STEM and Social Science NextGen Fellowships for CSU COAST Graduate Students

​​Applications for funding for Spring 2024 - Fall 2024 will be reviewed beginning November 6, 2023, and will continue until all funding is awarded

​Applications from students who are members of a group(s) that has been historically excluded from ocean and coastal science and related fields are strongly encouraged. 

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Description|Benefits|Eligibility|Areas of Interest|Application Instructions|Contact​

Please read this entire Award Announcement ​​in detail BEFORE you apply for this opportunity to ensure you are applying correctly.

​Important Dates​:​

​October 23, 2023:  Open discussion office hours, 12:00 - 1:00 pm Pacific time

November 6, 2023:  Review of applications begins ​


CSU COAST, in partnershi​p with the CSU Agricultural Research Institute (ARI), is pleased to announce an opportunity for CSU graduate students to participate in year-long research and professional development fellowships as part of a US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) NextGen award to CSU ARI totaling $9.5 million. 

The program, “Building a Boulevard f​​or Career Success in Agriculture and Natural Resources for Underrepresented Students” will help build and prepare a diverse and highly skilled food, agriculture, natural resources, and human science (FANH) workforce by recruiting, training, and mentoring students from across the CSU. ARI’s goals for this program are to provide research and professional experiences to advance students’ knowledge and critical thinking skills, encourage the development of leadership and communication skills, and provide mentoring that will help students advance their careers. Projects supported by this program are intended to attract and support graduate students from historically excluded groups in order to prepare them for FANH careers in the United States. 

Students interested in natural re​source management and conservation are encouraged to apply. COAST priority research topics include, but are not limited to, the following, all in the context of agriculture: 

    • Sustainable aquaculture​;
    • Plastic and microplastic debris;
    • Nutrient runoff and coastal ocean acidification; and 
    • Pesticide use and water quality impacts. 

Projects can be based in any STEM discipline as well as the social sciences. Please see Areas of Interest​ below for more detailed descriptions of these topics and potential project ideas. 

What you’ll get as a Fellow (Benefits)

    • One-year $25,000 fellowship that can be used for tuition and personal living expenses
    • Hands-on, independent research experience in agriculture or natural resources
    • Dedicated mentorship and advising 
    • One-to-one training from CSU faculty mentors and professionals
Skill building and professional development  
    • Increase your discipline-specific working knowledge 
    • Improve your research, problem solving, critical thinking, and communication skills
    • Increase your self-confidence 
    • Develop your scientific identity and sense of belonging 
    • Develop leadership skills
    • Receive financial support and mentorship to attend and present your work at a national conference
    • Add a prestigious accomplishment to your resume or CV

Who can apply? (Eligibility)

This program is open to all CSU graduate students with interest in FANH careers. Students who are members of a group(s) that has been historically excluded from ocean and coastal science and related fields are strongly encouraged to apply. 

    • Please note that while the ARI application form asks students if they are Hispanic/Latinx; African American, or Native American, low-income or first generation, we strongly encourage applications from a broad audience, including students who are Hispanic, Latina/o, Black or African American, Asian, Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian, American Indian, Alaska Native or a combination of ethnicities; noncitizens; female; LGBTQIA+; first-in-family; economically disadvantaged*; veterans; have disabilities. Applicants of any race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, immigration status, national origin, age, dis/ability or veteran status are welcome. 

      *as defined by the U.S. Department of​ Education


    • ​Students must remain in their graduate degree program for at least one year following the start of the fellowship. 
      • ​​For example, if your fellowship begins in January 2024, you cannot graduate before December 2024. 
    • ​GPA of 3.0 or higher.
    • Desire to pursue a career in food, agriculture, natural resources, or human sciences.

Areas of Interest

Projects may i​nvolve basic and applied research. Social science-based projects on public policy and community engagement are encouraged. 

Sustainable Aquaculture

There is global demand for high quality protein to feed the ever-growing human population, and aquaculture, the fastest-growing form of food production, will play a major role in food security in the coming decades. Between 85-95% of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, and roughly 50% of it comes from aquaculture. In California, aquaculture is a burgeoning industry consisting of both land-based facilities and operations within coastal waters and employs a variety of culture methods depending on species, environmental conditions, and logistical considerations 

​​Aquaculture can provide many benefits including, but not limited to: 

    • ​Sustainable, efficient food production. 
    • Reduced pressure on and overexploitation of wild fisheries. 
    • Enhanced ecosystem services and improved water and habitat quality.  
    • Reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Food traceability and safety. 
    • Reduction of the seafood trade deficit. 
    • Local economic development and community-building. 

​​Culture techniques have evolved over time: older methods associated with environmental damage have been phased out in favor of newer approaches that are more compatible with natural resource protection and sustainability goals. For example, in integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) where algae and shellfish are grown together, seaweed can mitigate the impact of ocean acidification on oysters and abalone. In restorative aquaculture, the practice provides direct ecological benefits to the environment and can even generate net-positive environmental outcomes. 

Cultivating a sustainable aquaculture industry in California requires continued advancement of low- or no-impact, profitable, efficient methods for multiple species throughout the state. Impacts of existing practices must be better understood in order to develop improved methods that protect environmental quality while providing safe, reliable and affordable food. 

Potential projects: quantification of environmental impacts of aquaculture; development of restorative practices that are both ecologically and economically sustainable. 

