Meet Dr. Irene Grimberg, Associate Research Professor at Montana State University
Updated: Jul 26, 2020
Irene’s passion and devotion lies on empowering others and spreading the knowledge to a vast range of communities.
Dr. Bruna Irene Grimberg is an Associate Research Professor in the College of Agriculture at Montana State University. She is also the principal investigator of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded project “Empowering Women in Agriculture” and serves as a Deputy Regional Coordinator of the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). Her current positions are mainly conducting research, outreach, and administration. Dr. Grimberg’s role explores a bit of everything, from interacting with people from different backgrounds such as farmers, students, and academic researchers, to solving problems and communicating ideas.
Irene Grimberg followed her instincts on starting a career in academia because she believes in“the vision and mission of the academic work are the pursuit of knowledge to advance the wellbeing of society, the natural environment on which humans depend, and the relationship between both.” Irene started her career by completing her M.S. in Physics at the Universityof Buenos Aires, Argentina followed by a Ph.D. from University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Irene took this pathway becauseshesaw physics as a “fundamental” science able to explain all, but soon she realized that the complexity and interdependency of the human-environmental system required another set of lenses, beyond physics.
Devoted to communicating the essence of science
During the beginning of her career, Dr. Grimberg taught science and mathematics from middle school to graduate course levels, in urban and rural schools, and to underserved communities and teachers in Native American reservations. Grimberg expressed that teaching allowed her to “spread the beauty and bounty of science to people who were not necessarily part of the scientific community.”While working as an educator, Irene Grimberg realized that to effectively teach and reach more communities, she needed to be a better communicator. Moved by her instincts and interests, she completed an M.S. in Science Education from Iowa State University, with a focus on quantitative methods of analysis. Dr. Grimberg explains that learning about how people learn science opened her eyes to a vast and exciting horizon.
“Science is a great learning material in many ways; it provides a sense of discovery and awe; it forces you to be systematic and organized; it requires patience and perseverance; it centers on critical thinking and problem-solving. I believe these are great attributes to acquire in school!”
Irene emphasized that with the understanding of science, education, and quantitative analytic skills allowed her to work with many collaborators in a myriad of interdisciplinary projects, including agricultural science projects.
“Through these projects, I had the privilege of getting to know many farmers and ranchers, to my surprise, they share my passion for discovery and problem solving, and many of them have an invested interest in contributing to the wellbeing of society while preserving the natural environment.”
Currently, Dr. Irene Grimberg, is the Principal Investigator of a USDA-NIFA funded project “Empowering Women in Agriculture. ”This project focuses on women’s access to career paths of 21st-century agriculture. The project includes three major components. First, an educational component where she and other collaborators developed and delivered online courses on women in agriculture. Second, the research component which is based on the analysis of the perception of women's access to leadership positions in five agricultural career paths. Last but not least, an outreach component, here they organize and sponsor an annual photography contest and an annual summit on women in agriculture, “Celebrating Women in Agriculture”. The overall goal is to increase women retention and career success in agriculture, and increase public understanding of women's roles and contributions to agricultural fields.
Additionally, Dr. Grimberg is currently serving as the Deputy Regional Coordinator of Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), a USDA-NIFA supported program to advance research and education in sustainable agriculture. SARE's missionis to advance and invest in research opportunities to help improve the American agriculture and food systems.
As a versatile professional, Dr. Grimberg commented on the importance of improving the agricultural sector and she indicates that it relates with different aspects of the discipline. The elements which she feels that need imperative actions are: trust among various agricultural stakeholders, gender equity in agriculture, and that agriculture should be part of the solution to climate change.
Trust among various agricultural stakeholders
Irene states that there is always room for improvement in the communication among the agricultural stakeholder groups like producers, researchers, consultants and others.
“Having a fluid and transparent communication, free of preconceptions and myths will definitely advance agriculture.”
Gender equity in agriculture
She expressed that having more gender-equitable agriculture could help solve serious issues about the future of agriculture, including access to land for young producers and the preservation of small acreage agriculture.
“According to the data of the USDA NASS 2017 Census, the agricultural sector made substantial improvements in integrating women, still principal female producers owned less than one third of the land owned by principal producers; regarding decision making, it is noteworthy that of all principal producers who make the day-to-day decisions 32% are females, for decisions concerning land use and crops 28%, and for decisions related to estate or succession planning 35%.”
Agriculture should be part of the solution to climate change.
It is imperative to start thinking about how we can keep innovating the ag sector in a more sustainable way. Finding ways in which we can combine systems that would benefit the food production while reusing resources may help combat climate change.
“We cannot relinquish agriculture but also cannot be oblivious of the effects it has on climate change. Agriculture should be at the forefront in developing practices that would mitigate climate change; this will increase agriculture’s resilience and provide solutions for climate change.”
Excelling ourselves to break stigmas and misconceptions
Dr. Grimberg explains that beginning her graduate education it was clear that ethnicity and gender were liabilities to her so she worked way harder not only to thrive in her area but also to dispel all kinds of myths and misconceptions. A piece of advice Irene wished she had when she started her journey is:
“Do not pay attention to conventional paths and trajectories. Conventionalisms are shaped for mainstream folks, but non-mainstream people have a lot to offer.”
Sometimes being the best of ourselves is our only weapon to defeat stigmas hoping that one day all will be worth it. Grimberg still works passionately and aspires to expand the knowledge of science and how people relate to it.
Role models teach us values, passion, commitment...
Dr. Irene states that she has had role models that are inspirational, some educational, running from her family members to past and current female scientists and thinkers.
“I do believe that each of us needs to trace their own path. Women are “bushwacking” the science career mountain; there is no clear trail, yet.”
Why is it so crucial to highlight minority women in agricultural sciences?
“Because our stories are not unique. It is very easy, as a minority, to feel isolated because by definition, the notion of minority involves some degree of isolation with respect to the majority. So, we keep company by sharing our stories and the way we overcome our challenges.
And to young female students out there?!
“Invent yourself, once and a million times.”
Outside Irene’s day to day
Irene keeps her life busy having plenty of hobbies and interests such as cooking, hiking, Nordic-skiing, reading, pottery, going to art museums and exhibits, and music.
Groups Dr. Grimberg wants you to follow?
You can find Dr. Irene Grimberg at:
Thanks Dr. Grimberg for your outstanding work and for the interview!
This interview was written by WAGS co founder Andrea Lugo-Torres