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High Schoolers Explore Food Security Issues in Agriculture, Natural Resources at Florida Youth Institute

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – During a summer program with the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), 38 rising high school juniors and seniors were given a taste of college life while they learned about agricultural, natural resources and food security issues. The college is part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Through the Florida Youth Institute (FYI), participants engaged in hands-on activities at various UF/IFAS units including the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, Sensory Lab in the food science and human nutrition department, animal sciences research and teaching units, Field and Fork student gardens, entomology and nematology department and more.

“This program shows students the interdisciplinary nature of science, and how we can all play a part in feeding 9 billion people by the year 2050,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “We also strive show students the multitude of careers and majors that exist in the agricultural and life sciences that they perhaps did not know about or had not considered.”

The week-long program offered twice this summer was sponsored by CALS, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and The World Food Prize Foundation. FYI participants made more than 80 new connections during the program, including FDACS assistant commissioner Mike Joyner, FDACS deputy commissioner Lisa Conti, scientists, UF students and CALS staff.

As part of the application process, FYI participants researched and wrote about a global food security issue in a developing country. At the end of each week, the students discussed their research papers in a roundtable with industry and academic professionals from the USDA, FDACS, Florida Farm Bureau Federation and UF/IFAS.  Five students were selected to attend the Global Youth Institute in October, a prestigious international conference hosted by The World Food Prize Foundation held annually in Des Moines, Iowa.

The following FYI students will represent Florida at the Global Youth Institute:

  • Christian Bentrovato, a Plant City High School student from Plant City, Florida
  • Lily Gumbinner, an Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts student from West Palm Beach, Florida
  • Samantha Rivera, a Celebration High School student from Celebration, Florida
  • Lauren Roberts, a Trenton High School student from Trenton, Florida
  • Holly Sims, a Maclay School student from Tallahassee, Florida.

“The activities that I was able to participate in at FYI inspired me to want to take these simulations home to educate my fellow students about the food insecurity issues that our world is facing,” Rivera said. “Through these simulations, I hope to be able to spark dialog about some potential solutions and hopefully even inspire others to take action.”

During the three-day Global Youth Institute experience, these student delegates will interact with World Food Prize laureates, visit innovative research facilities, participate in team projects and service opportunities, and discuss food security and agricultural issues with international experts. All FYI participants were named Borlaug Scholars and are now eligible to apply for the prestigious paid Wallace-Carver Fellowship at USDA research centers across the U.S.

During both weeks of FYI, CALS presented two participants with $1,500 annual renewable scholarships to CALS. The following FYI participants received these scholarships:

  • William Cuervo, a Charles W. Flanagan High School student from Pembroke Pines, Florida
  • Paris Jewell, a St. Petersburg High School student from St. Petersburg, Florida
  • Gianna Rebour, a Somerset Canyons High School student from Lake Worth, Florida
  • Lauren Roberts, a Trenton High School student from Trenton, Florida.

“The Florida Youth Institute has helped me develop a unique perspective of food security when it comes to putting ourselves in the shoes of other nations,” Roberts said. “I’ve gained so many diverse friendships during this experience, and my eyes have been opened to the interdisciplinary fields of agriculture and natural resources that come together to solve food security issues.”

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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. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.

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