Washington State University students from diverse backgrounds are helping change the face of agriculture through involvement in Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS).
Entering its fourth year at WSU, the student organization launched two new scholarships in 2021 while helping members stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Helping diverse students succeed
Minorities are underrepresented in agriculture—while nearly 4 in 10 Americans are non-white, only about 7 percent of U.S. farmers are from a minority. MANRRS is a national society that promotes academic and professional advancement for minorities in agriculture, environmental, and connected disciplines. Student leaders created the WSU chapter in the spring of 2018.
“MANRRS provides opportunities to network, gain confidence, and build leadership experience,” said Aranza Arroyo-Mejia, an incoming junior and current chapter president. Chapter members connect with diverse fellow students and professionals in their field, and find support for success in studies and careers.
“Many of our members are first-generation college students who are trying to learn what college is all about, find opportunities, and get to know what is out there for them,” said Stephanie Olivera, past chapter vice president and a past scholarship recipient.
While some members are new to agriculture, others have personal experience, or parents and relatives who support their families through production agriculture. MANRRS members work to change the narrative for minorities in agriculture. Involvement with the chapter helps students realize their potential to make a good career, give back to their community, and improve the field for all people.
“It can be daunting to enter the job market,” said Leo Orozco, a 2021 plant sciences graduate, first-generation student, and past WSU chapter president who is now entering a doctoral program at the University of Colorado. “For me, interviewing was a challenge. It was great to be able to network with people who are already in place who can help you navigate those waters.”
National conferences with agricultural leaders, organized through MANRRS, “give us the opportunity to see others that look like us, filling roles that we aspire to,” he added.
This year, the chapter received a $25,000 donation from Northwest Farm Credit Services. The gift helps fund an endowment that will support the chapter for years to come, a portion of which supports several annual scholarships for members.
“To Northwest Farm Credit Services, I’d like to say thank you so much on behalf of the chapter,” Arroyo-Mejia said. “Their support truly means a lot, and it will help us provide more support and opportunities for our members.”
The chapter also used student-raised funds to create a new scholarship named for its advisor, Dr. Colette M. Casavant.
“Colette is our club cheerleader—she kept us in contact during the lockdown and helped us become closer as a chapter,” Olivera said. “Those were some of the reasons we named the scholarship for her.”
“There wouldn’t be a club without her,” added Haylee Hafey, a Casavant scholarship recipient. “She really pushed for us to keep going as a club. While we’re small, we’re impactful.”
Scholarships help students meet the financial needs of study, but they also help show the value of MANRRS.
A WSU junior, Hafey will use the scholarship to pay for books and online courses while gaining leadership skills as social media chairperson for the club.
“I am really thankful for this opportunity,” she said. “Being in MANRRS has meant a lot to me. Being an ally and a voice for those who have faced adversity really resonates.”
“As a woman and a person who is multiracial, I feel like I have a part to play,” added fellow scholarship recipient and Animal Sciences pre-veterinary student Darya Maysam. She joined the chapter to discover opportunities and encounter others on a similar path.
Thanks to the efforts of groups like MANNRS, “we will see more minority students get degrees, be successful, and return to agriculture as a career.”
Making real connections, virtually
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the chapter met on Zoom every two weeks, staying connected through texts, social media posts, and fun activities, such as playing the team-based survival video game “Among Us” as a club. The virtual connections have helped members succeed during a challenging year.
“The biggest way we support each other is just by sharing our knowledge,” Maysam said. Besides sharing resources and opportunities, “we ask how our day is going, how exams are going, and check in with each other. It’s good to have that social support.
With restrictions easing, members hope to expand opportunities to hear speakers, attend national conferences, and offer additional scholarships.
“I’m very excited to be back on campus this fall to recruit new MANRRS members, and look forward to the future of MANRRS at WSU,” Arroyo-Mejia said.
“We’re always looking for members,” Maysam said. “If you want to join a group that really cares about what you’re doing and wants you to succeed, MANRRS is the club for you.”
- To learn more about MANRRS-WSU, or get involved, contact Dr. Colette Casavant, CAHNRS Director of Student Success, at email@example.com or by phone at (509) 335-8406.