Monsanto funding helps fund student educations

ST. PAUL — It used to be that the University of Minnesota received adequate funding from the state to pay for graduate students who did research for professors. That money has dwindled, forcing the university to look elsewhere for funds to bring the best students to study at the U of M.

Fellowship funding plays into the choice of where students do their graduate work, said Al Levine, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Fellowships pay for student tuition plus providing a stipend, Levine said. They come from all sources, both public and private. Some individuals fund fellowships, keeping albums of their students. USDA, commodity groups and corporations fund fellowships.

Last week, executives from one of those corporations came to campus. A delegation of 10 from Monsanto spent Thursday meeting with faculty, staff and students.

Monsanto funds three fellowships for seven students.


The fellowships:

• Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program. Monsanto pledged $10 million over five years to fund fellowships for students worldwide who are seeking doctorates in rice or wheat breeding. The fellowship includes a stipend, tuition, fees, health insurance, research fees, travel and funds for the advising professor and institution. In three years, 39 students have been selected as fellowship recipients. The U of M has one student in the Beachell-Borlaug program, Godwin Macharia from Kenya. Monsanto has committed not to push these students toward the private sector.

• Monsanto's Graduate Fellowship in Plant Breeding dedicated to Genomic Selection in Agriculture Crops. All contributions to this fund are used to fund assistantships in graduate studies for students pursuing doctoral degrees in plant breeding at the U of M. The fund provides for up to two doctorate students conducting research in the area of germplasm enhancement of agronomic crops with an emphasis on genome wide selection. The 2011 recipients are Lian Lian and Amy Jacobson.

• Monsanto's Multifunctional Agricultural and Food System Fellowship Gift. This fellowship supports students progressing toward a graduate degree working in agronomy or horticultural systems, pest management, molecular biology or biochemistry, or plant breeding. The 2011 recipients are Peny Yu, You Lv, Amanda Flipp and Wade Kent.

Monsanto has a unique working relationship with the university, said Brett Bussler, lead, product advancement chemistry for Monsanto. The university came together across several departments with a fellowship for Monsanto to fund and he hopes the project continues.

This is the multifunctional fellowship gift, said Cynthia Cashman, COAFES chief development officer. It's unusual that all departments unite in this way to ask for support, she explained.

The Monsanto contributions come at a critical time, said Nicholas Jordan, a professor in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics.

The world population reached 7 billion on Halloween and is expected to hit 9 billion. Diets are changing as people in developing countries seek more protein, he said, and at the same time society is demanding more from agriculture than ever.


Agriculture must be even more clever than it has in the past, Jordan said, and Monsanto’s contribution to graduate student studies at the U of M will help develop leaders to meet those challenges.

Amanda Flipp is one of the students helped by Monsanto's contribution. Flipp turned down a private sector job to pursue her master’s in applied plant science at the U of M. The Monsanto fellowship was a critical deciding factor. She is doing her graduate work on integrated weed management in soybeans.

It’s fun to recruit students when they have positions available, said Jim Anderson, a professor in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics. It costs $38,000 a year for a faculty member to fund a graduate student position. Any faculty member in the department would have up to five graduate students, he said.

Whenever he talks to faculty, their greatest need is for graduate students, Levine said. Graduate students are a link between teaching and research. The question is where does the funding come from.

Fellowships are a win-win for corporations in that they need an educated workforce and the university is training tomorrow's workforce.

"Everybody gains from this," Levine said.

There is no guarantee a graduate will work for the company that provides their fellowship funding, he said. Instead, the company is contributing to

the development of a pool of scientists.


It’s critical to figure out solutions for the future. That’s why Monsanto is committed to helping train the next generation of scientists to help

solve critical problems down the road, said Sam Eathington, vice president, Monsanto global breeding.

Maybe their fellowships will fund the next Norman Borlaug from the University of Minnesota.

It’s important to build relationships between the public and private sector, Eathington said. Both have a role to play in educating the next generation and both have their areas of expertise.

Monsanto took its relationship with the university to the next level last week with the gift of a compact disc filled with varietial and molecular data from Monsanto. The disc was given to Rex Bernardo, professor and endowed chair in corn breeding and genetics.

The data on the disc gives students an unprecedented opportunity to test new plant breeding methodology, Eathington said. The company gave the data to Bernardo because of their relationship with him.

It’s a great opportunity to build collaboration, Eathington said.

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