- Field of Study: Horticulture
- Hometown: Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
- Fun fact: My dream career was to be an astrobotanist.
- View Stephanie's LinkedIn profile
What were you doing prior to your degree program?
Before this program, I was an Account Executive for a television station and contemplating pursuing a graduate degree.
What were the biggest obstacles you overcame in order to participate in the MPS program?
Coordination of my program and driving cross-country to Ithaca, NY. Accepting I was not as close to New York City.
Why did you choose to pursue the MPS degree?
One of my professors at University Reading in England urged me to diversify my education portfolio because each institution has its own philosophy and pedagogy. It's essential to have a variety of educational experiences. My mentor, Dr. Theodore Hymowitz from the University of Illinois, really emphasized the importance of networking and opening my world to infinite possibilities.
What were the strengths of your program, in your opinion?
With my ability to create and meld a specialized program combining international fieldwork, horticulture, and communication, I enjoyed engaging with a diverse group of professionals, professors, and students. This generated a supportive environment for me to thrive in and to design a program tailored to my personal and professional development.
What were some of the most rewarding moments while in your MPS program?
Having the opportunity to engage with the Garifuna community descendants of African-Caribbean. They are the largest minority or indigenous community in Honduras. Having discussions of social injustice and inequalities like the challenges of Black farmers and the Black community. I realize the importance of land management. Honduran farmers and communities living near forests harvest and burn trees to extract nutrients. The exploitation of natural resources and human capital by intermediaries buying coffee beans underpriced or low balled, thereby creating price margins, and farmers figuring how to finance their next crop. In comparison, the intermediaries price mark up of coffee sells. Coming into an epiphany that education, economic, and collaborative initiatives play a significant role in market development, entrepreneurship, and generational wealth.
Another example is the Garuifina, also known as Garinagu, a sizeable Afro-Caribbean population located on Honduras's coast. I was fortunate that they wanted to talk to me. We discussed the fact that they had similar challenges as farmers in the United States. Disparities of farmers' challenges, injustice, and poverty confirmed that typical problems pertain to a person of color’s land ownership, social injustice and exploitative process. How can I help land-rich people who may not have the resources or advocates to empower generational wealth and value of natural resources?
What did you do after earning your MPS degree?
I decided to pursue a master's degree at North Carolina State University studying Forestry. I wanted to focus on the question: “How can I help farmers create viable economic opportunities for farmers?"
How did your degree program impact your career path?
Small American farmers have similar economic development challenges common to Hondurans and other developing countries. I wondered: How can I use my education and help them find resources and other people who may want to farm and retain the land for generational wealth, education, and economic development? Realizing the challenges are fluid and dynamic in scope, I wanted to delve further into this subject matter. My second master's degree from North Carolina State University focused on tourism, heritage, and economic development. My doctorate from Alabama A&M University researched the impact of a heavy metal that causes cancer and how it impacted the environment and people living in Northern Alabama's urban communities.
What courses stand out as most helpful for your specific career goals?
My international course focused on how humans' culture, identity, and perceptions play an important role in how people view the environment and values their surroundings can correlate with learned behaviors with positive and negative impacts.
What professional organizations are you involved in?
That's a good one lately; I have been contemplating professional organizations. Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences has played an essential role in my academic career and also National Society of Black Engineers. I am a member of the following alumni associations: University of Illinois; Cornell University; North Carolina State University and the Alabama A & M University.
What advice would you give to your younger self embarking on the journey of graduate school?
Be prepared, negotiate your terms, and be flexible. Your advisor and committee members will sometimes encourage and challenge you to grow, think, and develop strategic goals and partnerships to change your perspective. Save money, be savvy, have no fear, and have faith that you will succeed even though you may feel you failed in your purpose and goals. Keep moving forward, keep positive, and continuously refine and remind yourself of your destination and purpose.
How did MPS experience changed you, both personally and professionally?
Professional goal: The program helped laser focus my next endeavor to pursue another master's and doctorate to empower disadvantaged communities in rural and urban communities. Realizing the importance and socioeconomic disparities in education and opportunities encourages me to make this one of my professional goals. I want to provide resources and funds to empower communities and development education tools to help empower nations. As a Program Specialist at NIFA, I support and empower land grant institutions by providing grant funding for an extension, teaching, retention, and development.
Personal goal: I valued education because my grandparents and parents emphasized the importance of education and opportunity. I am the first in my family to have received a doctorate. My doctorate is in plant and soil sciences, a master's degree in forestry, a field of study that young African Americans do not want to be in because of the long history of slavery in the United States of America. My nontraditional career path offered opportunities working at Walt Disney World Land Greenhouse, NASA, Meredith Corporation known for Better Homes and Gardens, to producing television shows at a public access network managing agriculture-related shows.