Iowa Youth Institute: A Catalyst for Change
Ask any high school student what career they are most interested in and you’re most likely to get a common group of responses such as doctor, teacher, lawyer, artist, or entrepreneur. This shows that young people want to make a difference; they are excited to share their talents with the world. But the path to becoming a professional change maker is often wrought with challenges such as the ever-increasing cost of higher education, lack of professional mentors, and an overwhelming list of majors and career paths to choose from. Add in a rising global population that is predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, this compounds pressure on a global economy and food system that is already struggling to deliver food safely and nutritiously.
This rise in global population is expected to negatively impact youth ages 15-34 most significantly, who currently comprise one-third of the global population and are entering the workforce at an accelerated level; often referred to as the “youth bulge.” According to a recent report released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, “the growing prevalence of underemployment and poverty jobs held by young people could lead to economic stagnation” and “social unrest that would require costly humanitarian assistance.”
But what if we could provide tangible career paths for young adults while also addressing severe challenges in our global food system? That is exactly what Dr. Borlaug aimed to do when he and Iowa Philanthropist John Ruan established the Global Youth Institute in 1994; connecting high school students from around the world to World Food Prize Laureates, internationally acclaimed researchers, and industry experts, who would serve as mentors to the next generation of hunger fighters. The number of youth seeking to attend the Global Youth Institute quickly outnumbered the space available at the annual event in Des Moines, which prompted the World Food Prize to partner with top US land-grant universities to fulfill Dr. Borlaug’s legacy of equipping every young person with the tools necessary to combat our world’s toughest issues. The Iowa Youth Institute at Iowa State University would serve as the flagship model, as we endeavored to partner with then Dean Wendy Wintersteen of Iowa State University, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, ranked among the best in the world for agricultural programs.
Today the World Food Prize will join with newly appointed President Wendy Wintersteen to welcome over 300 Iowa students and their teachers to Iowa State’s campus, who will be presenting their own credible solutions for ending hunger to an audience of world-renowned Iowa State faculty, non-profit and industry leaders. This is how students like Colton Ketcham, a talented student from Danville, Iowa discovered his passion for health and nutrition. He was selected to advance to the Global Youth Institute in 2017, where he met World Food Prize Laureate and world-renowned policy maker Dr. Per Pinstrup-Anderson. Over the past six months Dr. Pinstrup-Anderson has served as a mentor to Colton, who has been researching more sustainable, alternative methods to increase protein levels in the human diet. This type of mentoring relationship is exactly what Dr. Borlaug envisioned when he established the World Food Prize education programs twenty-four years ago.
Since 2012, Iowa State University has awarded over $250,000 to students participating in World Food Prize programming, ensuring that young leaders have access to a high-quality education, professional mentors, and are prepared to tackle our world’s toughest issues in hunger and poverty. Overall, 92 percent of our alumni go on to pursue majors in agricultural and STEM fields and 77 percent choose career paths in those same areas. Through this unique public-private partnership we have the ability to harness the energy and creativity of young leaders while also benefiting the greater good.