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Monday, June 24, 2024

UF research initiative partners with two other universities to reach Hispanic citizens

Environmental assessment survey aims to reach Hispanic communities in Florida

For UF assistant professor Hance Ellington, understanding what environmental issues — like forestry, climate change and biodiversity  —  are most pressing for a state with a large Hispanic population is an issue that requires more representation. 

His survey plans to address the issues most important to Florida’s Hispanic residents. It is also the first comprehensive needs assessment survey in Florida to focus exclusively on Hispanic communities, Ellington said. 

Ellington works as a grassland wildlife specialist at the IFAS Grassland Livestock Research and Education Center in Ona. He oversees a research assessment at UF that identifies which natural resource, wildlife, agricultural and well-being interests are most crucial to Spanish-speaking communities across Florida. 

The assessment, available in both English and Spanish, targets Hispanic adults living in the three participating states: Florida, New Mexico and Arizona. 

The survey is part of a multistate partnership Extension research initiative, collaborating with New Mexico State University and the University of Arizona. It’s funded by a $100,000 USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant, according to a UF blog post. 

The survey is labeled as a needs assessment survey. These types of surveys are used as a measure for the expansion of Extension programs at UF and other universities. 

Ellington’s goals are focused on constructing a framework to provide these Extension resources to Hispanic communities, he said. 

The survey includes Likert scale questions asking peoples’ interests in specific environmental topics. It also asks participants how often they research these topics.

Ignacio Porzecanski, a UF School of Natural Resources and Environment professor, believes the survey is thorough, expanding into various environmental focuses including crops, livestock and horticulture.

Porzecanski also believes the survey could face potential fragility when assessing demographics. Hispanic culture stands as a broad concept, he said.

“I think it's very different to have to compare the culture of recent immigrants from Colombia, from Venezuela, say with somebody who considers himself or herself a Latino but has been born in the United States,” Porzecanski said. 

The recent immigrant may be here for reasons that are economic and even political, he said They're seeking a job or seeking asylum.

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“The environment does not figure prominently in their ethos, in their kinds of occupations,” Porzecanski said. “They're occupied with something else.”

However, the recent grandchildren or children of immigrants who have made themselves a space in Florida, have been trying to engage themselves and assimilate into American culture, he said. 

Porzecanski believes the survey will produce beneficial results if taking these different fundamentals into consideration.

“Because it has so many questions and has so many different angles, then a person who fills it will be someone who cares about the environment,” Porzecanski said. 

David Puente, a 21-year-old UF advertising senior, comes from Colombian parents and admires the research initiative’s efforts to reach different communities. 

“It is always dangerous to tell a story from a single perspective,” he said.

Puentes’ experience visiting Colombia has allowed him to formulate his own opinions on different environmental and infrastructure issues.

“At the end of the day, even just my perspective, isn't all that big,” Puentes said.

Luis Torres, a 27-year-old UF geological sciences PhD student, believes environmental opinions can greatly vary based on upbringing.

“I was exposed to so much nature I got really interested in and that's what led me to care about nature in the first place,” he said.

Identifying between urban and rural backgrounds can make a significant difference in how participants approach their answers.

“Your demographic really correlates to how exposed you are,” Torres said.

Despite considering different backgrounds when analyzing results, Ellington is aiming to expand resources for Spanish-speaking communities.

“The results of the survey will directly inform which current Extension resources will be translated first and the topics that the development of new Extension resources will focus on,” he wrote.

Ellington acknowledges that language limitation is a principal issue.

“Research has shown that although there are multiple barriers to successful extension within Hispanic communities, perhaps one of the biggest barriers is language,” Ellington wrote in a UF blog post.

Ellington hopes the initiative will increase representation within the Florida community and allow for future assessments to include more voices.

“The Cooperative Extension program is intended to serve all people in Florida and this is a critical first step that will help us achieve this goal,” Ellington wrote.

Contact Nicole at nbeltran@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @nicolebeltg.

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Nicole Beltran

Nicole Beltran is a second-year journalism and economics major. This is her first semester as the race and equity reporter. She has previously worked as a translator and editor for El Caimán. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, trying new foods and drawing.


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