College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

No More Silos” Project: $1 million grant from U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Year 2 Cohort Student Applications Available Now-Deadline is November 6, 2021!

Sam and Dave Zoom screen capture
Sam Robinson and Dave Still as they see each other nowadays via Zoom screen capture

School of Humanities and Communication Chair Dr. Sam Robinson is currently in year two of an exciting four-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture NIFA Hispanic Serving Institutions Program. She is Co-PI on the project with Dr. David Still, Executive Director of the CSU Agricultural Research Institute (ARI).

A few years ago Robinson was invited to present her research on agricultural coverage in California newspapers to Still while he was visiting CSUMB shortly after becoming the ARI Executive Director. That interaction led to the opportunity to collaborate with Still on the NIFA HSI grant that was awarded in fall 2019.

The “No More Silos” project will provide immersive multi-disciplinary experiences to 100 underrepresented students across the California State University system. Students from all 23 CSU campuses who are interested in careers or graduate school in food, agriculture, natural resources or human sciences are eligible for these paid fellowships ($6,400 per student).

Students develop scientific and professional skills by engaging in mentored fellowships in science, big-data analytics, agricultural journalism and public policy. In addition, about 80 students will attend a five-day workshop to develop skills in big-data analytics. They will also receive career mentoring through leadership and scientific communication workshops and emerge with greater discipline-specific knowledge and skills, improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills, improved knowledge of multi-disciplinary team approaches to problem-solving, and personalized roadmaps that articulate career goals and the steps needed to achieve them.

Drs. Still and Robinson will curate a list of programs for Ag Journalism and Public Policy Fellows to apply to, assist students with their applications, and serve as their CSU faculty mentors. Robinson secured a letter of support from Gannett Publishing to host interns who are part of the agriculture journalism program. Gannett is an important partner because it owns newspapers throughout the state and publishes several Spanish-language newspapers. They set aside half of the journalism fellowships for bilingual projects.

The first year cohort of 22 includes four CSUMB Students: College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences’ Angela Steele, Humanities & Communication major, and three College of Sciences students: Julissa Hernandez, Agricultural Plant & Soil Sciences major; Samantha Miller, Biology major, and Cassandra Tice, Biology major. Dr. Robinson noted the first year cohort is a bit smaller than anticipated due to the COVID-necessitated transition to virtual learning, although commented that an advantage of the virtual environment was that zoom conversations happened more frequently and led to other thoughts on potential expansion of the program.

Passionate about the topic of Ag Communication, Robinson expressed her enjoyment of researching and writing about ag journalism, she points out, “There’s always something new to learn in ag communication. How we cover this impacts public opinion, which impacts public policy.”

As part of the mentoring process, Robinson further collaborated with John Silveus from the College of Science, whose research is in water quality. She worked with cohort member Angela Steele and Silveus to develop a public opinion poll about water quality and what the public cares about (and related to ag) and what they were working on. Robinson explained the benefit of morphing a public opinion survey to provide this information, which would be both impactful for research and for public work and future surveys. Effectively communicating highly technical issues related to agriculture and science to the public is one of the key skills journalism fellows will develop in this program.

In October, ARI will hold their annual meeting virtually. Robinson will facilitate the Effective Communication for Science in Agriculture to the Public workshop, helping the entire cohort with their communications skills. Once it’s safe to travel again, part of Robinson’s and Still’s plan includes taking the students to Washington, D.C., to the USDA Ag Outlook Forum, to allow them to cover it as Ág journalism students. In addition to the paid fellowship, this professional development at a prestigious event such as the Forum, provides a tremendous opportunity that would be otherwise unattainable as an undergraduate student.

Applications for the second cohort are now available through the ARI website. Be sure to scroll down to HSI ARI Student Opportunities (you'll see 6). While this grant is an HSI Grant, anyone from any CSU may apply. If you have questions or would like assistance with the application, please contact Dr. Robinson at

More about the Otters in the cohort (as taken from their student profiles):

Julissa Hernandez
Samantha Miller
Angela Steele
Cassandra Tice