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Tuskegee University is credited annually with being a top producer of African American and minority agricultural sciences graduates. Diversifying the agricultural industry is one of the objectives for faculty in the College of Agriculture, Environment, and Nutrition Sciences — especially for Dr. Barrett Vaughan, an associate professor who has devoted his 16-year Tuskegee career to that very mission.
Vaughan says he grew up loving agriculture. As a child, he spent summers in Detroit in his grandparents’ extensive backyard garden – where his family grew their own crops and shared among themselves and their community. However, his father, an electronic technician for Chrysler, encouraged his son to follow him in his professional footsteps. The younger Vaughan ultimately combined his interests and his parents’ guidance by pursuing degrees in agricultural and biosystems engineering.
His academic experiences at Michigan State University and The Pennsylvania State University helped him realize the need for greater workforce diversity.
“While I was an undergrad, I saw that there were very few professors in engineering or the sciences who were Black,” he recalls. “I knew I wanted to become a professor to change that.”
Vaughan’s journey led him to Tuskegee, where he credits Dean Walter Hill with the opportunity to expand his multi-disciplinary experience and professional growth as a faculty member.
“Our community is in such need of unity and support, and I have had the opportunity to contribute through research, teaching and extension,” Vaughan says. “I learned quickly that there were myriad opportunities to contribute. More importantly, I found the college to be an encouraging and supportive environment for me professionally and personally as a new faculty member.”
Earning a new degree
Vaughan recently proved that it’s never too late to return to school by earning a law degree. He explains that journey began with needing to better understand the regulations and agreements that are commonplace in commercial business, but that are frequently unknown to small and limited-resource farmer clients who were selling produce to commercial buyers.
“Our students should be able to appreciate not only the sciences and economics behind agriculture, but also the statutory and policy underpinnings of agriculture,” he explains. “Part of our outreach component involves assisting our farmer clients navigate the statutory and regulatory waters of agriculture.”
Helping the community and beyond
Vaughan’s time at Tuskegee has also involved several outreach projects – including those that involve farmers and small business owners. Those projects have ranged from helping farmers make their farms more energy efficient, to facilitating business training that helps them become more profitable. He also assisted them to become food safety certified, which enables farmers to sell to commercial markets.
“What motivates me is the belief that what we are doing at Tuskegee University is making a positive difference in the lives of our students, farmer clients and the people in the communities that we serve,” Vaughan noted.
Most recently, with USDA support, Vaughan launched an outreach program to aid farmers and food entrepreneurs to network with each other, comply with food safety regulations, and market their products more effectively. The project included the opportunity to collaborate with fellow faculty member Dr. Faye Hall-Jackson of the Brimmer College of Business and Information Science.
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