Cornell and Indian students on a hike in the hills of the Nilgiris Field Learning Center. The center was founded by an alumnus of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program.

Cornell’s Humphrey Program marks 40 years of public service

For generations, the high steppes of the southern Ghats Mountains in India – a district known as the Nilgiris – offered an abundance of biodiversity but limited economic and educational opportunities for indigenous communities.

Pratim Roy envisioned a learning center for those in his native region. In 2013, a yearlong stay at Cornell as part of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program helped him hone key leadership and managerial skills. He returned home to India and established the Nilgiris Field Learning Center, a collaborative field station where Cornell students and indigenous people work together on cross-cultural activities focused on community health and well-being, environmental governance, waste management and water protection. The center provides a place to solve issues most important to the indigenous population of the vulnerable region.

For 40 years, Cornell’s Humphrey Program has enriched the professional experience of more than 400 people like Roy. Participants from 111 countries have come to Cornell for a yearlong exchange, and returned to their home countries with new skills to make profound development changes back home.

Cornell impacting New York State

The Humphrey Program will host a two-day symposium to celebrate its four decades of improving lives and building trust worldwide. The keynote address, Oct. 22 in Stocking Hall, will be delivered by Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education. The next day, a panel discussion featuring Humphrey alumni will be held in Mann Library.

Forging partnerships is a key objective, according to program director Peter Gregory.

“Our fellows are seeking collaboration to accelerate efforts to improve rural peoples’ livelihoods and lands in their countries,” Gregory said, “where the bold thinking and innovation from our alumni are transforming development.”

Alumni work in areas such as food safety, trade, environmental safety and poverty alleviation. Some work on resettlements in conflict areas, while others have launched foundations and businesses to stimulate the economy, teach youth and women, and protect the environment.

The nine participants in this year’s cohort arrived on campus in August from Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, Myanmar, South Korea, South Sudan and Turkey. Their professional backgrounds range from agricultural innovation and business development to climate change and rural policy in the Amazon.

Bilateral cultural exchange is a crucial part of the program, said associate director Francine Jasper. The fellows share their culture, skills and professional experience with U.S. counterparts by teaching classes and working with Cornell faculty and students on projects. Placements around New York state are facilitated by Cornell Cooperative Extension and Alfred State Technical College.

“The Humphrey Program is like Cornell's mini-International Space Station,” Jasper said. “Each year, fellows collectively work on plans to address challenges in their fields with faculty, students and U.S. residents or organizations. Those collaborations lead to profound and lasting changes around the world.”

Cornell is one of 13 U.S. universities participating in the Humphrey Fellowship Program, which is supported by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered nationally by the Institute of International Education in Washington, D.C.

Cornell was one of the first universities to join the organization and in 1980 began hosting students with professional backgrounds central to Cornell’s mission, such as agriculture; environmental and natural resource management; biotechnology; and city and regional planning.

“The Humphrey Program at Cornell has been one of the greatest events in my life and changed me internally and professionally,” said Erika Diaz Pascacio, who took part in the program from 2010-11.

Pascacio, from Mexico, worked with Debra Castillo, the Emerson Hinchliff Professor of Hispanic Studies and director of the Latina/o Studies Program, on a project about water access and governance in the state of Chiapas as part of a faculty-student exchange. Pascacio will take part in the panel discussion Oct. 23.

Registration is encouraged for the symposium, which is free and open to the public.

Matt Hayes is associate director for communications in International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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