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SIU honors students will participate in USDA-funded initiative on food and sustainability

Students remove weeds from a raised garden bed.
Photo provided
University Communications and Marketing
A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to multiple universities, including SIU Carbondale, will address food and sustainability. Here, workers tend to vegetable beds at University Farms.

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale honors students will participate in a three-year nationwide program starting this fall aimed at developing innovative teaching and holistic approaches relating to food, climate justice and sustainable agriculture.

SIU is one of 14 universities and colleges in The Justice Challenge: Engaging Students in the Future of Food, Climate, and Sustainable Agriculture, funded by a $749,977 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The University Honors Program is recruiting students through April 1 to participate in what Jyotsna Kapur, director, sees as a “celebration of success” for the campus and the program. Because the grant specifically targets honors program students, those students will be familiar with the three aspects of an honors education — interdisciplinary enquiry, collaborative working and community engagement, Kapur said.

“In that sense, it is quite unique as students will be working with other honors students across disciplines and locations,” she said. If non-honors students are interested in participating in this opportunity, they are encouraged to consider joining the honors program. Information on joining the program can be found at honors.siu.edu.

The distinguishing characteristics of an honors education — a curriculum that fosters comprehensive and collaborative exploration of fundamental problems and values service to the community — was “the guiding principle for this collaborative effort,” Kapur said. “Working with honors students from across the nation will empower our students to work with others in tackling complex problems facing us today.”

Interdisciplinary effort

Eric Brevik, dean of the College of Agricultural, Life, and Physical Sciences, sees the interdisciplinary work as an important piece of the program.

“This is an excellent initiative that touches on multiple parts of our college and university. It will help train students to address pressing issues that society must face going forward,” he said.

Initial program begins in fall 2023

The initial Grand Challenge Scholars Institute begins with 150 students for the fall 2023 semester; over the three years, more than 500 honors students from throughout the nation are expected to participate. SIU students interested in joining the program should reach out to honors@siu.edu.

While not directly a part of the USDA-funded program, but affiliated with the theme of food justice, Kapur said, SIU will separately offer an honors seminar, Global Political Economy of Food, taught by Wanki Moon, a professor in agribusiness economics, during the spring 2024 semester. There will also be a hackathon conducted by Jeb Asirvatham, an associate professor in agriculture economics, in spring 2024 at a date and topic still to be determined.

Participating institutions

There are four official host institutions for the grant: South Dakota State University, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University and Virginia Tech. In addition to SIU Carbondale, participating institutions include Binghamton University-State University of New York, California Lutheran University, Northern Illinois University, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Louisville, University of Montana, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and the University of Toledo.

”High-impact, collaborative, transformational learning experiences are hallmarks of honors education,” Rebecca Bott-Knutson, dean of honors at South Dakota State University and project director, said. “Imagine every honors student has access to the top content experts and educators in the nation/world. Further imagine that they have regular access to one another, collectively cultivating a comprehensive worldview, unrestricted by geography or financial need.”

For more information on SIU’s University Honors Program, contact Jyotsna Kapur at 618-453-2824.


Pete Rosenbery — arts and design, architecture, automotive and aviation, humanities, journalism and mass communications, law, public policy, social sciences.

SIU News is produced by University Communications and Marketing - 618-453-2589. Twitter: @SIUCNews
SIU News is produced by University Communications and Marketing - 618-453-2589. Twitter: @SIUCNews
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