Grant aimed to attract biotechnology majors to Fort Valley State University

by Latasha Ford

Posted on Dec 04, 2020

A $747,450 grant by the U.S. Department of Education will help strengthen recruitment and retention at Fort Valley State University through the biotechnology program.

A $747,450 grant by the U.S. Department of Education will help strengthen recruitment and retention at Fort Valley State University through the biotechnology program.

Fort Valley State University received a $747,450 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase students’ interest in studying biotechnology.

Dr. Sarwan Dhir, FVSU plant biotechnology professor, said the unifying goal of this project is to encourage a greater number of underrepresented undergraduates and K-12 students to pursue careers in the biotechnology or science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. As principal investigator, Dhir said the grant will assist FVSU students with tuition costs and strengthen recruitment and retention while improving partnerships with high school science teachers in Georgia.

“This will be accomplished through providing extensive educational resources and activities,” he added.

These activities include a science teacher workshop. Each year, 15 high school science teachers will participate in a one-week workshop in biotechnology. Dhir explained that these teachers will receive a $1,000 stipendand serve as FVSU ambassadors to encourage students to attend the university through the plant science-biotechnology program.

“It is a win-win situation for the teachers and students,” Dhir said. He is collaborating with Dr. T. Ramon Stuart, FVSU provost and vice president of academic affairs; Dr. Jacques Surrency, associate professor of plant and environmental soil sciences; and Dr. Hari Singh, associate professor and biotechnology graduate program coordinator.

Dhir and his team will offer a six-week summer internship program each year for 15 high school seniors who have a strong interest in biotechnology or STEM and are committed to join FVSU as a freshman in the fall. The students will receive $1,000 and free housing and meals.

As undergraduates at FVSU, the awarded students will conduct independent research in the STEM and biotechnology areas and will receive up to $6,000 in three years. During the summer, four students will receive $4,000 each to participate in internships at major collaborative institutions or federal laboratories of their choice to explore graduate program possibilities leading to a master’s or doctorate in STEM disciplines.

All participating high school students, teachers and undergraduates must present their research at annual conferences and at national scientific meetings. Dhir said to help students prepare for their careers, students will also engage in field trips to major research institutions, career counseling, scientific meetings and hands-on laboratory activities.

“These approaches include offering presentations at high schools, a biotechnology summer academy for high school students, career awareness workshops, pre-college workshops and FVSU campus visits,” he said.

Due to safety concerns with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Dhir said they plan to adopt a model from other programs to implement a virtual format. He and his team plan to recruit middle and south Georgia high school students. He noted high school science teachers will also assist with recruiting students to FVSU’s biotechnology program. Students must be a high school senior, take a science course, have a 3.0 grade point average, participate in the summer program, and apply to FVSU.

“This grant helps us to include the best students in the biotechnology program and provide them with a strong foundation in academics, research and free educational trips so that they can graduate in four years and be well prepared for the STEM workforce,” Dhir said.

The grant is titled “Improvement of Minority Education in Biotechnology (STEM) at the Fort Valley State University (Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program).” This award has a three-year cycle (Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2023) and will be distributed in three installments of $249,150.

For more information about the grant, contact Dhir at (478) 822-1057 or

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