High school students from around New York state participate in a scavenger hunt around campus as part of the New York Youth Institute.

NY high schoolers dig into food security issues

High school students from around New York state tour the Plant Transformation Facility in Weill Hall during this year's New York Youth Institute.

New York state high school students came to campus June 29 for the New York Youth Institute (NYYI), an ambitious program that aims to build a core of young leaders to battle hunger around the world.

Held annually at Cornell, NYYI is coordinated by the World Food Prize Foundation. It draws high school students from both rural and urban areas across New York who are attracted to careers that address global food insecurity, by providing meaningful interaction with leading faculty and graduate students, hands-on science, and opportunities to strengthen their public-speaking skills.

“I want to be able to help people,” said Abby Overstrom, a rising senior at Lansing High School in Lansing, New York. “The research component is really interesting, but I am also really interested in policy and the people behind the scenes who coordinate it all. This program is a great way to connect the things that I care about.”

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 discussions with Richard A. Ball, commissioner of agriculture at the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; Ronnie Coffman, director of international programs at CALS; and Max Pfeffer, CALS executive dean and professor of development sociology.

“Here at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, our mission, simply put, is to leave the world a better place than we found it,” said Pfeffer, who is a leading expert in land use and environmental planning, rural and agricultural labor markets, and rural-to-urban and international migration. “Our work is designed to solve problems, to find solutions and to change lives for the better. I am heartened to see all of you here, and I hope you are inspired to pursue successful careers and meaningful lives that truly make a difference in the world.”

Students from the New York Youth Institute tour the Dyce Honeybee Lab with extension associate Emma Mullen.

Ball said: “I am inspired by the energy and thoughtfulness of our young New York Youth Institute participants. These future leaders have a unique opportunity to learn at Cornell University, the country’s best land-grant institution, and effect change on local, national and global hunger and food insecurity issues that are far too prevalent in today’s world. The Department shares their passion and is committed to working every day to address hunger by increasing New Yorkers’ access to fresh, healthy foods from our farms and getting food to underserved areas.”

Prior to this weekend of learning, exploration and networking, students each chose a hunger-related problem in a developing country to research, and they presented their findings at Cornell to their peers and some of the leading experts on the topics.

“These are students who are motivated and care about world problems,” said Julie Liccion, a high school teacher at Auburn Enlarged City School District who accompanied student Ashley Riley.

“It’s wonderful for students to learn from Cornell experts and the professionals; their eyes get really big at the different things that they hear,” said Liccion. “This helps to guide future projects for clubs and programs at our school.”

Participation in NYYI can also lead to opportunities beyond Cornell and New York state. All students are eligible for the U.S. Department of Agriculture/World Food Prize Wallace-Carver Fellowship, which provides paid internships at leading USDA research centers and offices across the country.

In addition, top students from this year’s program will be selected to attend the World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, Iowa. There they will join over 250 other high school students and teachers from across the U.S. and around the world for a three-day program to interact with Nobel and World Food Prize laureates and more than 1,000 global leaders from 75 countries.

Jennifer Savran Kelly is a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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