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Amonjot Kaur immigrated to United States from India five years ago and, after overcoming the language barrier, came to UC Davis to study agriculture. Here, she checks the progress of a tomato plant at the UCD Student Farm. Courtesy photo

Local News

Scholarship aims to boost Central Valley students

By From page A9 | December 01, 2013

It is not often that a 20-year-old college student can claim a seat at the table of an international business deal at a California vineyard.

But that is precisely what UC Davis student Maile Frelinger realized through her internship at Bakersfield-based Sunview Vineyards. It is experience the university is working to replicate with many other students who come from the Central Valley through a new initiative called the Central Valley Scholars Program.

“When I was at that meeting with the export customers from Japan and Ireland, that’s when reality set in,” Frelinger said of her internship experience at one of California’s largest family-owned and operated table grape vineyards. “That’s when I thought, this is what it’s all about and I knew what I wanted to do with my career.”

Through the new program, businesses and farms make a philanthropic investment to support the student awards. In turn, UCD provides Central Valley businesses and farms with resources and support to manage effective internships and mentorship programs.

Students who receive the award are given $5,000 in financial assistance, access to hands-on job experience with participating businesses and are encouraged to engage in public service opportunities in the Central Valley

UCD is working to expand and endow the program to help more students and ensure that it will receive support in perpetuity.

“This program offers agribusinesses an opportunity to attract educated and highly skilled workers,” said Hanford businessman Chuck Nichols, who is president of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association and contributed $100,000 to kick-start the program.

“The philanthropic element of scholarships and internships are great for the students; but it is also a very good business decision to be part of this program. Bringing students here is a pivotal requirement to the marketplace competitiveness of Central Valley and the region’s future.”

The Central Valley plants more than 230 crops, produces 20 to 25 percent of the nation’s food supply and generates 62 percent of the state’s $38 billion annual agricultural economy. Yet, the region is home to eight of California’s 10 poorest counties with nearly 20 percent of the population living below poverty level on average, according to the U.S. Census of Population.

The region has the lowest percentage of college graduates in the state — only about 15 percent of its residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

This element — coupled with an aging farmer population and increased sophistication and technology for equipment, systems and processes — has put tremendous pressure on the Central Valley economy and work force needs.

UCD is focused on serving students and businesses from Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Madera, Kern, Kings, Tulare and Fresno counties.

“This program is an innovative example of the multiple collaborations UC Davis has with stakeholders in the Central Valley to develop long-term, sustainable solutions to the educational and economic concerns in this important region of California,” said Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor of student affairs, who is an agricultural and health economist and nationally recognized expert on Latino and Chicano health issues.

Alison King from Atwater was one of the first recipients of the scholarship program. The award will help her fund her senior year and complete an internship at a dairy clinic in her hometown. Her future ambitions include obtaining an advanced degree in veterinary medicine and becoming a large animal veterinarian in Atwater.

“The Central Valley has so much to offer the world and we still have so many areas for growth and opportunities for advancement,” King said. “Agriculture is one of the largest employers in the nation and people will always need food. We need to ensure a bright future for this vital industry which every person relies upon. This program has been invaluable.”

To learn more about how to participate in or apply for the program, call 530-752-2416.

— UC Davis News

Sarah Colwell

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