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The Global Youth Institute: A Transformative Experience for Students and Educators

By Kraig Bowers
Educator, Global Youth Institute
Kraig Bowers

The World Food Prize Global Youth Institute was a transformative experience for my students’ educational vision and personal journey. As an agricultural educator of 14 years, finding time to fit any new activity into our program’s schedule was nearly impossible. The year was already booked full of events that all provided my students with tremendous value. Yet, I always felt there was something more that I needed to offer my students. As an individual entrenched in the conversation of global agricultural and food security issues, I felt we were lacking a project that synthesized the big picture end goal of the agricultural industry: feeding the world in a sustainable manner. Upon first hearing about the Global Youth Institute, it instantly struck me as exactly the type of activity I was looking for, but when could we fit it in? What would it replace?

Finally, I took the leap and implemented the research paper portion of the Global Youth Institute into my plant and soil science class. The impacts were immediate. Students became engaged as we discussed general issues surrounding food security. As they delved deeper into their individual research papers they became engrossed in the difficulties that their focus communities faced. They researched factors of food security that related to each of our pathways and expanded their scope to include health and social issues. Twenty students in all wrote a research paper that first year and five chose to attend the Indiana Youth Institute. The feedback at this event was instantaneous and watching growth occur in real time was inspiring. The students had two words to describe their experience – “life changing.”

My primary goal in implementing the project was for students to become more aware of the food security issues that our world will face in the coming years. There was no doubt this goal was accomplished, but there were other results that surprised me. My students suddenly achieved at a higher level on core agricultural standards, while also developing a greater sense of empathy. As educators, we constantly seek connections between curriculum and the real world to improve the educational process. Over the years, I have found that connections are only as valuable as they are impactful. In reflecting on the project, it was clear that the research paper, as well as the youth institute, had provided a poignant connection, which yielded benefits beyond my original intent.

Our program was fortunate enough to have one student qualify for the Global Youth Institute that first year, and again in the next year. Both students came back awestruck from their educational experiences and from the inspiring messages they heard from World Food Prize Laureates, as well as leaders in industry and government. This past year, both were selected as International Borlaug-Ruan Interns, traveling to China and Brazil for their respective opportunities. Their unique experiences shaped their career plans and both are currently enrolled in Plant Genetics, Breeding, and Biotechnology at Purdue University with a desire to be part of the next generation of scientists that follow in the footsteps of Norman Borlaug.

The Global Youth Institute is a valuable experience for any student, but where it excels is its ability to truly challenge the high ability student. The innovators of tomorrow that will continue the legacy of Norman Borlaug need opportunities for growth that push them beyond the normal classroom landscape and require them to keep the big picture of food security, with all its constant change and interconnected factors in view. The Global Youth Institute excels in doing just that.

Not only did this experience have an impact on my students, but also on myself as an educator. I repurposed my vision of what it meant to be an agricultural educator, from an educator focusing on individual and program achievements to an educator that strove to prepare leaders that would make meaningful impacts on the world around them. After 17 years as an Agriculture educator in a high school classroom I felt called to explore the link I witnessed between increased student achievement and food security based lessons. I recently chose to pursue my doctorate in agricultural education focusing my research in this area. I can only hope that my research and my time spent as a teacher educator contributes in some small way to the legacy Norman Borlaug created.

09/18/2017 10:45 AM |Add a comment
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