Monday, July 18, 2022
  SEEMS, Awards and Recognitions

By News and Internal Communications

By Maria Gonzalez  

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Dr. Engil Isadora Pereira, assistant professor in the UTRGV School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences, has been selected to participate in the 2022 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship program.  

Nationally, 20 fellows were selected. Pereira is one of only five Science Fellows in the group.

Since 1998, the annual fellowships have recognized highly accomplished staff and faculty at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) – accredited, degree-granting institutions of higher education with a full-time Hispanic student enrollment of 25 percent or more.

A recognized soil ecologist, Pereira is chair of UTRGV’s Women in Science network for 2021-2022, and project director of Training, Research, and Education in Soil Science at the university. Her research into microbial-mediated nutrient cycling in both agricultural and natural ecosystems aims to identify soil management and restoration strategies that promote soil health.

Pereira said she is looking forward to learning about training and career opportunities for UTRGV students through her fellowship with the USDA.

“Through the Kika De La Garza Fellowship, I seek to acquire a complete understanding of the USDA organizational structure, roles, and connect with researchers and policy implementers,” Pereira said. “I will be able to address research needs more efficiently in the Rio Grande Valley and promote the professional development of our students.”

The prestigious program – named for longtime Valley congressman and leader of the house agriculture committee Kika De La Garza – links the USDA and Hispanic-Serving Institutions to help build awareness in Hispanic communities of USDA services, resources and employment opportunities.

As chair of the House Agriculture Committee (1981-1994), De La Garza led the passing of three important farm bills – in 1981, 1985 and 1990. He played a large role in reorganizing the agricultural lending system, the farm insurance system, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pesticide laws, and the reform of the country’s agriculture policies.

De La Garza, who served a 12-year term in the Texas Legislature (1952-1964) and held a 32-year tenure as congressman for U.S. District 15 (TX), was widely known as an advocate for for higher education initiatives and Hispanic-Serving Institutions throughout his career in public service. During his tenure in the Texas House, De La Garza participated in the absorption of then-Pan American University into The University of Texas System in 1989, which eventually became UTRGV legacy institution The University of Texas–Pan American. 

When he retired from public service in 1997, De La Garza donated his entire Congressional archive to UTRGV, and the collection is now housed at the university library on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus. 

“I am very pleased to learn that Dr. Pereira has been selected for the prestigious Kika De La Garza fellowship,” said Dr. Juan Gonzalez, UTRGV professor and interim director of SEEMS. “The USDA is an important research partner for the School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Science, and an employer of our graduates.

“With the knowledge and connections Dr. Pereira will make through this fellowship, we will be able to shape our current work and future projects to form mutually beneficial and productive collaborations,” he said. “We will guide students toward fruitful careers in national service and inform colleagues on similar cross-sector interactions.”

Dr. Lisa R. Ramírez, director of the USDA's Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement, said the fellowships provide unique professional development experiences. 

“They provide exposure that benefits young people and helps advance the Biden-Harris Administration's goal of increasing equity for underserved communities across all of rural America,” she said.

From July 11-15, the Kika De La Garza Education, High School and Science Fellows met with leaders from different USDA agencies in the Washington, D.C., area, where they interacted directly on national and regional issues, policymaking and research.  

From July 18-22, the Science Fellows are spending an additional week collaborating with top scientists from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) or the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Soil Survey Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

To learn more, visit 

For information about Pereira’s lab, visit 


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.