Plastic and microplastic debris

Microplastics and microfibers (MP/MFs, generally defined as materials <5mm in length and including nanomaterials <1 micron) are found ubiquitously througho​​ut ocean and coastal waters globally, and they are increasingly being studied for their impacts on the environment and wildlife and human health. MP/MFs affect organisms through ingestion and inhalation and subsequent exposure to chemicals inherent to the plastic itself as well as chemicals adsorbed onto the plastic’s surface from the surrounding environment. Studies have shown that microplastics are able to translocate from an organism’s digestive tract into its body, including muscle, reproductive and brain tissue. The ultimate effects of this exposure are unknown as of yet. 


Once in the environment MP/MFs are nearly impossible to remove. Experts agree that reducing the source of the MP/MF is the most effective way of reducing this contaminant in the environment. One area warranting more investigation is the contribution of plastics from agricultural lands. Plastic ​​mulch and drip tape fragments can enter estuarine and marine environments where they break down into MP/MFs. Additionally, sludge from wastewater treatment facilities added to agricultural fields as fertilizer may be a significant source of MP/MFs, which are prevalent in household effluent. Quantification of MP/MF loads from different types of agricultural practices can help determine where efforts to mitigate plastic pollution can be most effective. 

Potential projects: Quantification of MP/MF loads from different types of agricultural practices; quantification and characterization of MP/MFs in wastewate​r sludge; impacts of MP/MF exposure on marine and aquatic life; development of bio-based materials to replace synthetics. 

Nutrient runoff and coastal ​​ocean acidification​

Ocean​​​ acidification (OA) is an issue of significant concern for ocean and coastal areas worldwide. OA results from a suite of chemical reactions in seawater that decrease pH and the availability of carbonate ions, which are crucial building blocks for calcifying organisms like corals and shellfish. To build and maintain their skeletons and shells, marine organisms have to divert energy from other critical functions including growth and reproduction. Behavior and physiology of non-calcifying organisms are also affected by changes in seawater chemistry. For example, increased acidity decreases the ability of fish to find food and avoid predators and reduces oxygen transport in squid. 


In California, th​​ere is increasing concern that nutrient inputs from terrestrial sources are exacerbating coastal OA and its negative impacts on marine ecosystems, including harming the state’s mariculture industry. Contribution of nutrients from agriculture (primarily in the form of fertilizer application) relative to other sources (urban runoff, wastewater treatment plants) needs to be better quantified in order to address coastal OA issues in California and across the US. 


Potential projects: Quantification of nutrient inputs from agriculture relative to other sources (urban runoff, wastewater treatment plants); modeli​ng coastal nutrient loads from terrestrial sources and ocean conditions; best management practices for reducing nutrient runoff.

Pesticide use and water q​​uality impacts​

Pesticides are used in agriculture to control weeds, insect populations and invasive species and play a critical role in increasing crop yields. However, pesticides can negatively impact surrounding surface waters, groundwater, and soils through runoff, infiltration, and atmospheric depositio​​n. Once in waterways, pesticides pose a threat to aquatic life as well as humans. For species such as fish and aquatic invertebrates, mechani​sms include toxicity, bioaccumulation, changes to behavior and reproduction, and changes to ecosystem balance. Human exposure to pesticide pollution occurs primarily through contamination of drinking water supplies, consumption of contaminated organisms, or contact with surface waters. 

The impact of pesticides on water quality and ecosystems is a result of environmental conditions (e.g., precipitation, soil characteristics), hydrology, pesti​​cide chemistry (e.g., solubility, mobility), and management and may be highly site-specific. Better understanding of dynamics at individual sites could allow for tailored, site-specific management practices that increase efficiency and effectiveness. 

Potential projec​​ts: Site-specific studies to understand local dynamics and develop tailor-made strategies to reduce contamination of the surrounding environment; development of more universal best management practices to reduce contamination; development of more environmentally-friendly products and nature-based solutions to pest management. 

Application Instructions 

To ensure review of your application, please submit it by November 6, 2023. After November 6, applications will only be reviewed if funding is ava​​ilable. 

There are three components to your application: 
    1. Application form (details below)
    2. Resume or CV
    3. Unofficial transcripts: We require you to upload unofficial copies of transcripts from every college or university attended, including study abroad coursework and community college coursework even if transfer credit appears on your degree transcript. Upload all transcripts to the application form. Photographs of documents are not accepted.
Complete the application form, which contains the following sections: 
    1. Identify the problem or question you want to study. (2,500 characters)
    2. What is the significance? In other words, why is this worth studying? (2,500 characters) 
    3. What is already known about this topic? What new information will your research add? Use primary literature sources to support your claims (add references to REFERENCE section, last box at the end of application). (3,000 characters) 
    4. What is your approach? Describe your methodology, data analysis plan, and anticipated results. (5,000 characters)
    5. References (10,000  characters)
    6. Provide a statement regarding your future career plans. 
    7. Write a paragraph describing how your research will benefit the Hispanic community. 

We recommend that you​​ write your responses using Word (or a similar program) and then cut-and-paste your responses into the boxes in the application form. We strongly recommend having your faculty mentor read your project description before you submit it.​

Need more information? (Contact)

For more information on the COAST-ARI USDA NIFA NextGen fellowship please use the following resources: