OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Janeen Abrams grew up in Philadelphia and took an interest in her aunt's gardening, which led her to focus on agriculture sciences in school. Today, in addition to being a plant research scientist at Purdue University, she's spreading the message of the benefits of problem-solving in agriculture by increasing diversity.

"We recognize as plant scientists that we cannot exist and cannot move our genetic lines forward without diversity. But somehow, as people, we've been in a slow process to recognize the value and importance of that," she says.

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Abrams is president of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, or MANRRS. The National MANRRS conference will be held April 3-6 in Kansas.

Abrams says getting more women and people of different ethnic groups involved in agriculture and on the boards of companies. Just as plant scientists breed varieties with different characteristics to bring out certain traits, people from different backgrounds can contribute different ideas and perspectives, she explains.

And that does not mean excluding white males, she adds. It means adding people to the mix, no matter their gender, age, ethnicity or background.

"Why not bring all of that to the table?" she says.

Abrams grew up in north Philadelphia and attended a high school with a strong agriculture program, which helped increase the interest in plant science that she gained in her aunt's garden. She then attended Penn State University for her undergraduate studies, followed by Alabama A&M.

She urges students to follow their passions and find professionals who can share about their work. Involvement in 4-H, FFA or other organizations that can add exposure to agriculture provide opportunities to learn, she says. MANRRS also has partnered with those groups to promote the importance of agriculture to minority students.