The Beginning of My Future
From a young age, one of my favorite things to do was garden. Granted, most of the actual work was done by my father, but I still called the garden my own. The simple pleasures of playing outdoors drew me outside, but it was the unexplainable miracle of the plants around me that kept me there for hours. When Spring came around, I eagerly sowed the seeds and patted the soil around them. All Summer long I watched for the growth of the plants, from seedlings to full maturity to the bearing of fruit. It gave me so much joy and pleasure in bringing the produce straight from the earth into our kitchen. From a young age, I loved food and plants; little did I know this simple pleasure could be the start of a lifelong career.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to do field research with a maize breeding lab at the University of Delaware (UD). I had spent the previous summer as a volunteer at the UD Botanic Garden and decided to explore plant research to see if it was something I might be interested in pursuing in college. During this summer of research, I discovered a genuine fascination for plant breeding and the implications it had in the improvement of food security. The opportunity to attend the Global Youth Institute was shared with me, and I decided to go for it. Just a few minutes before the deadline, I submitted a paper on the applications of plant breeding as a solution to the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) Pandemic in Kenya. Fortunately, I was selected to attend the 2017 Global Youth Institute and so began my involvement with the World Food Prize.
The Global Youth Institute gave me a formal introduction to the world of agriculture and the incredibly interdisciplinary nature of the field. There is such a misconception of agriculture being a “completed” science, lacking in technological advances; the reality is that agriculture is one of the most innovative fields of science. With a steadily rising population growth on a planet of scarce resources and a volatile environmental and political climate, it is an immense challenge to ensure that every individual can go to bed with a stomach full of nourishing food. Participating in the first of many World Food Prize youth events opened my eyes to how real and imminent the issues of food insecurity and malnutrition are. I returned home with a newly lighted spark to follow in Norman Borlaug’s footsteps and make my difference in the world.
I was blessed to spend the following summer at the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center in Changsha, China as a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern. A week after my high school graduation, I was on a plane to the other side of the earth to spend eight unforgettable weeks travelling and doing research under the guidance of a team of knowledgeable, talented, and enthusiastic researchers. Those eight weeks were some of the most valuable and challenging weeks of my life. Having no knowledge of Mandarin, the language barrier was a significant challenge during my stay, but I quickly realized that communication is so much more than the vocabulary we know. The warm hearts and welcoming environment of the people around me made every hour, as confusing as some were, precious to me. The dictionary was consulted often and every step of the protocols required three times the amount of time to ensure I understood what was being stated, but the meaning was always conveyed with smiles of satisfaction all around. My mentors in China truly dedicated so much of themselves to me, taking personal time to share their culture and history with me along with their knowledge and skills in the lab. Eight weeks with these hunger fighters strengthened my spark with practical experience and skills to utilize going forward in my career and with inspiration to continue on the path of being a hunger fighter.
I find myself now in the midst of my second year studying Plant Sciences, pursuing a minor in International Trade and Development at Cornell University. This past summer was another amazing summer with the World Food Prize, although this time in collaboration with the USDA-ARS, which allowed me to gain more research experience while gaining insight into our government’s efforts to enhance agricultural research. Through all of my involvement with The World Food Prize and the youth programs, my love of food, plants, and science have been shaped into the lifelong mission I now have of being a hunger fighter. Norman Borlaug’s work and life have influenced so many individuals, and I am so blessed and proud to say that his influence in my life has been remarkable.