History and Mission
In the early 1980s, a concerned minority student, Dave Weatherspoon, recognized the need for a support group for minority students in agricultural programs at Michigan State University (MSU). With the help and guidance of a sensitive college advisor, Eunice Foster, he set out to form such a group on his campus. From these efforts, the Minority Agriculture and Natural Resources Association (MANRA), a registered student organization in the College of Agriculture at MSU, was founded in the spring of 198s. News of MANRRS reached a staff person whose responsibilities included promoting participation of minority students in agricultural sciences at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU). In 1985, after a series of communications between institutions, representatives of MANRA and their faculty mentor visited PSU to help form an organization for minority students in its College of Agriculture. Out of this meeting, Minorities in Agriculture (MIA) was formed by the Penn State group.
In April, 1986, MANRA and MIA jointly sponsored “The First Annual Conference of Minority Students in Agriculture and Natural Resources” at MSU. A primary focus of the conference was the problem of how to organize students disciplinary interest groups on university campuses. Over 40 students and faculty from six colleges participated. The second conference, also sponsored jointly by MANRA and MIA, was held April 1987 at PSU. More than 60 people from 11 colleges, six government organizations, and five private firms participated. The third conference was held at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, April 1988. This was a pivotal meeting for the formation of MANRRS. Student and faculty representatives from all 1862 and 1890 land grant colleges and universities, including Tuskegee University, were invited. Representatives from interested public and private agencies and firms were also invited.
At the third conference, the national alliance convened under the name Minorities in Agriculture and Natural Resources Association which maintained the MSU acronym MANRA. However, after deliberation by the assembly, it was agreed that MANRA did not adequately reflect the range of disciplines that formed the target population for the association membership. The MANRRS name was adopted by majority vote to extend the audience served by the association to include “related sciences.” A slate of national officers include professionals and students were elected, the national constitution was adopted, and a student member public speaking competition was introduced.
The 1989 Conference at The Fort Valley State College saw the initiation of proposals for private foundation funding and significant refinement of the national constitution. The 1990 conference at College Park, MD, sponsored jointly by the University of Delaware and USDA’s Soil Conservation Service, witnessed the formal registration of charter student chapters on 11 university campuses. The society’s first full-time salaried professional position of Project Coordinator (PC), was staffed with funding from the Ford Foundation. Appointed in March 1991, the PC was charged to pursue activities related to funding MANRRS’s initiatives and maintaining and extending the membership base. During this period, the first five members of MANRRS were seated. Though the number was small, it included representatives from both the public and private sectors to include university administrators of 1862 and 1890 institutions. Also during 1990-91, five new institutional members with outreach as far as New Mexico State University, were brought into the MANRRS fold. The April 1991 MANRRS conference was in Gainesville, Florida and significant increases in external support for both the national society and its student chapters were witnessed.
MANRRS is a national society that welcomes membership of people of all racial and ethnic groups. For student members, MANRRS provides role models and networking opportunities. MANRRS also offers students opportunities to enhance leadership, organizational and public speaking skills, and to experience professional critiques of scholarly work in a “user-friendly” environment. MANRRS professional members are often the only, or one of few, minority participants in their basic disciplinary societies or at their career locations. MANRRS provides professionals a network of counterparts from a similar background with related interests and goals. Finally, MANRRS also serves employers in the broader agricultural sector. It provides them a platform to identify prospective employees whom are well-qualified, highly educated, and represent a growing population that hails from various communities, cultures, and backgrounds.