Wanted: CSU graduate students for new produce safety fellowships

CSU graduate students interested in the intersection of produce safety and farming have a new opportunity for a paid fellowship program, starting in the fall of 2017.

The fellowship program, which is accepting applications until May 15, is funded through a U.S. Food and Drug Administration grant that the Colorado Department of Agriculture received in collaboration with CSU. Two CSU master’s students will be accepted as fellows each year for the next four years and will receive training in a professional combination that is in short supply: food safety and fruit and vegetable production. This need exists as a result of the seven new rules enacted under the FDA’s 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which aims to protect public health by facilitating safer food production practices throughout the food chain, including on the farm.

Produce safety rule

The Produce Safety Rule establishes the federal government’s first science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. The new emphasis on prevention is key because an outbreak — or even an unsubstantiated scare about one — can have long-lasting negative effects on farmers’ livelihoods and the entire fresh produce industry. Professionals supporting the safe production of fruits and vegetables must understand the risks inherent to fresh produce growing, packing and distribution systems, related public health issues, state and federal regulations, and effective methods of educational delivery.

The FDA awarded nearly $22 million in 2016 specifically for education around the implementation of the new produce safety regulations, and Colorado was one of the 42 states to receive that funding. The Colorado Department of Agriculture turned to CSU as a partner, since CSU Extension has been providing grower trainings in food safety, worker health and hygiene, water quality and wildlife management since 2011.

CSU expects to receive more than $1 million over five years under this grant program, which will be used to develop educational materials for produce growers, deliver workshop and training events, and develop CSU’s capacity to train students and other professionals in produce safety.

‘Hands-on experience’

“This is a unique opportunity to train new agriculture, food systems and public health professionals who can help respond to this emerging need,” said Marisa Bunning, an associate professor in CSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and a co-investigator on the grant. “Part of this funding will be used to give students hands-on experience in analytical labs and with state and federal agencies.”

In addition, fellows will gain experience from Extension Specialist Elisa Shackelton in using video production and infographics for educational purposes. In fact, much of their training will involve CSU Extension; the primary investigator on the grant is Martha Sullins, Extension’s Front Range regional specialist for food systems and business management, whose expertise includes specialty crop and livestock business development, food safety and other areas of risk management for agricultural operations.

Fellows will work 10 hours a week during the 2017-18 academic year, followed by 20 hours a week in a field-based, experiential learning opportunity during summer 2018. Field-based options could include assisting a farm with food-safety program development or implementation, observing audit work of the state’s Fruit and Vegetable Inspection Service, or attending food safety training or audit program training. Fellows may also attend professional conferences like the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association’s annual conference or the Center for Produce Safety’s Research Symposium.

The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

How to apply

Details on the fellowship and the application process are below.

The selected GRA fellows will generate the following deliverables through the course of the program:

1. Survey current research literature to determine knowledge gaps and identify best practices related to safe produce production and handling under the direction of the fellowship supervisor;

2. Develop appropriate educational materials including presentation slides, online modules, infographics, fact sheets, checklists, FAQs and mobile applications;

3. Pilot-test and evaluate outreach materials;

4. Travel and rotate through field internship experiences; and

5. Assist with writing project reports and making presentations to stakeholders.

Requirements for application:

1. Admission or application to a Colorado State University graduate program (Colorado School of Public Health students on the CSU campus are eligible to apply);

2. Undergraduate degree in food science, horticulture, pest management, crop science or related field;

3. Interest in produce safety, agricultural production, public health;

4. Demonstrated strong oral and written communication skills and computer competence;

5. Organizational skills and ability to multi-task;

6. Ability to work independently and with an interdisciplinary team; and

7. One-year commitment to the program.

Expectations of Fellows:

Fellows will become team members, and active involvement in produce safety activities will be an integral part of the program. To fully benefit from this opportunity, fellows will be expected to:

  • Participate in weekly team meetings or conference calls, which will be scheduled to accommodate coursework;
  • Support and collaborate with other students in the program;
  • Complete assigned tasks and meet material development deadlines; and
  • Travel and participate in internship opportunities.

Application Materials

  • Statement of interest letter
  • Resume
  • College transcripts
  • CSU Academic Department affiliation
  • List of three references

Please submit application by May 15 as a single pdf to: fsfellows@colostate.edu.

For information on applying, contact Tabitha Covey: fsfellows@colostate.edu.

For questions related to the fellowship opportunity, contact:

Marisa Bunning, marisa.bunning@colostate.edu, or

Martha Sullins, martha.sullins@colostate.edu