USDA NextGen Program

In 2023, the ASU Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, in partnership with three other universities and FoodCorps, received an $18 million grant centered on educating the next generation of food systems leaders. This led to the establishment of the USDA NextGen program.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) NextGen program is aimed at creating a pipeline of diverse professionals, trained and ready for future careers in the food and agriculture sector, particularly at USDA. The program includes scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students studying sustainable food systems, paid internship opportunities, workshops to navigate, a Model USDA event, and more. It engages the community as well, hosting conversations about future USDA workforce needs based on community-identified gaps in service.

USDA NextGen scholarships

The USDA NextGen program provides ASU students up to $7,500 per semester in scholarship support within the sustainable food system degree programs in the College of Global Futures. Students from traditionally underrepresented populations and first-gen college students are especially encouraged to apply.

Undergraduate scholarships

Undergraduate students should apply for the USDA NextGen scholarship by completing the College of Global Futures general undergraduate scholarship application. There is one for incoming students and one for current students. The supplemental essay prompt in addition to other questions should be completed for consideration of USDA NextGen and other scholarships.

Graduate scholarships

Graduate students pursuing a Master of Science in sustainable food systems or Graduate Certificate in food policy and sustainability leadership are eligible for the UDSA NextGen scholarship. After acceptance into either grad program, students will potentially be contacted with an offer to receive the USDA NextGen scholarship. No separate scholarship application is required.

Student expectations

Those receiving NextGen scholarships and/or internships are expected to commit to the following five activities:

The goal of the USDA info session is to familiarize students with the various job opportunities within USDA. With 17 different agencies and a budget over $200 billion, USDA is one of the largest and most influential government departments. There is a wide-range of career pathways, which can be exciting and also daunting for students considering pursuing a USDA job. This info session will break it down so it’s easier for students to understand the inner workings and find their niche in the Department of Agriculture.

Based on “Model Congress” and “Model UN,” NextGen students will participate in “Model USDA”: a simulation engagement to provide students with insights on the work that USDA does and training on how to do it, with particular emphasis on leadership skills and policy development. Students will take on the roles of Secretary, senior advisor, administrator, chief of staff, press aide, budget officer, HR director, tribal liaison office staff and more. Through role playing on specific and timely issues before USDA (e.g. preparation of the annual budget submission, competition, food procurement, food safety outbreak), students will act out real life job functions in a simulated atmosphere.

This workshop will provide students with all the dos and don’ts of applying for federal employment through After attending, students will be able to confidently navigate the expansive website and have more success in their search for internships and/or job opportunities.

To ensure NextGen students are fluent in climate science, an annual virtual symposium on climate and food will be held, inclusive of providing an online “toolbox” of accessible and reusable resources and a tutorial on how to use them. 

NextGen scholarship recipients will have access to exclusive career counseling to ensure they are adequately supported and prepared to enter the workforce upon completion of their studies. 

Hayden Flour Mills, pictured above, is one of the many sites committed to hosting NextGen interns.

Paid internships

The USDA NextGen program includes paid internships for undergraduate ASU students in the sustainable food systems BS degree, minor, and certificate programs in the School of Sustainability. There are 29 local internship sites in the fields of urban and organic agriculture, Indigenous foodways, water management and government service who have committed to hosting our NextGen scholars as interns.

USDA NextGen feature

Stay tuned as we continue creating and implementing the various aspects of this program, such as the MyUSDA app that places students in the roles of USDA problem solvers and the Model USDA multi-day event that allows students to act out real life job functions in a simulated atmosphere. To read the ASU News article announcing our grant award for this program, click below.

For USDA NextGen inquiries:

Portrait of Vanessa Pablo-Jones

Vanessa Pablo-Jones

Project Manager

Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems

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