Promoting engagement across Global Development's Signature Strengths

The Collaborative Grant Program is designed to promote engagement across Global Development's Signature Strengths in areas of wellbeing and inclusion, environmental sustainability, and food and nutritional security. These grants seed new research, extension and teaching initiatives and promote collaboration.

Spring 2024 Awardees

Building on the successful experience of attaching two Global Development (GDEV) students with Polson Institute support to the multi-disciplinary GROWING project in Northern Ghana, this project will strengthen this strategic partnership between Cornell’s Global Development and the International Potato Center (CIP) by enabling graduate students to have a mentored research experience.  This is a win-win investment for CIP and students seeking skills to construct a more sustainable, equitable world.  This collaboration will enable one MPS student in Global Development to undertake field research in 2024-2025 aligned with interests of the gender-transformative GROWING project.  In addition, a Global Development undergraduate student will have the opportunity to intern for two months tackling communication and knowledge management activities.  All students will share their findings and experience with the Ghanaian research and GDEV communities. 

This collaborative grant aims to bring the next generation of feminist scholars together to create a collective, community, and collaborative network within and outside Cornell that is interested in applying feminist theory and practice to development. For an institution with a history of groundbreaking feminist scholars and an established program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, there is a glaring dearth of an organized community of feminist scholars with active research, practice, and teaching around agriculture, education, or food systems on the Cornell campus. To fill that gap, we propose to seed the Feminist Research for EquitablE Development (FREED) group at Cornell. In its first year, faculty will host a hybrid workshop, author a position paper, and publish a scoping review and evidence gap map in gender in food systems.   

  • PIs: Hale Tufan, Ramya Ambikapathi, Aubryn Sidle
  • Collaborators: FGSS, City Region and Planning, Dyson School of Economics, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Department of Public Health, Labor Economics and Public Policy

Research on distributive environmental injustice has established that in most circumstances marginalized populations experience greater exposure to environmental harms. Yet the extent and nature of these inequities differ across locales with different histories, hazards with different biophysical dynamics, and studies with different designs. Researchers will complete a first-of-its-kind synthetic review and meta-analysis of research on inequity in hazard exposure. Their analyses will characterize uneven patterns of disparate exposure across hazards, locales, and research designs; identify factors driving these variations; and examine the methodological and contextual quality of this research. Building research skills and knowledge across a team of students and sharing their findings in a workshop on campus, this project will both address a key knowledge gap and lay a foundation for deepening treatment of environmental injustices in our undergraduate curriculum.

Fall 2023 Awardees

The African continent is already experiencing climate change impacts, including drought, floods, biodiversity decline and loss of human lives. At the same time, Africa is one of the lowest contributors to climate change, while struggling to pay for climate change adaptation. Historical injustices have created structural inequities, and climate-related initiatives often mirror colonial and post-colonial power dynamics. Ongoing extractive industries look to Africa for resources, including minerals for renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. Many of these extractions lead to polluted land, water and air, yet not always supporting economic growth.  Despite this bleak picture, alternative models are emerging as ways to imagine just environmental and climate futures in Africa. This project involves organizing a 2-day symposium and related publication on these topics, with the Institute for African Development. Graduate students in Development Studies will be hired to help plan the event and coordinate the special issue or edited volume.

  • PI: Rachel Bezner Kerr
  • Collaborators:  Institute of African Development, doctoral summer RA


Scholars and practitioners across the world are critically rethinking higher education’s extension and community engagement work. In this project, we propose to advance a South-North dialogue on this theme by bringing to Cornell two innovative leaders from Uruguay for a three-month residency as visiting scholars during the fall 2024 semester to help us shape and implement an innovative research and teaching initiative that cuts across all of GDEV’s signature strengths. The three components of the initiative include: (1) planning an international conference and related book, to be published in the Cornell University Press book series that Scott Peters co-edits; (2) organizing research seminars and extension practitioner workshops for GDEV and broader Cornell community; and (3) planning an undergraduate engaged learning class that will be offered during the spring 2025 semester with the Universidad de la República in Uruguay.

This project will foster collaboration between Global Development undergraduate students, graduate students, international agricultural research, and extension practitioners. Two undergraduate students and one graduate student will join an on-going action-research project that tests improved organic fonio production practices with smallholder farmers in Douentza, Mali.

Students will join Cornell faculty and a Malian NGO as junior researchers to i) analyze the collected data from the multi-year tests, ii) design a gender-responsive survey for farmers to assess the tests, iii) analyze the survey findings, iv) draft recommendations for the Malian extension service to scale the farmer-approved practices, and v) assist in writing a scientific article.

The project will fund a summer internship for two undergraduates, part-time graduate student work, implementation of the survey by the Malian NGO, and a student-led workshop to share their findings with their peers and the wider Department.

Spring 2023 Awardees

With an objective to increase engagement between faculty and students in Global Development, this project will support three faculty-Ph.D. student pairs who will conduct research within Global Development’s signature strengths:

Aside from advancing scientific knowledge, the project also seeks to foster greater dialogue and collaboration within the Global Development community. A fall roundtable will showcase these research projects, providing opportunity for highlighting fieldwork findings and helping to build a broader intellectual community.

Cornell University has hosted the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program since 1980 resulting in an alumni network of more than 400 fellows in more than 120 countries.  At Cornell, the program focuses on three, often overlapping, areas of interest: agriculture, rural development, and natural resource management. While several efforts have been made to integrate the current Fellows into teaching, research, and outreach activities, the alumni network remains largely untapped. The goal of this project is to better utilize the resources and connections available within the vast alumni network to bolster the Humphrey Fellows Program's mission and goals, and to create mutually beneficial opportunities for Global Development, CALS, and the wider Cornell community.  The main activities include (1) building and managing a database, (2) establishing social media platforms, (3) convening an online conference, and (4) resource mobilization for sustainability. 

A new bilateral student exchange will allow students from Cornell and the Universidad de San Francisco (Ecuador) to work together on comparative development issues, first meeting online for 10 weeks of class before traveling to each other’s respective communities for further collaboration during Spring Break. This student exchange furthers the goals of Global Development by: 1) piloting a Spring course with Spring break travel - a model not currently adapted for globally engaged learning in the department - which if successful could be replicated; and 2) piloting a short-term reciprocal exchange of students, that positions both Ecuador and Upstate NY as co-equal parts of the “global classroom” and operationalizes the department’s commitment to exploring both local and international manifestations of development challenges. The planning stage of this exchange was funded by a Cornell Global Hubs International Curriculum Development Grant to design.

  • PI: Julie Ficarra, Global Development
  • Collaborators: Karla Diaz, Universidad San Francisco de Quito

Fall 2022 Awardees

There is a recent global push toward transforming our current food system to deliver equity, environmental, and nutrition outcomes. However, food system transformation (FST) cannot be achieved without centering equity, especially gender equity, in all of its components. This collaborative research grant aims to understand the role of women and men in the food system from a multidisciplinary perspective and how this might affect research, intervention, and policies for FSTWe do this through a systematic mapping review of research topics on gender in the food system through a multidisciplinary feminist lens. These disciplines include economics, geography, sociology, anthropology, public health, nutrition, and demography. This review will culminate into two workshops with collaborators and experts/policymakers/donors to conceptualize and disseminate research findings. This proposed work aims to identify gaps and convergence of gender equity research and policies between disciplines to develop a gender-transformative research agenda for FST. 


