Hispanic Heritage Month Profile: Alex Racelis | National Institute of Food and Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture


Friday, October 8, 2021

Alex E. Racelis, Ph.D., College of Texas Rio Grande Valley

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, USDA’s Nationwide Institute of Meals and Agriculture (NIFA) is that consists of a NIFA Hispanic-serving Institute (HSI) grant recipient, Alex E. Racelis, Ph.D.

Dr. Racelis serves as an affiliate professor at College of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School and Earth Environmental and Marine Sciences, Division of Biology.

Alex Racelis in a cotton area in Lyford, Texas. (Photograph: L. Richards)

Inform us Barely about your path into your current area. Who and/or what impressed you to pursue ecology or science extra usually?
As A toddler, I used to be On A daily basis fascinated by the pure world. I liked being outdoors and was fortunate to have An alternative To take movement, even rising up Inside the suburbs of San Diego, CA. I used to be free to journey my bike Throughout the neighborhood into undeveloped tracts of land, and my mom and father would frequently take me tenting. In exactity, now these tracts of land are Full of homes, And also you’d want to drive farther and farther To have The power To work together with nature. These enriching expertises strengthened in me an appreciation for the environment, which was fostered when enrolled Inside the College of California Santa Barbara.

My first course in Environmental Research exactly deepened my understanding of the functioning of ecomethods and The advantages we get from them and satisfied me To change from a pre-med diploma to a double primary in Environmental Research and Biology. In The subsequent 4 yrs of undergraduate studies, I took a quantity of experiential studying packages that gave me a variety of related expertises: wetland mapping in Colorado, wolf monitoring in Montana, science teverying at An space center school, estimating insect variety in espresso farms in Costa Rica, analyzing yard waste as mulch, and implementing organic administration of pests in avocado orchards. It was these expertises That basically assist solidify my ardour for the environmental and agricultural sciences, and To understand The differ of professions Inside the environmental and agricultural sciences.
Alongside The biggest method, I benefitted from a handful of influenceful teachers and mentors. These mentors not solely gave me The prospect to develop technical expertise and information in a sensible and related setting, However in addition coached me privately and expertly by way of the challenges Of greater education and influenceful, related scientific evaluation. All of them assisted me To know the significance of persistence, resolve, rigor, comardour, And selection and inclusion in each science and science-associated professions. Jim Dpersonaler, Frank Joyce, Thai Van, Min Rayamaji, David Bray, Deborah Letourneau, Erica Zavaleta, Margaret Fitzsimmons, and Steve Gliessman—Thanks!
You are a 2021 recipient of an HSI collaboration award. What’s the objective of your HSI enterprise and what influence do you hope it has In your institution and trainees?
The primary objective of this enterprise is to align the efforts of a quantity of Hispanic-serving Institutions in southern and central Texas Which have ongoing packages For tutorial enchancment and profession attainment of underrecurrented teams in areas associated to sustainability in agriculture, collectively with soil and water administration, horticulture, animal science, and complete farm methods. This consortium of HSIs have agreed to collaborate in particular strategies: (1) Enhance The regular of education at HSIs by creating A clear intra-state, a quantity of-level-of-entry roadmap for Highschool, associates, bachelors, and grasp’s scholars Considering about food, agriculture, and pure assets-associated studies. (2) Facilitate the influenceful teaching Of scholars across the consortium using an belongings-based mostly framework that highlights areaal alternatives and the cultural wealth of the area(3) Strengthen curricula at companioning institutions by way of cross-institutional commerce, collectively with annual choices of brief packages to be held every summer time at both College of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) or Texas State College; and (4) Put together scholars for professions Inside the globally aggressive U.S. agriculture enterprise by offering scholar experiential studying alternatives at companioning USDA enterprisees and completely different institutions, Which might improve technical and expert competencies for cross-sector employability. As You will Have The power To decide, most Of these goals are derived from My very personal expertise as a scholar, rooted in offering assist and alternatives for trainees To work together immediately and obtain expertises in agriculture associated evaluation, and supplementing these alternatives with direct mentorship And teaching.
HSIs are very numerous environments, not Only for Hispanic scholars, However in addition for completely different teams underrecurrented in science. Your teaching (undergraduate and graduate) has been at HSIs. What influence do you assume these environments have had In your teaching, and what are A pair of of The advantages you expertised being at an HSI as a scholar?

Racelis and the Agroecology Lab On the Hub of Prosperity Farm in Edinburg, Texas.

