Rotary + Academia: Growing Win-Win-Win Opportunities

These partnerships are good for our work in Rotary, good for our communities, and good for the universities and their students.
Growing Next Generation FARMERS is a project made in partnership between Mission Rotary Club and the Mission Consolidated Independent School District with expert support provided by The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The FARMERS Program teaches teenagers from a predominantly agricultural community that agricultural careers can expand far beyond the fertile fields of South Texas into new opportunities in technology, science, food security, and social work.

By Elaine Hernandez, Ph.D. & Luis R. Torres-Hostos, Ph.D., members of Mission Rotary Club, Texas, USA

In our quest to understand the critical needs of our communities and to identify actions that our club can take in response to these needs, the Mission Rotary Club has tapped into a valuable resource that is right in our backyard and comes with no consulting fees attached: our local universities. Universities are typically large repositories of knowledge, expertise, skills, and resources, and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) is no exception. UTRGV is growing into a regional powerhouse with over 32,000 students across fourteen colleges and schools, over 1,300 faculty members, and deep expertise from business and entrepreneurship, engineering, computer sciences, and medicine, to social determinants of health and the arts. Many faculty and students have become Rotarians and have enriched our clubs.

We have identified the potential of university students undertaking studies of local conditions as part of their academic programs. The results of these studies can then be translated into an effective community needs assessment for any service projects, including those supported by a Rotary Foundation Global Grant. This has created a win-win-win opportunity in which Rotarians acquire evidence that can lead to successful projects and global grant applications, students receive academic credit toward graduation, and the university advances real-life applications of the knowledge being taught.

One example of this partnership at the local level is our study on food insecurity that identified the local trends in hunger and poverty, knowledge that was then incorporated into our U$50K Global Grant with the Mission Consolidated Independent School District (MCISD) entitled Growing Next Generation FARMERS. With support from The Rotary Foundation in 2022, Growing Next Generation FARMERS is a partnership of our Mission Rotary Club, several UTRGV units —including the School of Social Work, School of Environmental, Earth, and Marine Sciences, the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship, the Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement, and the UTRGV Office of Sustainability— and MCISD. Growing Next Generation FARMERS will teach high school students advanced approaches to food sciences—incorporating drones and greenhouse technologies—and help secure the next generation of food scientists.

FARMERS School garden at Veterans Memorial High School

On the global front, we have a growing partnership with all our UTRGV partners along with the Texas A & M University School of Public Health, Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (National Autonomous University of Honduras, UNAH in Spanish) Department of Social Work, and the Universidad Rafael Landívar Faculty of Health Sciences in Guatemala. With these partners, we are developing a new Global Grant proposal titled Growing Sustainable Aquaponics Programs in South Texas, Honduras, and Guatemala. For example, UNAH Social Work students are fulfilling their national service requirement by conducting community assessments in Quimistan, Santa Barbara, and La Libertad, Honduran municipalities that are experiencing significant out-migration. They are examining the social and economic factors that contribute to the out-migration of youth and the reintegration of returned migrants back into their communities. Participating students are placed with the local authorities to engage multiple stakeholders in diagnosing and prioritizing the needs of their communities, identify strategies municipalities can employ to prevent out-migration, and help to strengthen municipal development plans.

These partnerships are good for our work in Rotary, good for our communities, and good for the universities and their students. We must continue to forge these opportunities and leverage our combined expertise to address our most pressing problems. Partnering with university students, Rotary and Rotaract clubs can strengthen their capacity to conduct effective needs assessments that can lead to successful, well-designed service projects that address the root cause of local challenges.

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