Students in the San Diego Mesa College SEEDS program on a field trip in the Laguna Mountains.
A unique San Diego Mesa College program focused on increasing the number of Hispanic students studying science, engineering, and mathematics to help solve looming agricultural challenges is taking the classroom to the community.
The SEEDS Scholar Program – SEEDS is an acronym for STEM Engagement for Enrichment of Diverse Students – is bringing current and prospective SEEDS students to a variety of sites that include an innovative aquaponics farm in the North County city of Vista, a flourishing community garden in San Diego’s City Heights, and several areas in the Cleveland National Forest to see first-hand how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are intertwined with agricultural issues.
“We’re creating an interest in STEM fields through these field trips that are aimed at showing students the fun side of these subjects,” said Dr. Leticia López, a Mesa College Spanish professor who also serves as a co-coordinator of the SEEDS Scholars Program.
The most recent trip took place April 8 in the Laguna Mountains on the eastern edge of the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County where more than 20 Mesa College students who are either taking part or who are interested in taking part in the SEEDS Program met with U.S. Forest Service personnel. The U.S. Forest Service is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provided the funding for the four-year, $290,000 SEEDS grant. Field trips are funded through the grant and Mesa College.
Among those venturing to the mountains was Darian Gumper, a Mesa College student who is studying geography and is interested in working for the U.S. Forest Service.
“It was really informative,” Gumper said of the excursion. “We were able to talk to people in the Forest Service about how they got involved in their careers. They helped us understand the process and what’s required. They also gave us some tips on possible internships this summer.”
The SEEDS Program is aimed at attracting students from underrepresented communities to explore STEM fields defined as high-priority areas by the Department of Agriculture. Those include sustainability, global food security, and hunger. The program’s multidisciplinary approach prepares students to transfer to San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego. The curriculum includes courses in anthropology, nutrition, biology, geology, geography, and sustainable agriculture.
Field trips are funded through the Department of Agriculture grant, the San Diego Mesa Foundation, and the campus Student Success and Equity program.
In January, students explored Solutions Farm in Vista, a burgeoning operation that provides job training skills for the homeless in teaching them the latest aquaponics techniques. The farm sells its bounty of produce to local schools, and tilapia raised through the aquaponics process is sold at local farmers’ markets around the region.
That was followed with a field trip to a thriving community farm operated by the International Rescue Committee in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood. Two Mesa College students who took part in that trip are now working for the International Rescue Committee, Dr. López said.
“We’re very happy with the inroads the SEEDS Program is having,” Dr. López said.