The World Food Prize Foundation

Student Perspective: How the Iowa Youth Institute Changes Lives


By Ella Gehrke

Norman Borlaug is a name that you may already know and celebrate, or it may bring up a
blank in your mind. Strangely enough, this incredible Iowan is known better internationally
than he is stateside.

A boy from small-town Iowa who grew up going to school in a one-room schoolhouse, Norman Borlaug became the Father of the Green Revolution and is credited for saving over one billion lives. Following his passion for agriculture and science, this one Iowa kid did what everyone aspires to do: change the world.

As we face the numerous problems within our global society, ranging from ISIS to Ebola, young people, the ones we often protect from the glare of these hardships, are exactly whom we should be educating. The future of this world lies in the hands of the millennials, the kids who still need a ride to and from soccer practice.

This said, many teenagers are completely unaware of the world outside of the United States, much less Iowa. A question that has become critical in solving the world's problems is how we can encourage and inspire the young people of today to care about the future of tomorrow.

Encouraging the young people you know to participate in the World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute is one of the best ways you can engage them in issues of concern to humanity. Not only will this enhance their educational and career paths, but these events will provide them with a new perspective on global affairs.

The World Food Prize, an international nonprofit based in Des Moines, was designed to recognize innovators who have increased the quality, quantity or availability of food. In 1994, the World Food Prize took on the role of encouraging and educating youth to care about these global issues. This year, on April 27th, 2015, the Iowa Youth Institute will be held on Iowa State University's campus, and doors will open for hundreds of participating Iowa students that day.

To participate in the Iowa Youth Institute, students in 8th to 12th grades select a country of their choice and a problem that country is facing and write a short paper proposing their solutions.

Students will then attend the Iowa Youth Institute, where they will be given the opportunity to present their recommendations on how to solve key global challenges in small-group discussions with experts in the field; connect with other students from across Iowa to share ideas, identify solutions to these problems and build lasting friendships; interact with global leaders in science, industry and policy; take part in educational sessions and interactive tours at Iowa State University to explore current research, issues and careers in international development and life sciences; meet innovative researchers, professors and college students in Iowa working to end hunger and poverty and improve food security around the world; and earn scholarships to Iowa State University.

I can speak from experience that the Iowa Youth Institute can change a student's life. Because it changed mine. In high school I dreamed of being a marine biologist. After participating in the Iowa Youth Institute, I found a career path that fit my love of science and helping others: I now attend Iowa State University as a Global Resource Systems major with a focus in biology. With the skills and connections I gained from the World Food Prize, I was able to travel to India. While in India, I worked as a service learner in the areas of food, nutrition and health. Additionally, I am on a team of students that was just selected to attend the "Thought for Food" conference in Portugal to share our idea of a solar food dehydrator to a panel of judges to start our own business and help alleviate hunger in remote areas. I hope to continue this work, and work in the medical field in the future.

Impacting the world in a positive way is as easy as starting conversations with our youth. The next Norman Borlaug is among us and we must provide the opportunities for that young person to change the world.​

Ella Gehrke is a graduate of Waukee High School and currently a sophomore at Iowa State University. 

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