Cornell hosts urban and rural students for food security program

Students in soil lab
Lindsay France/University Photography
Students in the 2017 New York Youth Institute program sieve soil in the Cornell Soil Health Lab to prepare for a wet aggregate stability test.

More than 50 high school students from across New York state visited Cornell March 31-April 1 for the New York Youth Institute (NYYI), a program giving students the opportunity to engage with issues related to agriculture and food security at home and around the world.

The NYYI is New York’s state-level World Food Prize youth program. Held annually on Cornell’s campus, the program exposes students from both rural and urban backgrounds – with more than 40 students from Queens – to the resources at Cornell and to hear from leaders in agricultural science.

Prior to visiting Cornell for a weekend of learning and networking, the students each wrote a short research paper on a global issue of their choosing, focusing on a specific country context in the developing world. The event culminated April 1 with a symposium-style opportunity for the students to present and discuss their research with their peers and renowned experts.

Francine Jasper, associate director for professional development for International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), has organized the NYYI since its inception in 2009. This year the program included local farmers, a student organizations fair and a blog – and celebrated new ties within New York's agriculture sector.

“We are grateful for the support from the New York Corn and Soybean Growers Association, which will allow us to give a scholarship to a participant who is accepted in CALS,” said Jasper.

Participants in NYYI are also eligible for the U.S. Department of Agriculture/World Food Prize Wallace-Carver Fellowship. The fellowship provides paid internships at leading USDA research centers and offices across the country.

In addition to presentation of research, the program included a number of opportunities for hands-on learning. Students and teachers toured Cornell labs that focused on food science, plant pathology, biotechnology, animal science and soil science.

The lineup of special guests that made an appearance at this year’s institute included World Food Prize laureates Catherine Bertini and Per Pinstrup-Andersen, professor emeritus in nutrition and economics; CALS Dean Kathryn Boor; as well as Richard Ball, the state commissioner for Agriculture and Markets. Students also had the opportunity to engage with New York farmers who were invited to speak at Friday’s event.

“The youth attending the NYYI embarked on a process to help assure that everybody has access to a healthy diet, something they may have taken for granted before,” said Pinstrup-Andersen, who won the 2001 World Food Prize for research into food subsidy programs.

Ed Buckler, a research geneticist at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and adjunct professor of plant breeding and genetics at the Institute for Genomic Diversity at Cornell, was also featured in this year's program.

“Agriculture is at a point where the challenges have never been greater,” Buckler said, “but the technological opportunities to solve those problems are in sight. The incredible students at NYYI will be the generation that helps create these solutions.”

Jasper said she is optimistic that the students’ involvement in World Food Prize programs will set the stage for lifelong opportunities to effect lasting change: “With so many celebrities in the room, the students had the chance to present their solution for hunger in a developing country before their peers and experts. All students left with a newfound confidence that they may make a difference in the world and that adults are listening to them,” she said.

Top students from this year’s event as chosen by a select committee will be flown to the World Food Prize headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, where they will participate in the Global Youth Institute, an event concurrent with the World Food Prize ceremony and Borlaug Dialogue. The selected students will be announced in April. The Global Youth Institute exposes young people to cutting-edge innovations and world-class leadership in the field of international development and hunger relief.

Anthony Wenndt is a graduate student in the field of plant pathology.

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Melissa Osgood