MANRRS student organization regains its footing at Rutgers
Steven Jeanty (SEBS’21, plant science major; agriculture and food systems minor), has always wanted to be a farmer, but finding the support to work in agriculture, especially in the urban environment from which he comes, has been especially daunting. “Being young and Black is not the typical model most people see when they think of farmers,” he says. “It was hard to find a mentor, or someone to provide guidance and direction, not just on proper farming techniques but also understanding how to open and operate a business.”
Lacking role models, Jeanty searched far and wide for that supplement to the strong ‘ag’ curriculum he experienced at SEBS. “Through social media and LinkedIn, I have found a diverse community of plant growers outside of the Garden State,” he says. “I network with Black farmers across America who are empowering their communities, educating the room, and opening the door for other famers.”
In part through his own grit and with the support of his family, Jeanty is well on his way to realizing his dream. He works full-time as an assistant grower in a vertical farm, and will be pursuing a master’s degree in global agriculture from Rutgers that combines graduate science courses with courses in business.
For the last year though, Jeanty and other minority students interested in agriculture and related majors at SEBS received a huge boost in their exposure to career and employment opportunities when the Cook chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) gained provisional status as a Rutgers student club in September 2020. It since became a fully recognized chapter in the spring of 2021.
A national organization focused on “promoting academic and professional advancement for minorities in agriculture, natural resources, and related sciences at land-grant institutions,” MANRRS saw its resuscitation start at Rutgers four years ago when the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) team at SEBS started attending organization conferences and cluster meetings.
“After attending the first meeting, we found the experience to be an excellent opportunity to engage EOF students with peers, faculty, and administrators who were seeking to encourage participation in ag fields of study,” said Jenice Sabb-Dumas, assistant dean and SEBS EOF director, who led the Rutgers team to the MANRRS events. “The experience was validating, as students were exposed to individuals with similar backgrounds and ambitions. These individuals shared a vision that made lasting impressions on our students.”
A spark was lit during the students’ first MANRRS experience when two of their peers were offered summer internships in Florida and Michigan during the college and recruitment fair segment of the event. The following year, another SEBS EOF student was awarded a scholarship from the Farm Credit. These successes fed the determination of the students to draft a constitution for a Cook chapter of MANRRS and petition for recognition as a student organization at Rutgers.
Alejandra Aguilar (SEBS’21, environmental policy, institutions and behavior major) played a key role in reviving MANRRS at Rutgers. She was among the students who worked for two years to make the case for recognition. Aguilar served as vice chair of the Cook chapter. In this video, she describes her efforts and her plans for the future.
Rutgers MANRRS made its first appearance as a recognized club, albeit with provisional status at the time, during the fall semester at the 2020 Virtual Regional Cluster.
In addition to the benefits of representation, Dean Sabb-Dumas, who long held the hope of the Cook chapter being a reality, sets the bar very high for the newly recognized chapter in terms of what the organization means for the students pursuing opportunities in agriculture and allied industries: “I expect that MANRRS will enhance understanding of the land-grant mission of SEBS, support endeavors that promote diversity in agricultural sciences and related fields, and offer opportunities for leadership skills development.”