CORVALLIS, Ore. - Dreams of careers in science are a little more in reach for six Oregon State University students receiving scholarships through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Multicultural Scholars Program.

The scholarships provide recipients with up to four years of tuition and a paid internship and/or research experience.

The Multicultural Scholars Program is designed to increase the number of students from traditionally underrepresented groups in the food and agricultural sciences. All of the OSU scholars will work toward bachelor's degrees in bioresource research, an interdisciplinary sciences program with an emphasis on mentored research. Students in the program may choose from 13 different study options, focusing on topics from water resources to toxicology.

The new MSP scholars are:

• Cynthia Le of Hillsboro

• Jorge Lopez-Contreras of Eugene

• Charlie Ta of Portland

• James Thomas of Corvallis

• Elyssa Trejo of College Station, Texas

• Jose Solis-Ruiz of Forest Grove


"The USDA Multicultural Scholars Program grant enables students from underrepresented minority groups to not only have scholarships to attend college, but also provides them the opportunity to enhance their educational experiences at Oregon State University through involvement in our outstanding Bioresource Research major," said Sonny Ramaswamy, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences.

"The major offers a 'high touch, high impact' opportunity of mentored research experiential learning to the students," he added.

Most of the students involved in the Multicultural Scholars Program are the first in their family to attend college, said bioresource research adviser Wanda Crannell.

"Through this program we can increase their ability to graduate and help prepare them for employment opportunities in areas with shortages," Crannell said. "To improve retention and graduation rates, it's imperative that first generation college students have additional support, whether that's in terms of scholarship assistance, social belonging, or professional development."

Students are already getting started on their studies with summer internships. Sophomore Charlie Ta, working under the guidance of OSU professor and USDA researcher Inga Zasada, is developing a technique to detect viruses in nematodes, or roundworms. Zasada said the work has an economic impact because the nematodes can pass viruses to small fruits.

The MSP students will also participate in the OSU chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS).

Crannell said the Bioresource Research program has an excellent track record of sending students on to advanced opportunities.

"Within three years, more than 60 percent of the graduates have gone on to graduate school," she said. "Generally, graduates seeking placement have found it in either graduate programs or jobs, typically within three months of graduating."

A similar group of MSP students received funding beginning fall 2009. Five of the six are still enrolled at OSU; one out-of-state student, returned home to continue her education and a replacement scholar was named. All of the 2009 MSP scholars have completed internships, attended national MANRRS conferences and serve as regional or chapter MANRRS officers.

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Wanda Crannell, 541-737-2999