Dr. Pilar Maul and students in the I-Catch garden.
St. Thomas University’s School of Science is always up to something new and striving to lead the path of innovation and opportunities for its students. And one of its latest projects is the I-CATCH program (Innovative Curriculum for Agriculture Training and Career for Hispanics), which is a collaboration between Florida International University, Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, Miami Dade College-North, St. Thomas University, and Miami Dade College-Homestead.
So, what is it?
The program trains Hispanic students in agricultural, plants, herbs and other natural resources, and prepares them for jobs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as other federal agencies. The program also offers internships with the USDA, community engagement, and collaborative learning.
“We offer many opportunities such as tuition scholarship stipends, developing expertise in molecular biology, tissue culture, bioinformatics, field studies, and developing your soft skills (creativity, analytical thinking, multitasking, verbal and written communications, time management, teamwork, and collaboration),” said professor Dr. Pilar Maul.
It’s more than a garden
It’s a research garden, and it’s where several students have class every week. The garden is home to several scientific experiments arranged in different plots. Experiments range from testing organic fertilizers, growing carrots (as well as other vegetables), and medicinal plants.
Currently, students are testing different organic fertilizers, which they produce at STU using earthworm compost. In other words, using several bins, they have created an earthworm compost factory where they feed food scraps and other organic material to the worms, and use the worm’s nutrient-rich compost to grow plants.
Maul’s focus for this year is to expand the current garden and grow medicinal plants such as yarrow, aloe, Echinacea, and marshmallow. She challenges students by allowing them to use different growing techniques for their choice of plant. When plants are harvested, they assess the final product by measuring its length, width and mass.
STU student Luis Cendan, said the program has help him grow professionally and personally.
“The I-CATCH program changed me in many ways,” he said. “I grew as a scientist, learnied to design experiments, analyze data, and present my research in symposia. This kind of hands-on learning simply cannot be replicated by the mere reading of a book or watching videos, and I know I have grown considerably in the two years I've been involved in I-CATCH. “
If you would like to apply to this program, please contact professor Maul at Dmaul@stu.edu for more information.