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Gretchen Hanson

About Gretchen

  • Field and focus area of study: Global Development, Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Hometown: Waukon, Iowa
  • Fun fact:I love to cook and experiment with new recipes, especially spicy ones. 
  • View Gretchen's LinkedIn profile


What were you doing prior to the MPS degree program?

I was working at Land O’Lakes Venture37 — an international non-profit headquartered in Minnesota — where I supported business development efforts and provided program management oversight to agricultural development projects in in Egypt, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Mozambique.

Why did you choose to pursue the CALS MPS degree? 

I wanted to come back to school for a long time, in order to widen my skillset, deepen my understanding of development theory and get a fresh perspective on critical topics impacting agricultural development. However, it was crucial to me to find a program that was flexible, customizable and that could be completed in less than two years. After talking to alumni of the program, I felt that the CALS MPS degree was the perfect choice for what I was looking for.  

What are the strengths of the CALS MPS degree program?  

The flexibility to tailor the program to fit individual needs and the network of faculty, students, and staff we get to interact with is exceptional. I also really enjoyed the cohort model which enabled us to form deep and long-lasting personal and professional connections with interesting people in our field.  

What courses were your favorite? Why? 

I enjoyed and benefited from so many classes that a favorite is hard to pick. However, I would like to highlight the course “Quantitative Research Methods” because I was really hesitant to take this class at first as it was out of my area of expertise. Despite it being a difficult course for me it ended up being one of my favorites.  Professor John Sipple did a wonderful job balancing a class that had students with varying levels of experience and always remained supportive while also pushing us to challenge ourselves.  I gained a lot of new skills and tools; it challenged me to think about research differently and provided me with a new perspective on quantitative methods. 

Why are you interested in Agriculture and Rural Development?  

While I grew up in two vastly different environments in Thailand and the U.S., seeing the similarity and differences between the two helped shape my understanding of global challenges, which led to my interest in development. As someone who has constantly had to navigate two cultures, I wanted to find ways to bridge gaps and connect people. While in the U.S., I grew up in rural Iowa, where my grandparents and neighbors farmed and where agriculture became a big part of my life and the environment that shaped me. Through my personal and later my professional experiences, I realized that any rural communities around the globe face similar challenges, in varying degrees, and agriculture plays a critical role in improving people’s livelihoods. This made me want to delve deeper to gain an understanding of the complexities that exist and how we can work together to solve the challenges that rural communities face.  

What are you passionate about?  

I am really interested in working with smallholder farmers to identify approaches and solutions that tackle different challenges affecting our food systems and help to build more resilient communities. Finding ways to do this through farmer-centered research, developing different tools and resources in a participatory way that promote knowledge sharing and that complement existing indigenous knowledge is of interest to me. More broadly, as a development practitioner I am passionate about finding ways to approach development that is done in an equitable, just, decolonial, and locally-led way. The big global challenges need to be addressed without losing sight of people, especially those whose voices have been silenced.  

How has pursuing an MPS helped your understanding of Agriculture and Rural Development?  

It helped me to gain a deeper, more structured understanding of the complexities that exist as we try to address climate change and feed the world’s growing population. As I am specifically interested in working with smallholder farmers, it has also challenged me to think more critically about the complexities and power dynamics that exist across local food systems.  It has also forced me to learn and unlearn facts and realities, let go of biases and broaden my perspective on how different actors are approaching global challenges.  

What are the biggest challenges you want to tackle in the world?  

Addressing the needs of smallholder farmers as they adapt to changing realities due to such things as climate shocks, economic stressors and social inequities. Smallholder farmers have a significant role in local food systems and rural livelihoods yet are disproportionately affected by these challenges.   

What has been the most memorable or impactful part of being in the Global Development MPS program? 

Aside from the classes, having the opportunity to work with a project in Ghana for my capstone, where I developed a training manual for new crops to be used by local farmers. I also immensely enjoyed being the Graduate Assistant for the Humphrey Fellowship Program where I could build connections both personally and professionally.