Staff

A primary goal for SARA is to facilitate research, student success, and community engagement through staff support. Staffing provides SARA with:

Essential outreach opportunities for applied research. Outreach staff providing agricultural training and technical assistance works directly with farmers, ranchers, and rural businesses to implement strategies and processes developed through applied research.

Exceptional community linkages for Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR). Outreach staff interacts regularly with agricultural producers to effectively link SARA researchers with community-based research partners.

Robust extension and outreach components for integrated, extramural research projects. Outreach staff provides training and technical assistance that generates contacts and expertise to ensure that the outreach components of integrated projects are accomplished.

Critical cash-match contributions for extramural projects that require match. Outreach staff paid through non-federal sources provides the cash-match contributions required by federally-sponsored projects.

Ample experiential learning and employment opportunities for UTRGV students. Outreach staff with expertise in developing grants and business plans for agricultural clients provide learning and employment opportunities for students.

Staffing for SARA includes:

George Bennack, Executive Director for Rural-Business Development—oversees the outreach and administrative staff listed below. He serves, with Dr. Alex Racelis, as Co-Director for SARA, and provides access to a research and demonstration sites.

Colin Cain, Program Director in Economic Development—serves as the PI for two USDA projects that provide training and technical assistance to farms and rural businesses associated with sustainable agriculture. He helps provide outreach for SARA research.

Aisha Cruz-Reyes, Director of Special Programs—assists rural farms and businesses with business plans, grants, and USDA applications for assistance. She helps provide UTRGV students with experiential learning through value-added agricultural operations.

Israel Galindo, Video Production Manager—oversees the video-production activities that are an integral part of outreach and promotion for SARA. He provides students with internships in mass media related to sustainable agriculture and food systems.

Avan Guerra, Program Coordinator—provides hands-on technical assistance to farmers and ranchers involved in sustainable agriculture and food systems. He assists with outreach for applied research and integrated projects.

Annelis Lottmann, Program Coordinator—provides training and assistance to cooperatives involved in sustainable agriculture and food systems. She focuses on urban agriculture and provide linkages to advanced food systems in Austin, Texas.

Juan Raygoza, Director of Special Programs—serves as PI for a USDA project that assists beginning farmers and ranchers. He provides access to a seven-acre research and demonstration site that is USDA-certified organic.

Catalina Resto, Administrative Associate—provides administrative support for sponsored projects and personnel, including purchasing, mileage, travel, and other administrative assistance.

Cruz Salinas, Agricultural Specialist—provides training and assistance to farmers and ranchers involved in sustainable agriculture and food systems. He assists with outreach for applied research and integrated projects.

Hector Solis, Programmer Analyst III—provides assistance with computer-based technology to faculty, staff, customers, and clients; both on- and off-campus. He ensures that technology requirements for research and outreach projects are met.

Dahlia Vela, Administrative Manager—provides high-level administrative support for budget, time-and-effort, personnel, and other sponsored-project administration and management.

Alberto Ybarra, Agricultural Specialist—provides hands-on technical assistance to farmers and ranchers involved in sustainable agriculture and food systems. He assists with outreach for applied research and integrated projects.