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High school students explore issues in agriculture, natural resources at Florida Youth Institute

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – While 20 high school students examined freshly picked peanut plants at the UF/IFAS Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center, farm manager Ben Broughton explained how researchers utilize the farm for a variety of experiments. He shared how these projects range in topic from food and water quality, to insects, nematodes and more.

The interactive experience was one of several lessons and activities the students encountered at Florida Youth Institute (FYI), a week-long summer program sponsored by the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and The World Food Prize Foundation. Open to rising high school juniors and seniors, FYI introduced participants to life at the university while they explored agricultural, natural resource and food security issues.

“Our hope is that we engage more students who don’t know much about agriculture or don’t necessarily come from an agricultural background, and help them to see how they might fit in the future of agriculture,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner.

Participants engaged in hands-on activities during visits to the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, FDACS Division of Plant Industry, Sensory Lab in the UF/IFAS food science and human nutrition department, and UF/IFAS animal science research and teaching units, among others.

“There is a lot more to agriculture than what I have known, especially how there is a lot of technology involved,” said FYI participant Madeline Stophel of St. Johns, Florida. “I think it is really interesting how you can use fields like engineering and computer science, and incorporate natural resources and life sciences into them.”

On the last evening of the program, CALS presented FYI participant Lucia Carrero with a $2,500 renewable scholarship to study in the college.

In addition to learning about careers in the agricultural and life sciences, students had the opportunity to brainstorm possible solutions to issues contributing to food insecurity worldwide.

“The most critical challenges we face, not just in Florida and around the United States, but around the world, are being tackled every day by UF faculty members: teachers, researchers and extension educators,” said Keegan Kautzky, director of national education programs for The World Food Prize Foundation. “Identifying some of the most promising high school students in the state, bringing them to the campus and letting them interact with those incredible leaders shows these students in a very practical way how they can take action as a student at the University of Florida.”

As part of the program application process, FYI students researched and wrote about a global food security issue in a developing country. During FYI, students presented their findings in a roundtable with industry professionals from the USDA, FDACS, Florida Farm Bureau Federation and UF/IFAS. Four of these students were selected to attend the Global Youth Institute in October, a prestigious international conference hosted by The World Food Prize Foundation held each year in Des Moines, Iowa.

The following FYI participants advanced to the Global Youth Institute:

  • Carrero, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student from Parkland, Florida;
  • Maddie Dvorak, a Kathleen High School student from Lakeland, Florida;
  • Katleen Jolicoeur, a Palm Beach Gardens High School student from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida;
  • Ainsley Peterson, a Lafayette High School student from Mayo, Florida.

“The paper was really interesting to write; food security is something we face as farmers every day,” said Peterson. “I am interested in animal genetics and how to improve animal crop yields to help expand protein resources. I knew this camp would open my eyes to what I can do to help impact others.”

During the three-day experience of Global Youth Institute, 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. Participation in both Florida and Global Youth Institutes allows these young scholars to further develop their leadership skills to tackle current and future issues in agriculture and natural resources around the globe.

The World Food Prize Foundation recognized all FYI participants as Wallace-Carver Fellows, allowing them the opportunity to collaborate with scientists and policymakers through a paid fellowship at a USDA research center or office of their choice. This summer, FYI 2016 participant Roddra Johnson studied at the Sugarcane Production Research Unit in Canal Point, Florida. Laiken Kinsey and Maryn Neuhofer, two FYI 2016 participants, spent their summers interning with FDACS in the Tallahassee administration office and Florida Forest Service Field Operation in Perry, Florida., respectively.

“FYI is important because we need smart young people to meet these challenges,” said Mike Joyner, assistant commissioner and chief of staff at FDACS. “We have some tough challenges ahead in our industry, and it is going to take smart, diverse students to solve those problems.”


By Dana Edwards, 352-294-7995,

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