SPC's Lourdes Alba, Community Garden in Washington, D. C.

June 19, 2018

Public Information Officer



The 20th anniversary class of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship taking place in Washington, D. C., this week includes a St. Philip's College faculty member.

The faculty member is Lourdes Alba, a research chemist-educator who has been the lead instructor for general chemistry for thousands of students within and beyond the college's Dr. William Conan Davis Natural Science Building at 1801 Martin Luther King Drive in the city's Denver Heights neighborhood. The June 18-29 fellowship program includes education, high school and science cohorts. Alba is a member of the education cohort that usually consists of 10 persons selected nationwide.

The formal name of the 20th anniversary program that Alba is attending this week is the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Advocacy and Outreach, Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship Program. The forum offers faculty and staff from Hispanic-Serving Institutions a professional development opportunity at the national level. The faculty work collaboratively with USDA experts to gain mutually beneficial insights and understandings of the federal government. Through the fellowship, faculty and staff at Hispanic-serving postsecondary institutions learn about opportunities that are available with USDA and other federal agencies for both their respective institutions and their students.

Few colleges can claim the distinction of operating their 120-year-old business as the world's only Historically Black College and Universities member institution with Hispanic Serving Institution status, and few colleges can claim establishing the first working 100 percent organic community garden as both a lab and a community service blocks from their campus. That institution   is St. Philip's College, and Alba is representing some of the best of college and San Antonio innovation during the USDA's program this week. With an increased capacity to serve both students and community, Alba returns to San Antonio with first-hand knowledge of federal policymaking processes by meeting with USDA personnel and connecting with such federal agencies as the Department of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and the National Science Foundation.

"In October, I responded to an email invitation to a USDA Fellows application briefing by Dr. Martha Trevino, director of Alamo Colleges District's Office of Experiential Learning," said Alba. After being inspired and encouraged during the briefing, I went to work on my application for the fellowship and turned it in in February. In May, I received the notification of my acceptance to the fellowship program. In accepting, I committed myself to working with other fellows in the District to help in the promotion of the USDA and its initiatives among students, faculty, staff and the SPC communities as a whole," Alba explained.

Alba envisions what she terms "Food for Life" - her future proposal for bringing students, faculty and staff to collaborate with local urban farmers and community gardeners along the lines of USDA initiatives.

Although they may have to graciously decline, Alba is likely to impress as she extends an invitation to fellows in her cohort to serve as guest volunteers in the first working 100 percent organic community garden on San Antonio's Eastside. The 6,500 square-foot Eastside Community Garden with multiple organic garden plots where gardeners can take organic produce home for meals was initiated by a group of seniors who are assisted by volunteers and neighbors for the classroom series Alba's students are key to: Jessica's Project. In addition to increasing food resources for local seniors on fixed incomes in the food desert of Eastside San Antonio, Alba's students have found opportunities to give back by not only helping to improve the nutritional value of the up-and-coming organic garden located between residences at 1715 N. Center St., Alba says the college is educating in ways that are both connected and flexible in their response to Hispanic students and their community needs, with the organic garden as an extended classroom lab with a social purpose. Goals lab experience include educating, informing and advising St. Philip's College students and Eastside Promise Zone community members on best practice sustainable health and wellness initiatives.

In her capacities as a research chemist-educator and the lead instructor for general chemistry at St. Philip's College, Alba teaches chemistry for science and engineering majors and serves as sponsor of the college's Eureka Science Club student organization. With a passion for the environment and for life, she participates in the outdoor lab of the garden, immersing herself in health and nutrition projects, supporting STEM events and writing thought-provoking science articles in her blog. Alba's presentation at the 2018 Consejos Colectivos Conference in Dallas themed  Understanding Chemistry through Language  was well-received for her unique approach to teaching Hispanic students. She has been recognized since 2014 for excellence in civic engagement and for commitment and service to students, among other distinctions in the field of science education. Under her leadership, her Eureka Science Club students receive monetary awards through the college's Student Engagement Grant program, and she is currently working on a proposal for minority student involvement in experimental science research. Alba is also a faculty mentor who shares the teaching techniques and technology skills that she honed as facilitator for the college's Master Teacher Program and for the Distance Learning Certification Program of her college.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus co-founder E. "Kika" De La Garza, II (1965-1997) was a legendary Texan and alumnus of St. Mary's University Law School who served six consecutive terms in the Texas House of Representatives before spending 32 years as a leading U.S. congressman from Texas, in addition to working 12 years in the practice of law. As a working subject matter expert on national and international law related to agriculture and commerce, De La Garza played a major role in expanding U.S. trade with Japan, the former Soviet Union, China, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. For details on the fellowship experience, contact fellowship program manager Dan Wueste at (202)-720-6506 or via email: daniel.wueste@osec.usda.gov. Alba can be reached at lalba2@alamo.edu.

CAPTION : On a rare quiet day in the chemistry lab of the Dr. William Conan Davis Natural Science Building of St. Philip's College at 1801 Martin Luther King Drive in the city's Denver Heights neighborhood, research chemist-educator Lourdes Alba examines a strawberry grown in an innovative extension of the lab: the first working 100 percent organic community garden on San Antonio's Eastside. While Alba will share her knowledge of the garden and more for a national audience during the 20th anniversary class of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship taking place June 18-29 in Washington, D. C., her takeaways after working with other fellows in the District will help in the promotion of the USDA and its initiatives among students, faculty, staff and the St. Philip's College communities as a whole. (SPC image by Julysa Sosa)