Educational opportunities in math and science for students interested in bioenergy and bio-based products are the purpose of two new grants from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“Bioenergy and bio-based products hold vast potential as the foundation for new technologies and opportunities that could have a large impact on rural economies, but these innovations require a trained and skilled workforce to meet the needs of new ‘bio-economies,’” said Roger Beachy, director of NIFA. “These two significant investments will help jumpstart the U.S. education system towards ensuring that we have enough workers with the multi-disciplinary and problem-solving skill sets to help America address its energy challenges.”

NIFA awarded Corinne Rutzke at Cornell University $5 million to provide teachers from grades eight through the undergraduate level with a strong footing in multi-disciplinary content and research-based training materials and activities linked to the Northeast’s projected feedstock systems. Information will be shared to help teachers prepare students for the various career options available in the bioenergy and bio-based products field.

Rutzke will partner with researchers at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Delaware State University, Pace Law School and Ohio State University.

Richard Amasino from the University of Wisconsin received $4.7 million from NIFA to strengthen the regional K-16 education system, especially at underserved schools, by supporting teacher learning in matter, energy and ecosystem concepts. The project will also create opportunities for students to lead their own bio-energy research, focusing on a range of topics from sustainability to the chemistry of carbon cycles.

Partner schools include College of the Menominee Nation and Michigan State University.

Both projects are funded for five years through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. AFRI’s sustainable bioenergy challenge area funds grants targeting the development of regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy and bio-based products that contribute significantly to reducing dependence on foreign oil, have net positive social, environmental and rural economic impacts and are compatible with existing agricultural systems.

AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 farm bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: (1) plant health and production and plant products; (2) animal health and production and animal products; (3) food safety, nutrition and health; (4) renewable energy, natural resources and environment; (5) agriculture systems and technology; and (6) agriculture economics and rural communities.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. More information is available at: www.nifa.usda.gov.