For no particular set off, I had two completely different schools in thoughts for my undergraduate studies. I can Inform you that after visiting each (That are not HSIs nor had A very numerous scholar physique), I referred to as UC Santa Barbara and requested In the event that they might nonetheless settle for my software—They typically did. I had The identical expertise with choosing A probability to pursue graduate studies—choosing Florida Worldwide College over two completely different non-HSIs for my grasp’s diploma, and College of California Santa Cruz over a couple completely different alternatives at non-minority serving institutions. In all three circumstances, I finally chosen the university wright here I felt most snug and invited—universities that have been minority-serving, wright here I might discover communities of completely different scholars of colour, and wright here Tright here have been university faculty and packages dedicated to fomenting A Technique of belonging in greater education and STEM for minority scholars.

And now, as a professor at Definitely one of many premier Hispanic-serving Institutions Inside the US, I’ve constructed upon these private expertises to objectively Try and welcome and embrace scholars of numerous backgrounds and views and create A strong sense of belonging in each my lab and in our packages. I primarily Do this by way of a teverying method that imparts scientific expertise and information by way of cultural relevance, experiential studying, and group engagement, and a scholarly framework focused on participatory evaluation That is inclusive, movement oriented, and areaally related. For A lot of minority, first-period scholars-collectively with myself- this strategy encourages A exact sense of belonging and social obligation, which are each primary anchors To assist scholars  persist Inside their studies and related professions.
How has the NIFA HSI Education Grants program shaped your expert enchancment as a scientist (both as a trainee or presently as a professor)?
In my first yr as a professor at UTRGV, I acquired a 2013 NIFA HSI Education Grant To assist assist curriculum enchancment, experiential studying, and networking For school youngsters Considering about agroecology. A yr after that, I companioned with A pair of former professors (now colleagues!) from Florida Worldwide College and completely differents from New Mexico State College on a 2014 NIFA HSI Collaboration Award to broaden agricultural science education by way of institutional commerce and interstate alliances. These grant-funded packages focused on offering instructional alternatives And shut mentorship For school youngsters—Simply like the alternatives I had As quickly as I used to be a scholar. In our Latest 2021 NIFA-HSI Collaboration Award, I companion with two former scholars who acquired here by way of these earlier grant funded packages at UTRGV and At the second are faculty at completely different HSI’s in Texas.

This enterprise, referred to as the South Texas Agricultural Roadmap in Teverying, Research, Education and Careers (STARTREC), Might be Definitely one of many first tasks wright here You’ve a quantity of durations Of school assisted by HSI packages! Ultimately, we levperiodge our shared expertise in food, agriculture, and pure assets-associated sciences with A private and an institutional dedication To current scholars across Southern and Central Texas equitable entry to education in agricultural, environmental, and sustainability sciences.
What suggestion to You’ve for current HSI scholars who Could Even be Considering about pursuing An identical profession path?
First, I might advocate For school youngsters To hunt out alternatives Rather than ready for them To return to you and Revenue from them when provided. This will imply doing evaluation That you merely didn’t assume Could be of particular curiosity or touring somewright here new as you attend a convention or expert meeting. These expertises can have An unimaginable influence In your enchancment, and Might assist develop A pair of of these expertise That are important in any profession: communication expertise, teamwork, essential assumeing, and so on.
Racelis and scholars prepping a donation to The scholar food pantry On the UTRGV Agroecology Research and Community Gardens in Edinburg, Texas. Photograph: K. Lavallee

Everytime You are in school, Search out A school mentor, one whom You understand can current you these alternatives, and who finally appreciates your contributions. Know that this a two-method relationship, wright here You’re anticipated to contribute and share as a lot as you study. This will be simpler at a minority-serving institution, wright here (Genperiodlly) faculty are inspired To Think about scholar enchancment Higher than, say, at completely different evaluation-focused institutions. That said, tright here are these caring faculty at every institution, However It is As a lot as you To Search out them!
Lastly, I like to advocate To every scholar: Embody your self with People who care about you and your enchancment, people whom you take pleasure in being round, and who Can additionally encourage you To primarytain engaged in your studies. This will imply becoming a member of A particular lab or scholar membership or collaborating in implyingful initiatives at your university. All by way of these events of social distancing, It’s That rather extra important to be socially engaged Inimmediately.
The theme for this yr’s Hispanic Heritage month is “Espperiodnza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope.” What hopes do You’ve On your area of science and its influences, and On your scholars?
In my program right here at UTRGV, I view teverying, evaluation, service, and group as inextricably linked parts of an constructed-in, instructional strategy. My hope is that when this constructed-in strategy is synergized with the cultural wealth of our scholars and our area, that finally our effort assists to broaden a workforce educated to pay attention, embrace, analyze, and act wright hereas working with farmers and completely differents To deal with the challenges we face right here in our area and past. These scholars will contribute a variety of expertise, worldviews, and attributes That are required To deal with complicated Factors with local climate change, biovariety loss, water and power insecurity, and hunger and weight problems—issues That alstrategies are compounded with financial and social inequality. I hope that by celebrating this constructed-in strategy and The scholars and communities who contribute to it, that We will all understand the significance of this work that finally advantages us all. 


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