A new federally funded program at the University of Houston is meeting the growing need for well-trained professionals in the retailing and consumer science industry within the field of human sciences. The goal is to widen the pipeline so that more curious, creative students of various backgrounds will be well prepared to become the industry’s leaders of the future.
The term human sciences may not ring a bell for many ears, even though the profession guides many basic aspects of commerce and everyday life. Behind the scenes, human sciences professionals wield key influence in the making of public policies and corporate decisions.
“Our human sciences profession is involved in improving quality of life for individuals, families and communities. The field covers consumer science, food and nutrition, family studies, child development and housing. The profession’s body of knowledge is vast. Here at UH we specialize in retail and consumer science. My own specialty is consumer behavior,” said Barbara Stewart, chair of the Department of Human Development and Consumer Science in the Cullen College of Engineering’s Technology Division, and principal investigator of UH’s NEXTGENeration program.
The UH project is part of a larger consortium – its full title is NEXTGENeration Inclusion Consortium for Building the Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences Pipeline – being guided at the Tennessee State University College of Agriculture. A $18 million USDA grant will fund the consortium for the next five years.
Taking the overall view: The NEXTGENeration consortium is one of 33 program partners (covering 44 states) that compose the USDA’s new five-year $262 million Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals Program. The USDA initiative, formally announced June 21 by the USDA, is funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, signed one year ago by President Biden as the core pillar of his Investing in America agenda.
The Learning to Lending programs help address the new law’s four main goals: Lowering costs for American households, opening markets to producers from all backgrounds and communities, building a clean energy economy, and strengthening U.S. supply chains.
Among the NEXTGENeration consortium, the institution partners share the core goal of building and sustaining the next generation of the country’s food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences workforce. They also seek to advance knowledge in its areas of interest, erase obstacles so qualified students can choose to major in these fields, and provide students with the training that best prepares them for success in their future careers.
“Here at the University of Houston, our program reaches out to high school and college students, then supports participants with stipends through graduation with a bachelor of science degree in retailing and consumer science, or a master of science degree in global retailing. Our ultimate goal is to graduate the next generation of immediately employable professionals from a variety of backgrounds who will bring fresh viewpoints to the industry,” said Olivia Johnson, assistant professor of retailing and consumer science and co-principal investigator in this project.
This grant supports student success throughout the educational pipeline by providing scholarships (undergraduate and graduate), the ResearchYOU! undergraduate research mentorship program and UniversityYOU! Bootcamp that guides graduate students in applying to and succeeding in the global retailing graduate program.
Undergraduate retailing and consumer science students jump directly into scholarships, degrees and research programs. For grad students, UniversityYOU! Bootcamp explains benefits of a graduate degree, advises how to apply for NEXTGENeration scholarships, and shares tips on financing the program and succeeding throughout the process.
“For many, Bootcamp is where they decide whether the UH program for global retailing is right for them. For 10 ambitious grad students willing to work hard, NextGENeration stipends will help them explore new opportunities without putting household finances at much risk. Another 10 stipends will be awarded to undergrads,” Stewart said.
For its teaching and community outreach, the UH program has six components:
- Expanding youth programs that explore human sciences opportunities
- Supporting new youth development organizations
- Introducing students to the UH program and encourage their interest through graduation
- Acknowledging successful participants in the ResearchYou! student research program
- Providing yearly stipends – $5,000 to 10 undergraduates, $7,000 to 10 graduate students – to help deserving students turn their career visions into reality
- Making UH’s NEXTGENeration curriculum available to other human sciences programs
Within the retail and consumer sciences field, job prospects look bright. The National Retail Federation website reports: “As the nation’s largest private-sector employer, retail contributes $3.9 trillion to the annual GDP. No other industry comes close.”
NRF statistics show the retail industry supports one in four American jobs. In Texas, it’s even more: The NRF reports 30% of jobs in the Lone Star state are supported by retailing.
“This new program opens a level of support that can make the critical difference in many talented students’ ability to pursue opportunities these fast-growing fields offer. We are proud of their dedication on campus and will be even more proud of the influence they earn as professionals in the ever-growing global marketplace,” said Joseph W. Tedesco, Elizabeth D. Rockwell dean of UH Cullen College of Engineering.
At UH, the NEXTGENeration program zeroes in on the human sciences field with emphasis on consumer sciences and retailing. But attention is on agriculture careers at the other institutions in the NEXTGENeration consortium: College of Agriculture at Tennessee State University, the consortium’s lead institute; Alcorn State University (Mississippi); Fort Valley State University (Georgia); Chief Dull Knife College (Montana); Virginia Tech; Vanderbilt University (Tennessee); Middle Tennessee State; and University of Tennessee at Martin.
Stewart and Johnson are recruiting students to the NEXTGENeration program at UH and are welcoming the program’s first participants in fall 2023.