June 7, 2004 Seven V. I. youths embarked Monday at around noon on an eight-week study of sustainable agriculture. The students left in two groups, four students from St. Croix and three from St. Thomas.
Julie Wright, project coordinator with the V.I. Resource Conservation and Development Council, said the students were enthusiastic about the trip.
When the group was departing from St. Croix, she had been worried that Kendall Petersen Jr. was going to be late. However, the opposite was true. He had gotten to the airport so early that he was already through customs and checked in before the others arrived.
The two groups were to meet in San Juan and make the rest of the trip to Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss., together.
There they will take part in the Summer 2004 Sustainable Agriculture Training Institute. The Institute is a training program tailored specifically for the youths, based on their interests in veterinary science, agri-tourism, hydroponics, sustainable and organic agriculture, and agri-business and marketing.
The other six students are Sekou George, Akiz Jackman and Anubi Davis Kahina from St. Croix; and Shamika George, Monique Fahie and Mark Saunders from St. Thomas.
The students competed for the scholarships, providing information on their areas of interest and backgrounds in the agricultural field. A grant provided by the USDA Forest Service/ International Institute of Tropical Forestry funded the students' travel, room and board, and a stipend as well as the training provided by Alcorn.
"This is the first opportunity of its kind for V. I. youngsters to attend an intensive agriculture training program. It addresses a void because the curriculum that used to be implemented in the V. I. public school system no longer exists, except in a fragmented form in St. Croix. Therefore, students do not graduate from 12th grade with an interest, enthusiasm or orientation towards agricultural science. As a result of this program, we expect our students to be exposed to a broad spectrum of career opportunities in agricultural science," Dr. Louis Petersen, project coordinator, stated.
The Institute training includes modules on soil science, agri-business and marketing, aquaculture, livestock production, fruit and vegetable crop production, veterinary medicine, biotechnology, plant pathology, and honeybee production. Training will be provided through classroom lectures, hands-on field and laboratory exercises and technical tours of university facilities and surrounding farms. The students will receive continuing education units for all courses that they successfully complete.
Alcorn project leaders have also scheduled outings and activities for the students, including a campus tour, barbeque, a trip to a fair in the neighboring town of Natchez, and a trip to New Orleans. "This program sounds so interesting, I want to go!" one parent said.
According to a release from the council, the Institute sponsors hope that the experience will encourage the students to pursue careers in agriculture, even possibly enrolling at Alcorn University full-time. "Our ultimate hope is that they will be inclined to continue their studies after they complete this training," said Dr. Petersen. "We also hope that this will be the first of many such opportunities, and that these students will set the standard for future opportunities."
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