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Florida Youth Institute lets high schoolers explore a future in agricultural and life sciences

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As 22 high schoolers step onto the manicured turf of Florida Field, Jason Kruse, associate professor of environmental horticulture, explains how maintaining a football field involves more than fertilizer and regular mowing. Rather, he says, it’s research from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences that keeps the field green for fans and safe for athletes.

This lesson is just one of several activities that comprise the Florida Youth Institute (FYI), a week-long summer program sponsored by the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the World Food Prize Foundation.  The program gives rising juniors and seniors a chance to explore emerging issues in agriculture, life sciences and natural resources while also giving them a taste of college life.

“FYI was created with an overall goal of engaging youth with issues in agricultural and natural resource sciences that affect Florida, the U.S. and world food security,” said Elaine Turner, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “Ultimately, we hope to grow the talent pipeline by connecting students to academic programs in CALS that will prepare them for careers in agricultural and natural resource sciences.”

During the week, students meet and interact with researchers at places such as the FDACS Division of Plant Industry, the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, and the Sensory Lab in the UF/IFAS food science and human nutrition department.

Zach Bennett, a student from Polk County, said he was impressed by the faculty and researchers he met. “All the professors and researchers here seem to enjoy teaching youth, and want to help us learn and answer our questions,” he said.

Activities highlight some of the challenges facing not just agriculture but the world population in the decades to come.

“I thought FYI would be an amazing opportunity to explore more of Florida’s agriculture rather than looking at it in a book,” said Roddra Johnson, an attendee from Orange Park, Florida. “With all of the career opportunities presented to us, I want to study agriculture because of its impact on food security. With a world population of 9 billion people by 2050, this is an important issue we need to start solving now.”

For these driven students, FYI can be a ticket to other exciting opportunities.

This year, for example, four FYI participants were selected to attend the Global Youth Institute, a prestigious international conference hosted by the World Food Prize Foundation and held each October in Des Moines, Iowa. During the three-day experience, they will tour cutting edge research facilities, meet with Nobel and World Food Prize Laureates and present their research and recommendations to scientific, humanitarian and agribusiness leaders from 65 countries.

The World Food Prize Foundation also recognized nine FYI students as Borlaug Scholars for their scholarly research and presentation of scientific and policy recommendations to address key global challenges. The recognition is named for Norman Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, father of the Green Revolution and founder of the World Food Prize, who saved more lives than any other person that has ever lived.

“Out of thousands of high school students across the country, the 22 young leaders at the Florida Youth Institute stood out for their incredible enthusiasm and awareness of the issues,” said Keegan Kautzky, director of national education programs for the World Food Prize Foundation.  On the final day of the program, Kautzky announced that all of this year’s participants, upon enrolling in college, would be eligible for the Wallace-Carver Fellowship, a paid college internship supported by the World Food Prize Foundation and the US Department of Agriculture.

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By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Elaine Turner, 352-392-1963, returner@ufl.edu

Charlotte Emerson, 352-273-3575, cemer@ufl.edu

Keegan Kautzky, 515-343-7162, kkautzky@worldfoodprize.org