A student is in a field conducting soil research.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Agroecology Program is looking for students to pursue a Master’s degree in Agriculture, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences (AESS) with grant supported study focused on multiple dimensions of sustainable agriculture and food systems.

Student conducting research in a field

UTRGV is a regional minority serving institution located in the southern tip of Texas along the US-Mexico border.  This binational and bicultural region is also a hotspot for biodiversity of birds and insects, and in recent years has become a statewide mecca for sustainable and organic agriculture.  The region boasts the highest production of fruits and vegetables in the state and is the national leader in the production of sorghum. It also is home to the largest concentration of Hispanic farmers and ranchers in the country, and to a small but burgeoning population of beginning and minority farmers.


Currently, there are several openings for students interested in contributing to ongoing projects in our lab.

  1. In a collaborative project with city and state urban foresters, we look for students interested in urban ecology, conservation, and action research, to examine regulating ecosystem services of campus trees. Part of this project is to remeasure and assess 2,000 urban trees that were tagged and marked in 2015, and to examine changes in climate change related aspects of trees: carbon sequestration, storm water retention, energy savings (shade) among others.  This student will help lead undergraduate courses in community forestry (CESL 3301).  Finally, as part of this specific program, this student serve as the key liaison for local area partners from UNIDOS por RGV, who will participate in community engaged scholarship and learning, by facilitating the planting of native and provisioning trees in local colonias in a collaborative learning process. Students must be effective communicators and willing to work with diverse students, federal and city officials, US Fish and Wildlife Service officials, and local area residents.
  2. As part of the Subtropical Soil Health Initiative, a participatory action research project involving UTRGV faculty and students, sustainable ag specialists with the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and local area farmers, we are looking for multiple students to conduct participatory research that investigate the social, economic, and environmental benefits and tradeoffs of cover crops.  Cover crops are plants that are intentionally planted largely for soil health benefits and is growing in popularity as an on-farm conservation strategy.  However, cover crops implementation and adoption remain poorly understood in subtropical agroecosystems, and particularly in rain-fed farms and among underserved and under-resourced farmers.  Based on their experience and expertise, student(s) will work on examining the tradeoff of between soil biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and plant-available water.  Students will be co-advised with Dr. Pushpa Soti. Experience or interest using sensors (such as UAVs, field instruments, etc.) and large data set analysis is a plus, as well as experience working and communicating with farmers, but is not required.
  3. In collaboration with UTRGV Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement, (SARA), we are looking for graduate students who can help support our new urban food system initiative centered around our 5-acre student farm, the Hub.  Students will help support research activities throughout the farm and will be expected to conduct independent master’s research on various aspects of food production and food system sustainability (specific topics will be negotiated based on expertise of student).  Currently students are studying aspects of local and regional food policy, direct marketing, pollinator conservation, and rainwater collection.  Students will also be expected to contribute to the Center advancement towards their mission, including helping lead workshops on small scale farming, urban and rural conservation agriculture, and other practices useful to beginning farmers, and with grant development.    Applicants with relevant experiences working in urban agriculture, commercial agriculture, or agricultural extension or education are preferred.  

Close up of young lettuce plantsFor these positions we are looking for students interested in a combination of field and computer work, and who can tolerate being outside in hot and humid subtropical climates.  Students are expected to have relevant undergraduate degrees, interests, and/or work experience in food systems and agriculture and are expected to start in Summer or Fall 2020.   Two-year support for tuition and a monthly living stipend is available for selected applicants, and especially to women and students of color. Through related project funding, additional support is available for research supplies, professional development, and travel to relevant conferences.   If you are interested in joining our lab, please send a short introduction, a brief statement detailing your interest in these opportunities, and a CV/resume to alexis.racelis@utrgv.edu.  Applications will be reviewed and filled on a rolling basis. For more information about the application to the AESS program, click here.