Gary Altman and Nrupali Patel, teaching instructors in the Department of Plant Biology, are co-PIs on a $150,000 award by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Higher Education Challenge (HEC) Grants program.
The three-year program, “Horticultural Therapist Vocational Education in Green Industry Skills Training for Individuals with Developmental Disorders,” will focus on the development of a green industry vocational skills training protocol for horticultural therapist professionals and is aligned with the New Jersey state-federal vocational rehabilitation system. The award period is from May 2020-August 2023.
Altman serves as the associate program director while Patel serves as the program administrator and academic advisor for the Horticultural Therapy Program at Rutgers, one of a few accredited, university-based programs in the U.S. The first curricula in Horticultural therapy, described as use of plants and plant-based activity for the purpose of human healing and rehabilitation, was developed at Rutgers by registered horticultural therapist Joel Flagler, agricultural and natural resources agent of Bergen County.
The USDA-NIFA funded program will be offered in collaboration with the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence, the Rutgers Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services and New Road School of Somerset, NJ.
Among the goals of the program are to clarify the role of the horticultural therapist in the field of vocational rehabilitation and provide specific training to horticultural therapy students pertaining to vocational rehabilitation. This is expected to increase range of skills and improve employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities, and increase the diversity of employed professionals in the green industry.
Altman, a graduate of the Horticultural Therapy Certificate Program in 2015, holds a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and clinical mental health counseling from Rutgers and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rowan University. Patel holds a doctoral degree in plant pathology from North Carolina State University, a master’s degree in plant science from University of Tennessee, and bachelor’s degrees in biotechnology and microbiology and biochemistry from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.