From Participants to Counselors: Three CALS Students Return to the Florida Youth Institute

Each year, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) hosts a week-long summer program for high-school students to learn about food insecurity on a local and global scale, experience Florida agriculture and natural resources, and share ideas on addressing global challenges. Three former participants have now returned to the program as counselors for the 2020 camp.

Sarah Beth Lee and Caleb Reed, both undergraduate food and resource economics students, as well as Maggie Reaves, an agricultural education and communication student, previously attended the Florida Youth Institute (FYI). Lee attended in 2018, and both Reed and Reaves participated in the program’s inaugural year, 2016.


Through FYI, they were exposed to CALS through interactive sessions, inspiring them to become CALS students. From fishing for invertebrates at the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants to touching a tarantula spider at the entomology and nematology department, Lee, Reaves and Reed each experienced a detailed sample of all CALS has to offer.

Not only was their time at FYI fun, but it was also highly meaningful, one of the main reasons they applied to be counselors. The guidance Reed received from his counselor in 2016 left a lasting impression on him, as he still considers his former counselor a leadership mentor today. Reed hopes to have the same impact on other participants, making the experience as life changing for them as it was for him.

Similarly, Lee and Reaves applied because they too wanted to create meaningful experiences for students. However, “meaningful” will have to take a whole new meaning for this upcoming camp, as counselors will have an enhanced role in making participants’ experiences meaningful virtually rather than the tradition in-person format.

Transition to Virtual

Due to COVID-19, the Florida Youth Institute shifted from the traditional in-person format to a virtual format for health and safety reasons. Dr. Charlotte Emerson, CALS Director of Student Development and Recruitment, worked with UF/IFAS faculty and staff to transform their in-person activities into virtual sessions, still remaining just as fun, energetic and exciting as they are in-person.

Participants will still learn about the food supply chain at the Beef Teaching Unit, discuss challenges and solutions to major world issues with World Food Prize President, Barbara Stinson, and experience a virtual taste panel with food science and human nutrition.

Experiences Gained

Lee, Reaves and Reed bring a unique perspective to their counselor duties in that they know how influential this program is for participants’ academic and professional growth. As participants, Reaves gained lifelong friends, Lee gained a better understanding of the severity of food insecurity and Reed gained a mentor.

Reed served as a counselor for the 2019 camp and witnessed the growth participants experience over the course of just one week:

“Some participants arrive as timid individuals who rarely share their ideas and leave as confident, outspoken leaders. For others, they gained a new understanding of the world in which we live and the issues we’re facing, as well as an actionable plan to work towards these goals,” Reed said. “The most evident growth in all participants is in their understanding of self and their role in the world.”

Each counselor has taken extra steps to ensure participants will still experience the same growth by validating every student, listening to their ideas, hearing their concerns, and assuring them they have a place in CALS. Every FYI participant is a member of the CALS family, fully equipped with the tools and knowledge to make the world a better place, just as these three counselors are.


Posted: July 13, 2020

Category: 4-H & Youth, Agriculture, Camp, Clubs & Volunteers, Curriculum, Events, Food Safety, Natural Resources, Professional Development, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Teaching

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