New USDA Funded Research Program Provides Summer Experience to Community College Students

Students pose with coordinator
​REACH​ scholars pictured above from left to right: Joshua Dykes, REACH program coordinator Stephen Chmely, Nomfundo Mfeka, Jie Sheng Mei, Marlen Diaz, Benjamin Hatagan, Megan Abella, Joel Villalobos, Leticia Isaola, Jasmine Lee, and Brittany Stone. Image courtesy UTIA. 

Photos of individual students available. Contact Beth Hall, 865-974-7141,

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture is proud to announce a new research program, specifically for community college students. REACH, an agro-industrial research experience, is the first of its kind and an exciting development in research education. This summer marks the programs inaugural year of leadership development and compensated learning in a research setting.

The program consists of an eight-week summer research fellowship that will focus on fundamental scientific and engineering challenges relevant to producing renewable materials. Ideal students for the program are those with an interest in a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) or manufacturing.

According to Stephen Chmely, the project coordinator for REACH, “The Tennessee Promise program gives eligible high school graduates last-dollar scholarships to attend community college or a college of applied technology. But research has shown that access to this education will not translate to graduation from a 4-year school without augmented learning opportunities that bridge the gap between these two educational levels. The REACH program is exactly this type of bridge between 2- and 4-year STEM programs in Tennessee.”

Funded 100 percent by USDA but with oversight from UTIA faculty, REACH will provide students with needed experience in order to pursue high-tech agro-industrial jobs after graduation. The program features hands-on research learning, a summer stipend, housing, reimbursed travel expenses, and the incredible opportunity to learn and develop under the tutelage of UT AgResearch faculty.

This year’s chosen REACH fellows are Marlen Diaz (Chattanooga, Tennessee), Joshua Dykes (Benton, Tennessee), Benjamin Hatagan (Dayton, Ohio), Leticia Isaola (Chattanooga, Tennessee), Jasmine Lee (Jackson, Tennessee), Jie Sheng Mei (Memphis, Tennessee), Nomfundo Mfeka (Memphis, Tennessee), Megan Abella (Knoxville, Tennessee), Brittany Stone (Memphis, Tennessee), and Joel Villalobos (Memphis, Tennessee).

For additional information, visit the REACH website at

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture celebrates 50 years of excellence in providing Real. Life. Solutions. through teaching, discovery and service.



Stephen Chmely, UT Center for Renewable Carbon, 865-946-1106,​