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 Network-of-Networks Student & Early-Career Developmental (S&ECD) Plan 

The mission of the AI2EAR S&ECD plan is to develop highly trained researchers with the leadership, teamwork, and management skills needed to work cooperatively with others to address the challenge of achieving global food security and safety. The professional development training and peer relationship-building complements the students’ technical training, increasing the likelihood of linkages among the network participants and setting the stage for enlarging the network and magnifying its outcomes as these young researchers establish their own careers.

The professional development training is modeled on the successful Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) Fellows Program. The FFAR Fellows Program, designed and managed by AI2EAR Professional Development lead Dr. Rebecca Dunning of NC State University, engages cohorts of 20-25 Ph.D. students in the agricultural and life sciences from 25+ universities across the U.S. and Canada. Using face-to-face and virtual formats, students train to become better communicators, better leaders, and better team members.

The AI2EAR Fellows Program engages 14 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from the participating AI2EAR networks (1 fellow per network per year for a total of 42 fellows). Special consideration is given to identify and incentivize participation by URM students. Each cohort trains together during the annual AI2EAR annual meetings, with this training focused on three primary areas:  communications, both interpersonal (one-to-one, small and large group; cross-cultural) and presentation (to scientific and non-scientific audiences); self-awareness and self-management (identification of strengths, inventory of emotional intelligence, and awareness of communication and work styles); and project design and management for international collaborations. Formal networking activities are also included to give AI2EAR Fellows exposure to researchers at each member network 

Mentorship is a key component of the program. In addition to the group training fellows construct annual professional development plans, drawing on advice and support from 3-4 mentors identified in the network. Fellows also participate in 4-member peer mentor groups, with peers from other network members. These peer mentor groups meet during the training workshops and engage in two calls annually, facilitated by Dr. Dunning. These networked program structures create opportunities for Fellows to practice their developing professional skills and to co-create a productive, synergistic, and expanding “digital agriculture” network.

AI2EAR uses an activities-based logic model to define specific S&ECD activities, establish quantifiable metrics, and specify desired short- and long-term outcomes. This is being developed in coordination with the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State (as detailed in the Evaluation Section). The catalytic phase of AI2EAR  sets the stage for the development of the following initiatives: cross-institutional programming such as minors, certificates, or degree programs; project-based, innovation-focused courses for convergent education; short courses for both network and non-network students and other stakeholders that bridge engineering, data sciences, and life sciences; and innovation and collaboration-focused incentives that involve students and postdocs, including travel grants and internships.

During the catalytic phase, we will develop a Research Mini-Grant Award Program, to provide funding for selected students and postdocs to travel to and work in a network member’s lab for 3 months each summer. The program will be open to all students enrolled in accredited graduate programs with priority given to URM students and those from AI2EAR Network members. The AEC will be responsible for reviewing applications and matching the best applicants with host sites.

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