When Monifa Morgan-Bell moved from Jamaica to upstate New York as a teenager, she was shocked by the change in culture, food and weather. It took her several years to acclimate to her new home.
Now, as a program assistant for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement (ILCI) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Global Development, Morgan-Bell draws upon her experience and her compassion to ease the way for students and to foster communication within international agricultural development programs that she supports.
“I understand what it is to be an immigrant to an area; I know what it is to struggle to survive,” Morgan-Bell said. “I wish I had had someone to share these insights and resources with me when I was new to New York, so I want to share with others.”
In recognition of her work, Morgan-Bell earned the Award for Staff Integrity and Inclusion, given twice a year by the Employee Assembly and presented at an award ceremony April 28.
“Monifa is a resilient, intelligent and resourceful person who has been an inspiration for our team, guiding us all to foster belonging, understand differing opinions and build community here at Cornell and with partners around the globe,” said Hale Ann Tufan, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) .
In her role, Morgan-Bell provides administrative and leadership support for international crop improvement projects such as ILCI, NextGen Cassava and Muhogo Bora, and in connecting Cornell researchers with national agricultural research institutes in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
“All of these projects are multi-country, large international grants that are very challenging to administer and support,” said Stephen Kresovich, ILCI director and a professor in SIPS. “Monifa has a unique ability to navigate complex projects, communicate effectively across differences, and keep large and disparate teams organized. Monifa is one of the most trustworthy and committed colleagues I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”
During the past academic year, ILCI launched the Thomas Wyatt Turner Fellowship, which brought to campus eight graduate students from historically Black colleges and universities. The fellows spent a year doing intensive research on topics related to sustainable agricultural development. Morgan-Bell was “the driving force” behind the success of the fellowship, according to Kathryn Boor, dean of the Graduate School.
“Launching a new fellowship is a huge undertaking. The success of a program like this depends on making students feel welcomed, engaged and included in the life of the university,” Boor said.
Sara Xayarath Hernández, associate dean for inclusion and student and faculty engagement at the Graduate School, said Morgan-Bell has proven to be considerate, caring, and communicative, all critical traits for a fellowship program to succeed. “Monifa’s work to conceptualize, launch, host and mentor the Turner Fellows has been nothing short of extraordinary,” Hernández said.
Morgan-Bell assisted Turner fellows with expected tasks like registering for classes and securing funding, but also with personal needs such as finding warm blankets and shopping for staple foods. One student arrived to find that her apartment wasn’t ready; Morgan-Bell invited her to stay in her own home until the apartment was prepared.
“Her insight has been instrumental in learning how to thrive in Ithaca and knowing I am not alone in facing challenges,” said fellow Lauren San Diego. “Monifa’s tenacity towards her goals while always offering her support continues to inspire me as I navigate graduate school.”
In 2018, Morgan-Bell completed her associate’s degree through Onondaga Community College while working full-time. She then began taking classes at Cornell as part of the university’s employee educational benefits. She also participates in the university’s Community Learning and Service Partnership program, receiving mentorship from Cornell students about anything from building a budget to speaking in a meeting to “just learning how to dream outside your four walls and figuring out what it would take to get there,” she said.
Morgan-Bell was recently accepted into the undergraduate Global Development major. She plans to keep working while studying, and hopes to minor in communication.
“I think intercultural communication is a missing piece in the development world: we want to go to these countries and share our science, but we don’t know how that impacts them culturally,” she said. “We need to do better at fostering facilitation and partnership, because as you help others grow, you grow as well.”
Krisy Gashler is a freelance writer. Matt Hayes and Kelly Merchan are communications specialists in the Department of Global Development.