diverse youth across Minnesota engaged in agricultural education.

Khafre Jackson cuts a pineapple in an ecology class at Minneapolis North Community High School. The University of Minnesota recently hired Brandon Roiger, a former student, to work with the Growing North Project, an initiative to get Minneapolis high schoolers of color involved in environmental issues.

Courtesy of Brandon Roiger

Khafre Jackson cuts a pineapple in an ecology class at Minneapolis North Community High School. The University of Minnesota recently hired Brandon Roiger, a former student, to work with the Growing North Project, an initiative to get Minneapolis high schoolers of color involved in environmental issues.

Lew Blank

A former University of Minnesota student was hired this month to get pre-college students of color more involved in agricultural education at the University of Minnesota, where 68 percent of the student body is white.

Earlier this month, the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences created the Partnership Outreach Coordinator position and hired Brandon Roiger, a 2016 University graduate.

The position was created to build partnerships between CFANS and youth organizations across the state of Minnesota in order to eradicate disparities in the University’s agricultural education program.

“The basic premise of it is to engage new, nontraditional and diverse audiences and to generate increased interest in food, agriculture and natural resource careers,” Roiger said. “It’s really encouraging to see that the University is putting a priority on it to serve our state.”

According to fall 2017 enrollment data from the Office of Institutional Research, 72 percent of CFANS students are white, compared to 68 percent for the University as a whole.

Roiger hopes to make CFANS’ demographics more diverse by working directly with pre-college students from underrepresented backgrounds in the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.

Although only a few weeks into the position, Roiger has already begun work on the Growing North project, an initiative to engage multicultural students in north Minneapolis with food and agricultural issues.

The students, who are almost entirely students of color, have done hands-on CFANS-related work involving planting potatoes, making soda pop, cutting pineapples and planting trees.

“There’s … a whole array of career opportunities that most youth in a low-income community would have no knowledge of,” said Michael Chaney, the creator of the Grow North project. “The work that [Roiger] is doing is growing the next generation of growers, growing the next generation of [agriculture] educators.”

In the future, Roiger hopes to collaborate with diverse Minnesota youth through a variety of other organizations, including Appetite for Change, which uses food to build community in north Minneapolis, and the Green Garden Bakery, a youth-focused small business that grows and sells vegetable-based desserts.

Amy Smith, an assistant professor of agricultural education who works directly with Roiger, said CFANS — through this new position — is working to connect with students who are not involved in traditional agricultural-focused extracurricular groups, such as 4-H or Future Farmers of America.

Smith said these students can still be “fantastic educators, communicators or leaders in ag., food and natural resources.”

By reaching diverse students, Roiger hopes this recruiting process will make Minnesota’s agricultural educators more inclusive to reflect the makeup of the state as a whole.

“We don’t really have a very diverse teacher population in our state,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure that students can see themselves reflected in their teachers.”