Thursday, February 16, 2023
  Around Campus

By Victoria Brito Morales

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The UTRGV Honors College is part of a multi-institution consortium, called the Grand Challenge Scholars Institute, tasked with developing the future workforce in the fields of food, agriculture, and natural and human sciences (FANH) by leveraging an innovative framework of honors education.

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently announced members of this collaboration, including UTRGV, as co-recipients of a three-year, $749,977 grant to support this project. 

UTRGV is a participating institution, with lead institutions South Dakota State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech. All involved are part of the Council of Honors College Education, an Association for Pubic and Land-grant Universities (APLU)-affiliated organization.

Students from UTRGV and all the institutions involved will have the same opportunities to participate in project activities, including the opening workshop and online colloquium during the fall semester, and the culminating conference during the spring semester. 

Dr. Mark Andersen
Dr. Mark Andersen, dean of the UTRGV Honors College. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

The first-year cohort will collaborate with experts from a variety of fields; engage with real social needs related to the general topic of food justice; and develop their capacity for civic engagement, innovation and leadership. Students also will gain critical-thinking skills specifically related to the complex problems associated with the most pressing societal challenges in the areas of food, agriculture, nutrition and human sciences.

Dr. Mark Andersen, dean of the UTRGV Honors College, serves on the advisory board for the Grand Challenge Scholars Institute and will have input in the areas of curriculum, participant experience and recruitment. He will collaborate with a team comprised of members from the lead institutions. 

"Through these experiences, students will gain critical content knowledge, collaboration and communication skills, as well as professional networking opportunities that will prepare them to address the greatest challenges facing our world," Andersen said.

The overall objective of the project is to create a more diverse and well-prepared set of graduates in FANH disciplines who are ready to tackle the complex challenges of the times. And graduates of the program will be ready to enter the workforce with both an innovative skillset and mindset, he said. 

High-impact, collaborative, transformational learning experiences are hallmarks of honors education,” said Dr. Rebecca Bott-Knutson, project director and dean of the Van D. Barbara B. Fishback Honors College at South Dakota State University. “Imagine, every honors student has access to the top content experts and educators in the nation and world. Further imagine that they have regular access to one another, collectively cultivating a comprehensive worldview, unrestricted by geography or financial need.” 

The project predicts the participation of 500 undergraduate students from across the country. Additional institutions that will participate include the University of Toledo, University of Louisville, University of Montana, Virginia State University, Northern Illinois University, California Lutheran University, Binghamton University, Southern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago.



The Council on Honors Education (CoHE-APLU) is an affiliated group of the Association for Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). CoHE-APLU connects leaders of honors colleges and programs across the country, who are dedicated to serving students through the mission and values of public and land-grant institutions, to the highest levels of institutional and educational leadership, to address their mutual needs and strategic programmatic development. Through networking, research, policymaking, professional development, and advocacy for honors education, all of which includes all faculty and staff members involved in honors colleges and programs at member schools, APLU is an organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work that serves some of the nation’s most promising students.


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.