First Agricultural Engineering Major graduates from UAPB

Allison Malone of Memphis, Tennessee is the first student to earn a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB). The degree program, which was initiated in 2019, trains students to meet the demand for more efficient means of production in the agriculture industry.

Malone is graduating with a job in hand. She has accepted a position as an agricultural engineering trainee for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Dover, Delaware.

She had already completed an internship with the Dover-based office. However, due to the pandemic, the internship took place online, and she completed any in-person work in the NRCS offices in Shelby County and Jackson, Tennessee. This semester, she also had the opportunity to work with the NRCS office in Pine Bluff.

“I’m excited to see a new part of our country and learn new parts of conservation,” she said. “While NRCS conservation work in the south tends to be more focused on irrigation and farm conservation practices, work in Delaware seems more focused on wetlands restoration and work with poultry operations. Of course, my family is both excited and sad about my move, but I’ve been preparing them for me leaving for a long time – they have always known I wanted to live in another part of the world someday.”

During her junior year, Malone joined the USDA 1890 National Scholars Program. She received full tuition, books and the cost of room and board. Her internships with the USDA were also arranged through the program.

“I really appreciated the smaller classroom environment at UAPB,” she said. “I wasn’t just a number. Professors at UAPB know your name and are always there for you. My professors were always making sure I was on track with my studies and that I never missed out on any important opportunities that would further my education.”

Malone said Alicia Robinson-Farmer, instructor and regulatory science undergraduate coordinator, was a great source of support who helped her apply for the USDA 1890 National Scholars Program. Laura Hildreth, program coordinator for UAPB’s STEM Academy, taught her how to network and grow professionally.

She credits Dr. Obadiah M. Njue, assistant dean for Extension and outreach, with helping her choose her major and making sure she chose to study at UAPB in the first place. She met him when she was involved in an agricultural conservation project for high school students organized by Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven, Mississippi.

“At the summer apprenticeship, I was the student manager of a team of 11 – I happened to be one of the youngest participants and the only girl in the group,” Malone said. “I managed two gardens and a farmers market, where we sold everything that we grew. I ended up giving a tour to program organizers and visitors, and Dr. Njue was in attendance. He seemed impressed by my work and told me to keep UAPB in mind when I started looking for universities. He told me he would make sure I had access to scholarships and financial assistance to afford my studies.”

Malone said she has loved the outdoors and been interested in plants since she was a child. Later, she became interested in engineering. Specifically, she started to research civil engineering, which would allow her to design public works, and biomedical engineering, through which she could design prosthetics.

“Civil engineering didn’t seem engaging enough,” she said. “And biomedical engineering was out of the question once I found out that you have to be in the operating room during surgeries that involve prosthetics – I can’t stand the sight of blood.”

It was not until she participated in the agricultural conservation project for high school students that she learned about the possibility of pursuing a degree in agricultural engineering.

“Prior to that, I didn’t know there was a major that combined my two greatest interests,” she said. “Dr. Njue told me they were in the process of establishing a degree program in the field at UAPB – this pretty much sealed the deal for enrolling at UAPB. I started majoring in plant science, and switched majors once they finalized the program in agricultural engineering during my sophomore year.”

At UAPB, Malone served as president of the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) club and Alpha Kappa Mu National Honor Society. She was a member of STEM Academy, Alpha Chi National College Honor Society and the Carolyn F. Blakely Honors Program. She was secretary and second soprano section leader for the Vesper Choir and a member of the Yard Voices of Praise gospel choir.

“I am extremely proud of Allison,” Dr. Tracy Dunbar, chair for the UAPB Department of Agriculture, said. “She will be receiving the Chancellor’s Medallion Award for maintaining the highest GPA in the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences. She is going to work for the USDA NRCS and is looking to go on to graduate school. This is the type of experience that I would like for all of our students to have at UAPB.”