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Florida Youth Institute inspires students to improve global food security

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Twenty-seven high school students from Florida and beyond participated in the virtual 2021 Florida Youth Institute to learn more about agriculture, natural resources and life sciences’ roles in improving global food security.

Open to rising high school juniors and seniors, the weeklong program from the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) was offered twice during July, allowing participants to learn more about the issue of unstable food systems and their own ability to develop solutions to create change.

Through interactive online sessions, students toured several University of Florida units like the Field & Fork Farm and Gardens or the Nature Coast Biological Station, government agencies like the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Division of Plant Industry and local organizations like the Florida Farm Bureau Federation. They also engaged with university faculty and local leaders to think critically about ways to reduce hunger in their schools, communities and world.

Visiting several locations across a variety of disciplines allowed the participants to understand how every individual can play a role in improving global food security. Robbie Belcher, a participant from Fort Meade, said, “I learned that even though we are not immersed in agricultural careers, we can still play a large part in achieving food sustainability in our society.”

As part of the Florida Youth Institute application process, each student had to research a complex issue related to unstable food systems in a country of their choice and suggest ways to improve the lives of those living in the that country. This year’s participants researched a variety of issues such as gang violence in El Salvador, water security in Eritrea, climate volatility in Kiribati, malnutrition in Botswana and much more.

“I think one of the truly eye-opening experiences for me was learning about the challenges faced by people experiencing food insecurity, and how all of our contributions can make an impact in tackling it,” said Ansh Bansal, who participated in FYI from his home in India.

“Rather than simply discussing what food insecurity is and solutions, which were my expectations, we were presented with various fields and the roles they play in the food industry, whether it be entomology and nematology or soil and water sciences,” said Yoo-Shin Koh, an FYI participant from Gainesville.

Based on the research each participant conducted on their selected issue and country, the solutions suggested, and a presentation to a panel of experts, the following students were selected to attend the next Global Youth Institute, which is also virtual this year, Oct. 18-22:

  • Addison Anderson, The Bolles School, Jacksonville, Florida
  • Ansh Bansal, St. Xavier High School, India
  • Robbie Belcher, Bartow Senior High School, Fort Meade, Florida
  • Cayden Bevis, Lincoln High School, Tallahassee, Florida
  • Helena Eisert, H. B. Plant Senior High School, Tampa, Florida
  • Addie Ferguson, Avon Park High School, Avon Park, Florida
  • Lana Guzman, Wesley Chapel High School, Wesley Chapel, Florida
  • Max Jeffrey, Jesuit High School, Tampa, Florida
  • Andrea Knoepffler, Carollton School of the Sacred Heart, Coral Gables, Florida
  • Dorothy Kowkabany, Sandalwood High School, Jacksonville, Florida
  • Samantha Sadorf, Spanish River Community High School, Boca Raton, Florida
  • April Rose Salva, Okeechobee High School, Okeechobee, Florida
  • Alexander Sobol, Bartram Trail High School, Jacksonville, Florida

Based on their outstanding engagement in the weeklong FYI program, the following students earned a scholarship to attend CALS after graduating high school:

  • Robbie Belcher, Bartow Senior High School, Fort Meade, Florida
  • Lana Guzman, Wesley Chapel High School, Wesley Chapel, Florida
  • Yoo-Shin Koh, Gainesville High School, Gainesville, Florida
  • Malak Sakallah, College Academy at Broward College, Coral Springs, Florida.

The World Food Prize recognized all students who completed the FYI program as Borlaug Scholars, named after Norman Borlaug, a 1970 Nobel Peace Prize laureate celebrated for a lifetime of work to feed a hungry world. In addition to the students named above, the following students were recognized as Borlaug Scholars:

  • Jake Brice, Ponte Vedra High School, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
  • Kimerly Jolicoeur, William T. Dwyer High School, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
  • Ella Ladd, The Benjamin School, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
  • Karina López, East Ridge High School, Clermont, Florida
  • Ben Mathews, Buchholz High School, Gainesville, Florida
  • Victoria Poliak, Gulliver Prep, Key Biscayne, Florida
  • Zeb Raulerson, Union County High School, Lake Butler, Florida
  • Tareeth Reddy, Bartram Trail High School, Saint Johns, Florida
  • Morgan Shapiro, Northeast High School, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • Sabeena Singh, American Heritage School, Davie, Florida
  • Andrew Tvrdik, The Heritage School, Newnan, Georgia
  • Ezarius Wilson, Paxon School for Advance Study, Jacksonville, Florida

All FYI participants are also eligible for United States Department of Agriculture fellowships and international internships. The inaugural FYI program was hosted by the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in 2016 in collaboration with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the World Food Prize Foundation.

“This experience truly helped me grow as an agriculture advocate and allowed me to build connections with people that will last a lifetime,” said Lana Guzman, a participant from Wesley Chapel.

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The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution.

cals.ufl.edu  @UFCALS

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