Cornell’s Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team (SMART) was recognized for its impact on poor communities by earning the L.A. Potts Success Story award on Dec. 5 at the Professional Agricultural Workers Conference.
Edward Mabaya, director of the SMART program, accepted the award at the 74th annual conference held at Tuskegee University in Alabama.
The program, started in 2002 as part of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development (CIIFAD) program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, brings together teams of students and faculty from diverse disciplines across Cornell and pairs them with firms, organizations or community groups in developing countries. Teams travel to project locations over winter break to work on assignments required by the client organizations and create case studies upon their return to Cornell.
Mabaya said SMART projects deliver on three core mandates of a land-grant university: teaching, research and outreach.
“First, students get a hands-on learning experience on complex issues in development. Second, we publish unique case studies in peer-reviewed journals. Third and perhaps most importantly, we are able to deliver technical expertise in parts of the world that badly need it,” Mabaya said. “It is a win for the students, the university and the client.”
This winter, 27 Cornell students are traveling to South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Colombia and parts of the U.S. to apply their knowledge to real-world settings.
“A unique aspect of SMART is that we deliberately choose students from multiple disciplines to deliver holistic solutions for clients in developing countries. Universities have departments; the world has problems,” he said.
More than 300 students have participated in 80 SMART teams across 24 countries in Asia, Africa and South America since the program’s inception. They represent more than 20 Cornell degree programs.
“I have led SMART projects in several African countries for the past 12 years, and I have seen students transformed through their SMART experience,” Mabaya said. “Several of my former students have been inspired by this service-learning experience to pursue a career in international development. There is no substitute for hands-on experience.”
Ana Canedo Guichard, a second-year CIIFAD fellow, travelled to Machakos, Kenya, in January 2016 as part of the SMART program. She credited the experience for helping her to understand the operations of small and medium agri-businesses in East Africa. The experience, she said, gave her insight into food security issues in the region and the need to make agricultural inputs more accessible and less costly for smallholder farmers.
“The project exceeded my expectations in every way,” Guichard said. “I learned about the challenges and opportunities faced by firms in other emerging economies while further developing the analytical tools and business-consultancy skills.”
Guichard, who worked with the World Bank over the summer, said the program prepared her for her future career. “As a Masters of Public Administration student,” she said, “this unique experience has motivated me and inspired me to continue to focus my policy research in the field of international development.”
Amruta Byatnal ’16 is program coordinator for the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development.