Friday, December 8, 2023

UTSA professor awarded $2.8M USDA grant to support next generation of urban beekeepers

UTSA professor awarded $2.8M USDA grant to support next generation of urban beekeepers

JUNE 28, 2023 Victoria Garcia, a UTSA senior studying biology, only knew honey in its role as a sweet additive before she enrolled in a Medicinal Properties of Honey class this past school year.

Throughout the course, she and other students tested varieties of honey in various bacterial cultures to identify which are best at killing or inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Garcia is continuing her research this summer comparing the properties of manuka honey and revisiting results gained from the course about the bioactivity level of honeys.

Led by Ferhat Ozturk, an assistant professor of practice in the UTSA Department of Integrative Biology, the undergraduate class explores honey as an antibiotic and antioxidant healing agent.

“A major goal of this generous grant is to provide workforce training that will expand the opportunity for underrepresented students.”

Ozturk was recently awarded a $2.8M grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to foster the next generation of urban beekeepers through a HONEY (Honeybee Oriented Nextgen Entrepreneurs and Youth) Pathway.

He is collaborating with Kelly Nash and Amelia King-Kostelac, professors in the UTSA College of Sciences, on the creation of the program. This work is supported by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s “From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals Program (NEXTGEN).”

“This prestigious grant will allow me and my colleagues Kelly Nash and Amelia King-Kostelac to establish a HONEY Pathway to educate our UTSA students,” Ozturk said. “This federal award will provide various opportunities to educate the students about the importance of beekeeping and explore the medicinal properties of local honey. A major goal of this generous grant is to provide workforce training that will expand the opportunity for underrepresented students to pursue USDA career paths.”

The Medicinal Properties of Honey course is among a host of research opportunities offered by the integrative biology department’s Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) partnerships.

CUREs offer several key features that traditional lab and field courses may lack, such as having students conduct original research that is of interest to stakeholders outside of the classroom and ensuring that students are involved in the iterative research process, repeatedly problem-solving and troubleshooting as needed and generating new questions and research directions. These research experiences include everything from uncovering novel viruses, decoding genetic pathways, discovering new sources of antibiotics and more.

“I love everything I’ve learned so far,” Garcia said. “I was drawn to the course because of the research, and I found the CUREs program provided the opportunity to learn about the research process. There’s been so many opportunities. I’ve gotten to connect with so many people from beekeepers to businesspeople.”

Throughout the course, Ozturk witnessed enthusiasm grow as students delved into research and began to consider honey as a medical treatment to carry into their career paths. The grant, he said, will strengthen hands-on learning experiences for UTSA student and encourage students toward completing their higher education.

King-Kostelac added that these hands-on research and applied learning experiences will prepare UTSA students for career opportunities within the agriculture and STEM fields.

The five-year grant will cultivate future leaders in the field about beekeeping and the medicinal properties of honey through seminars, research projects, apprenticeships, internships, workshops and a CURE course. These opportunities, Ozturk said, will provide students with a well-versed understanding of honey’s benefits/applications in various sectors of education, industry and government.

“The HONEY Pathway program is designed to provide our students with the necessary tools to tackle the most pressing issues confronting the U.S. agricultural industry. Uniquely, our program aims to broaden the diversity of the workforce and grow entrepreneurship that will advance the mission of the USDA,” Nash added.

Learn more about CUREs.

The efforts will also reach local high schools, where STEM teachers will be trained to implement honey-based courses into curriculum to inspire younger students.

“As we educate future generations of diverse students, who are majorly interested in health sciences, the honey will have a better place as a treatment option in different fields of medicine. Sooner or later, medical-grade local honeys will reach their deserved position as a frontline therapeutic ailment as we pave the way for the HONEY Pathway,” said Ozturk.

Ari Castañeda

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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