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Graduate Student Rachel Kerns Attends U.S. Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security

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This summer, I had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security at Purdue University. The institute was a two-week long program for graduate students interested in developing a better understanding of international development and global food security issues. The participating students came from many different backgrounds, including food science, nutrition, agronomy, soil science, economics, policy studies, sociology, anthropology, plant breeding, and pathology. When I was at Iowa State University for my undergraduate degrees, I was able to travel to Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe, and I have always had a passion for travelling and working in developing countries, so I was thrilled to be selected for this program!

Our training mainly consisted of lectures and practicums by world-class experts on food security from a variety of academic backgrounds. Most were faculty members with international research work, but we also heard from leadership at the US Agency for International Development and research scientists from local and multi-national NGOs. Dr. Gebisa Ejeta (2009 World Food Prize Laureate) was the program director and spent time getting to know each of us and answering our questions on working in international development and food security. We also completed an intensive group project where we were asked to respond to an RFA from USAID’s Feed the Future grant program. I was a member of the Kenya country group, and my team proposed a program to introduce cowpeas into the supply chain in Western Kenya. I learned so much from my teammates and from researching existing programs and conditions in that area.

One of the major themes that arose from the speakers was the need for climate change adaptation research, which fits well with my EPSCoR research project. In the coming decades, it is going to be increasingly important to understand how various ecosystems respond to the impacts of climate change and to develop strategies to make those ecosystems more resilient. I am so excited to look at the effects of increasing temperature and changing hydroperiods on playa wetlands on the Great Plains, and to take a close look at how climate change is affecting soil.

After I graduate from Mizzou, I hope that I am able to work on research in international development and global food security, and this conference has opened my eyes to the many ways to do so. I am so thankful for the network of fellow “hunger fighters” that I’ve gained, and also for my advisors and colleagues at University of Missouri for their support for me to attend this institute. I would highly recommend the Borlaug Summer Institute and Fellowship program to graduate students interested in global food security. You can find more information at