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Extension initiative supports urban ag programs, career paths for youth

URBANA, Ill. – Advanced food science technologies, combined with a growing focus on food security and sustainable farming, are expanding Illinois agriculture potential from rural to rooftop. Urban agriculture contributes to local food security, small business development, youth development, and community resiliency in urban and metro areas.

To promote college and career readiness for youth in the urban food and agriculture space, University of Illinois Extension welcomes Darlene Samuel to a new position as Extension educator at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

“There has long been a positive relationship between CHSAS and University of Illinois College of ACES,” says Shelly Nickols-Richardson, associate dean and director of Illinois Extension. “As interest in urban metro food and agriculture has grown, Illinois Extension recognizes a need to partner more purposefully with CHSAS to bridge efforts across rural and urban areas to promote the food supply chain.”

The partnership expands previous collaborative efforts between Illinois Extension and CHSAS, including outreach livestock production, showing, and judging; local food production; horticulture; agronomy; food science; biotechnology; and agricultural engineering.

Established in 1984, CHSAS is part of the Chicago Public Schools system and provides an innovative curriculum offering hands-on opportunity within an academic environment.

“The goal of the Extension educator position at CHSAS is to build programs regarding local foods and urban food and agriculture, develop career pathways in those areas, and promote college and career readiness in general,” says Nickols-Richardson. “We also anticipate developing educational programs of interest to parents and family members of students and the communities surrounding the CHSAS.”

Samuel says she looks forward to building excitement around agriculture and preparing youth for careers related to all facets of the agricultural sciences. As part of that plan, she aims to establish both a virtual youth mentoring and a chef’s career program that encourages youth to explore careers as emerging food scientists learning concepts from farm to table.

Samuel holds a doctorate in food sciences from the University of Georgia and received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Clemson University. She has previously worked in research and development for Kraftheinz and UDSA Agricultural Research Services. She also has extensive leadership working in food manufacturing. Her areas of expertise include industrial food processing and research with an emphasis on meat processing.

Nickols-Richardson says that Samuel’s role will expand CHSAS student and stakeholder awareness of the entire food supply chain, create and offer experiential learning opportunities for CHSAS students and the College of ACES, and promote college and career readiness in the food and agriculture space.

“Darlene will collaborate with both the Extension educator for Local Food Systems and Small Farms in Cook County and the Extension educator for the Discovery Partners Institute to achieve common goals regarding urban food and environmental systems,” says Tony Franklin, Extension’s associate director of field operations.

Samuel will also work closely with 4-H youth development educators to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for college preparation.

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

SOURCE: Shelly Nickols-Richardson, Associate Dean and Director, University of Illinois Extension

WRITER: Liz Smith, Media Communications Coordinator, University of Illinois Extension