MU professor selected for competitive USDA fellowship

Dr. Agolini, who was selected for a competitive USDA fellowship, waters newly planted herbs with Marymount University students


Dr. Susan Agolini, Assistant Professor of Biology at Marymount University and awardee of the Clare Booth Luce Professorship, has been selected to participate in the 2021 USDA E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship. The coveted fellowship is awarded to faculty and staff members from Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI’s) across the nation, and offers experiences in policymaking and research through direct interaction with every USDA agency.

“I am so incredibly honored to be taking part in this program,” expressed Dr. Agolini, who received one of the two Science Fellowships awarded this year. “I look forward to making connections within the USDA agency that will open up opportunities for our students to earn internships and employment. Our designation as an HSI is not only an honor, but a call to action to provide opportunities and an inclusive and supportive learning environment for our students to thrive.”

In 2020, Marymount University became the first higher education institution in the Commonwealth of Virginia to be recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. HSI’s earn the designation once the institution’s undergraduate enrollment totals 25 percent or more for full-time Hispanic students. Currently, about 25.1 percent of Marymount undergraduates identify as Hispanic. 

“These fellowships have multiple benefits for minority-serving higher education institutions,” said Lisa Ramirez, director of USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement. “The fellows get valuable professional development, they meet federal staff for long-term collaboration opportunities and then they share what they learned with students and colleagues at their home institutions.”

The 2021 Fellowship Class includes 25 highly accomplished faculty and staff members who convened on June 21 for a one-week virtual program in which fellows met with representatives of the USDA, including Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Deputy Director of the USDA. Science Fellows, including Dr. Agolini, will spend an additional week collaborating on research topics with leading scientists from the USDA Agricultural Reserve Service.

During a Food For Thought club event, Dr. Agolini hands out free plants and herbs to student, staff and faculty members.
During a Food For Thought club event, Dr. Agolini (left) hands out free plants and herbs to student, staff and faculty members.


As part of her fellowship, Dr. Agolini is partnering with a research team within the USDA’s Bee Research Laboratory. The pairing is advantageous, as the University recently established a bee colony on campus and Dr. Agolini hopes to pursue additional research in increasing native pollinator populations.

“There is a national effort to broaden participation in STEM, such that our workforce better reflects the diversity within our population,” Dr. Agolini said. “I believe opportunities, such as the E. Kika De La Garda Fellowship, can help with these efforts. Providing our students with hands-on research experiences in established agricultural programs will empower them to use science to address issues as complex as environmental sustainability, and to be changemakers for their future and the future of the world.