Partners since the 1980s, the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and Zamorano University in Honduras aim to develop the skills of Zamorano students as young professionals in agriculture. Capitalizing on already strong historical trade linkages between Louisiana and Central America, the LSU-Zamorano partnership began as a pipeline for Zamorano students who earned a three-year degree in Honduras to complete a fourth year of study at LSU to earn an internationally recognized four-year bachelor’s degree. As Zamorano expanded its degree programs to offer a 4-year bachelor’s degree, LSU became an early partner in providing research internship experience, mentorship, and English immersion for Zamorano students. As the relationship between the universities continued to change and grow, LSU became a leading choice among Zamorano graduates looking to pursue graduate degrees.
Since 2005, the LSU AgCenter has hosted more than 100 Zamorano students as short-term visiting scholars, and many have returned to LSU to pursue graduate studies. LSU is home to the largest Zamorano alumni association chapter in the United States. Alumni from these Zamorano and LSU programs hold positions at universities and leading agricultural companies all around the world.The research performed by these students and scholars continues to benefit both Louisiana and Latin America while tackling agricultural challenges faced worldwide.
This spring, the LSU AgCenter Global Network completed the first ever LSU-Zamorano Online Extension Certification Program as an adaptation of its Visiting Scholar scientific exchange program. While the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to travelling, the LSU AgCenter Global Network was determined to keep this connection and student development pipeline thriving. Here the Global Network team also saw an opportunity to create and disseminate valuable agricultural extension materials to those Latin American communities where they are needed while continuing to provide mentorship for Zamorano students.
The result was the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center Online Extension Certification Program for students of Zamorano University. This program, organized by Project Coordinator Sarah Bernard, paired 11 Zamorano students with LSU AgCenter researchers and extension professionals for one-on-one mentoring in their respective fields along with extension communication training. Mentors and student mentees participated in weekly video meetings to discuss the progress and direction of the project. Additionally, each week participants attended a virtual seminar on an agricultural extension-related topic, including seminars from the International Food Symposium organized by the LSU AgCenter and Mendel University in the Czech Republic. The 8-week online certification program culminated in the execution of community-focused extension communications projects in both English and Spanish for dissemination of best practices among rural communities. Deliverables took the forms of brochures, brief articles, and even video tutorials on topics spanning beekeeping to aquaponics, from organic home gardening to financial risk management. Further, program participants explored opportunities for master's and doctoral studies at LSU. Through the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center Online Extension Certification Program, the AgCenter's international team utilized online tools to adapt in-person international mentorship opportunities to fit the limitations imposed by the pandemic, keep students and mentors safe, and continue to enhance the LSU-Zamorano partnership.