Central State University celebrates 10 years as a land grant

Professor Sakthi Kumaran teaches soil sciences to undergraduate students at Central State University and runs a laboratory where his research team is studying carbon sequestration in soil. (Submitted photo)

WILBERFORCE, Ohio — Professor Sakthi Kumaran’s time is split between research and teaching. He teaches soil sciences to undergraduate students at Central State University and runs a laboratory where his research team is studying carbon sequestration in soil.

“My goal is to train the next generation of researchers,” he said. “They are our country’s future.”

Since achieving 1890 Land-Grant status in 2014, Central State University has expanded its teaching mission to include research and outreach.

The land-grant status gives the university additional federal funding aimed at building partnerships for agricultural outreach.

Faculty at Central State are studying programs in precision agriculture, food safety, pollinator health, the use of robotics and more. Funding also supports research programs that support students in labs where they apply classroom knowledge to hands-on work.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary as an 1890 Land-Grant institution, Central State is holding a campus-wide open house on April 26, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m, at the campus in Wilberforce, 1400 Brush Row Road. Attendees can learn more about Central State’s Extension programs, tour labs, connect with faculty and staff and explore opportunities for partnerships. For more information, click here.


Central State University started in 1887 as a two-year program for teacher training and vocational coursework within Wilberforce University, located in Greene County, Ohio. Founded in 1856 by the African Episcopal Methodist Church, Wilberforce University is a historically Black College or University, one of the few in the Midwest.

Central State was part of Wilberforce until 1947 when it split off from the private institution and emerged as an independent, public university, becoming Ohio’s only public HBCU.

On April 3, 1974, the Xenia tornado — the largest, most damaging storm ever recorded in the state — tore through the Wilberforce, Ohio campus, destroying more than half of it. Federal disaster relief and state rebuilding efforts repaired or rebuilt 40 buildings that were damaged or destroyed.

Reaching land grant status

Congress passed the original Land-Grant Act — also called the Morrill Act — in 1862. It was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. Proposed by Senator Justin Morrill, the act set aside 30,000 acres of land in each state to establish agricultural and mechanical colleges.

Ohio’s better-known land-grant institution, Ohio State University, was founded in 1870.

Because people of color couldn’t enroll in higher education until the next century, the Second Morrill Act of 1890 sought to fix this discrimination. Also called the Agricultural College Act of 1890, the Second Morrill Act required states to create land-grant institutions for Black Americans or show that race did not prevent Black students from attending their state’s existing land-grant institution.

While the first Morrill Act provided land for higher education institutions and supported extension work in agriculture, the Second Morrill Act provided funding for research and outreach. After 120 years of applications, Central State University received its 1890 Land-Grant designation in 2014.

The additional funding enhances teaching and research capacity in science, technology, engineering, agriculture and mathematics.

SUSHI feeds fish first

While many research programs are interdisciplinary, where experts in different fields work independently on a shared interest, Dr. Brandy E. Phipps prefers to call her research transdisciplinary. Her diverse team works collaboratively to solve complex problems like how to feed the world in a sustainable way.

Phipps, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Life Sciences, is leading a $10 million research project known as SUSHI — Sustainable Use of a Safe Hemp Ingredient.

She started with a question: Could hemp provide a safe, economical and environmentally friendly food additive for farm-raised fish? SUSHI examines how hemp might enhance fish nutrition, how fish enhance human nutrition and how local aquaponics production can enhance community nutrition and food security.

The study includes economics and workforce development, too. Part of the program provides participants with training in aquaponics and hemp production.

Brandy Phipps, SUSHI project director, and Craig Schluttenhofer, research director for SUSHI in the then in-progress SUSHI aquaculture research facility at Central State University. (Submitted photo)

The research, education and outreach are being carried out by a team of researchers from across Central State and partner institutions, including the College of Menominee Nation in Wisconsin where Native American students from Wisconsin received SUSHI scholarships to learn about sustainable agriculture. A pilot aquaponics program is in development, so tribal members can learn about aquaculture and start their own production system.

“We are looking at ways to connect traditional and modern ways of food production on the Reservation,” Phipps said.“We want to support sustainable food production through this project, including removing barriers to startup funding.

Climate-smart agriculture

Ibrahim Katampe’s research won’t take place in a laboratory but on farms throughout Ohio and southern Michigan.

Katampe, a professor of chemistry and the assistant director of the Innovation and Technology Transfer program at Central State, is managing a $4.9 million research grant to develop climate-smart commodities.

Producers and landowners will receive financial incentives via direct payments to support farming methods that sequester carbon and improve soil health. The program also follows products from farm to market.

According to Katampe, some consumers voluntarily pay extra for products labeled “organic.” Future product marketing may include a label that says “climate-smart.”

“The climate-smart program offers a three-prong approach,” Katampe said. “Innovative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, methods for improving soil health and better marketing for products.”

One piece of the holistic program is improving methods for trapping methane from manure, while extracting valuable nutrients to provide fertilizer. Researchers will test soil on farms in the program who use the fertilizer. Another part of the program is studying the use of high-fiber feed for cows, which means slower digestion. Less-hungry cows produce less waste.

Katampe said he plans to recruit 20 farms in Ohio and southern Michigan to participate in the program starting this summer.

Taking a closer look at soils — from the sky

Kumaran’s research team is developing a soil carbon index using advanced technologies such as hyperspectral imaging of soils taken over farm landscapes with drones.

“Ohio has about 440 different soil types,” he said. The lab is using data provided by the NRCS in the Gridded Soil Survey Geographic Database. His research team is comparing existing soil maps with new data from drone imaging to help farmers determine best management practices.Teams of surveyors have mapped soil types in Ohio since the early 1900s.

“Some surveyors were lumpers,” Kumaran said, with a smile. “Others were splitters.”

Lumpers combine different soil types while splitters separate them. This resulted in variability in county soil surveys. The differences matter when determining the best land-management practices and agricultural policy.

Kumaran’s drone work, which is funded by NASA and USDA, will help make more accurate maps. Workforce development is another goal of the research.

Kumaran also serves as a co-principal investigator on a $10 million NextGen project funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. His lab will be available for tours during the Open House on April 26.

(Melissa L Weber is a lifelong Ohioan who spent 20+ years in communications at Ohio State University. Now, she raises trees on land in Hocking County, and writes from her home in Worthington about agriculture, healthcare, conservation, science and research. Contact her at melwriter78@yahoo.com or 614-327-6024.)

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