UTIA Launches Fellowship to Help Meet Projected Employment Shortfall

Jan 03, 2023

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) has received a grant to launch a new graduate fellowship program aimed at preparing the next generation of leaders in international agriculture. 

A projected 60,000 job openings are anticipated between 2020-2025 in agricultural related fields; however, only 31,000 graduates are projected to enter the workforce. The majority of this shortfall is expected to occur in agricultural management and economics, prompting the launch of the fellowship program. 

The Institute’s new program will provide master’s-level training to support six students from fall 2023 to summer 2025. The training will include course instruction to develop analytical and leadership skills and a fully funded, two-week, special international study in Southeast Asia coordinated through the Institute’s Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture. Additionally, the fellowship training will include international thesis research and professional development. Graduates will earn a master’s degree with a concentration in international trade and development.

The $262,000 grant is funded by the National Needs Fellows, a competitive grant program provided by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). 

David White, interim dean of the Herbert College of Agriculture, appreciates the timing of the funding.
“Students across the nation are entering their final undergraduate semester and considering their next steps after graduation,” he says. “This program will help our college attract highly qualified students motivated to join the next generation of agricultural leaders.”

 “The ultimate goal is to prepare the fellows for public policy and programmatic positions within the federal government,” says Andrew Muhammad, Institute professor and Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy. “These critical positions include international trade and policy analysts, foreign agricultural attachés, development project managers, and other federal positions related to global food and agriculture.”

Muhammad and Tom Gill, director of the UTIA Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture, will serve as co-principal investigators for the grant. 

The USDA’s strategic plan stresses the importance of addressing staffing needs to advance global opportunities for U.S. agriculture. The U.S. exported nearly $180 billion in 2021. Supporting these exports are federal staff, here and abroad, who establish connections for U.S. interests and provide data and analysis to improve decision making in the public and private sectors. Federal staff is also necessary to continue advancing global food security.
Fellows will enroll in a master’s degree program in either the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics or the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications. The fellowship establishes a new concentration in international agricultural trade and development and will serve as the foundation of its new master’s program at the Institute. The program will prioritize the recruitment of qualified students from historically underserved groups. More information is available on the UTIA Smith Center’s website.
Hongwei Xin, dean of UT AgResearch, adds that all students who successfully complete the fellowship will be poised to make significant contributions to agriculture and the global society.

“Those who receive a master’s degree through this fellowship may well help guide the future development of national agricultural policy as well as international trade agreements that may affect the world’s food and fiber industries, and thus the quality of life for us all,” he says.

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