MANRRS alumni return to talk about careers, time as students

MANRRS alums gather at Townsend Hall to talk about their careersAlumni members of the inaugural Minorities in Agriculture and Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) student organization at the University of Delaware returned to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) on May 2 to talk about their experiences at UD and their career paths, as well as to give advice to current students. 

The event was held in conjunction with the end of the year celebration for AGcelerate, a new college-wide student enrichment program geared toward student success that began this academic year. 

Both programs support diversity and inclusion within CANR. The AGcelerate Enrichment Program and the MANRRS reunion event were funded through a President’s Diversity Initiative grant.

The mission of MANRRS is to promote and implement initiatives which foster inclusion and advancement of members of ethnic/cultural groups underrepresented in agricultural and natural resource sciences and related fields in all phases of career preparation and participation in these areas.

The other main goals of MANRRS are to help students develop leadership skills and career-building assets, as well as to build networking skills needed for future careers.

The group of panelists assembled were all founding members of MANRRS within CANR and included:

  • Natalie (Durrett) Crawford, who graduated from CANR in 2000 with a bachelor of science degree in animal science and pre-veterinary medicine and now works as a veterinary pathologist for W.L. Gore and Associates and serves on the advisory board for CANR.
  • Sherri (Freeman) Fentress, who graduated in 2001 with a degree in animal science and concentrations in agriculture biotechnology and pre-veterinary medicine and now works as a forensic DNA analyst.
  • Marcus Lynch, who graduated in 2002 and now works as a senior health care technology analyst at the Emergency Care Research Institute (ECRI).
  • Shanika Whitehurst, who graduated in 2000 with a bachelor of science degree in environmental science and minors in biology and chemistry, and now works as an environmental scientist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The panel was moderated by Erin Brannick, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, and co-leader with Tanya Gressley for AGcelerate. Gressley also serves as the faculty adviser for the current MANRRS student organization.

Many of the panelists highlighted how undergraduate research and their close relationships with CANR professors helped them on their career paths.

“Our experience here prepared us so much for what we would encounter after college,” Fentress said. “Especially in MANRRS, we had a lot of guidance on professionalism and networking and that was a big, big thing. There’s a lot of things that probably seem very minor — I know they seemed very minor at the time as a college student — that really ended up being big things. It was a very good experience.”

When asked what aspects of MANRRS and UD shaped who they are today, Crawford said the organization was important when it came to networking and learning to keep up with people, and that it gave her a perspective on diversity — not just the way people look but diversity of thought.

Fentress pointed out that for proof about diversity of thought, one only has to look at where the people who went through the MANRRS program ended up in their professional careers. She said there are alumni with diverse careers that include a small animal veterinarian, a molecular biologist and a representative with a non-profit health organization. And Fentress herself works as a forensic DNA analyst.

Speaking on the benefits of the AGcelerate Program, Brannick said, “We want our students to not only feel involved and at home within our college but also gain the skills and the personal attributes that will help them survive not only here at UD but once they have entered the real world.”

Brannick went on to talk about the great level of engagement displayed by the AGcelerate students. “In the very first year of AGcelerate, we have over 50 students enrolled in the program and they’re truly engaged every step of the way. We have truly engaged and active students within this group and some of the feedback from our students related to what they enjoyed about the program is that sense of community and that sense of family.”

Monique Robinson, junior in CANR who served as co-president of MANRRS this year and will be president of the group next year, was recognized at the ceremony for being the first AGcelerate certified peer mentor.

For more information on MANRRS or AGcelerate at UD, contact Gressley or Brannick.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.