Tackling the increasing effects of climate change on food production systems, while seeking to reduce glaring social inequities and what we choose to consume, is a daunting challenge that will require a new generation of problem solvers.  The Polson Institute will support building a strategic partnership between Cornell’s Global Development Department and the One CGIAR- International Potato Center (CIP) through supporting two Global Development MPS or graduate students to conduct two to four months of field research in 2023 aligned with on-going CIP projects in sub-Saharan Africa. These students will share their findings both within the country where they conduct research and with the Global Development community. In addition, an undergraduate Global Development student will be engaged to share the findings and experience through social media. Grant implementation will be coordinated by Global Development Professor of the Practice Terry Tucker and adjunct professor Jan Low, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Rural communities across Ireland, Scotland, Indiana, and New York are experiencing a range of challenges such as decades-long depopulation and recent attempts to recover from the economic and social impacts of the pandemic. But these challenges are not experienced uniformly across places. In rural communities where schools often serve as a stable social and economic institution, it is crucial to examine how school and community leaders work together to enhance the wellbeing of their community. This research group will ask: What are the key components of a vibrant community? What is the school’s role in building and maintaining a vibrant community – socially and economically? We will work collaboratively with scholars across Ireland, Scotland, and New York, bringing together a range of international policy and academic expertise. We stand to benefit from examining how demographically similar but politically and fiscally different rural communities are resilient (or not) in the challenges they encounter.

  • PI: John Sipple
  • Collaborators: Kate Foster (Global Development); Kristie LeBeau (Global Development); Hope Casto (associate professor of education studies at Skidmore College); Mags Currie (senior researcher at the James Hutton Institute); Jon Hopkins (research scientist at the James Hutton Institute); and Eoghan McCarthy (researcher at Maynooth University’s All-Island Research Observatory)

Spring 2022 Awardees

Social science research on environmental hazards shows clearly that marginalized populations experience greater exposure to environmental harms. Yet the extent and nature of these inequalities differ across studies. These variations matter for environmental justice movements, which need to understand the variation in environmental disparities and opportunities for action. The research team will conduct a synthetic narrative review and a formal meta-analysis of research on environmental inequities. Their analyses will characterize uneven patterns of disparate exposure across hazards, locales, and research designs; identify factors driving these variations; and examine the methodological and contextual quality of environmental hazards research. The team will hold two workshops on environmental inequities and engage students in the research.

  • PI: John Zinda, Global Development
  • Collaborators: Jerel Ezell, Africana Studies and Research Center, Center for Cultural Humility; Shorna Allred, Center for Conservation Social Sciences, Natural Resources and the Environment, and Global Development; Julie Ficarra, Global Development

Africa is emerging as a global epicenter of inequality. The region is home to 7 of the 10 most unequal countries in the world, and this inequality is exacerbated by uneven globalization and demographic change. The research team will launch a continent-wide, collaborative effort to analyze Africa’s rising economic inequality and identify the best policy remedies to counter this growing rift. Working with collaborators in several countries and Cornell units, the team will leverage a rich set of national statistics compiled by the United Nations and the World Bank over the last 60 years to account for Africa’s historical trends in economic inequality. The project’s geographic and substantive coverage — fully integrating analysis of within and between-country inequality — fills a gap in current inequality research.

Engaged and experiential learning helps students integrate knowledge across the Department of Global Development’s signature strengths, and advance global development as both a critical and participatory endeavor. This project will strengthen the department’s engaged teaching and learning program by: 1) mapping existing engaged pedagogical approaches across the curriculum; 2) identifying community partners; 3) providing opportunities for faculty and students to share knowledge from engaged learning; and 4) developing a pilot for assessing the outcomes of the undergraduate internship requirement. This will help graduates become more critical and participatory global development practitioners.

Current food systems supply food to more people than ever in human history, but they are putting serious pressures on the natural environment, while still failing to supply healthy and nutritious diets to everyone. Solutions that promote healthier, more environmentally sustainable and equitable transformations of the food system will have to be multidisciplinary to address the complexity of the food system. Cornell University, and Global Development in particular, is ideally placed to train the next generation of food systems thinkers who will drive these changes. This project will sponsor a workshop to review current food systems course offerings at Cornell and at peer institutions to identify new approaches to address the challenges and opportunities facing the current food system.

Universities, academic professionals, and students across the globe are increasingly challenged to become engaged in economic and social development. However, few opportunities exist to collectively study and discuss the motivations, implications, and assumptions behind calls for “engagement,” and the “application” of university-generated knowledge to address pressing economic and social challenges. This research group will offer an opportunity for such study and discussion for the Cornell community, through an innovative international examination of histories, theories, and current practices of university extension and community engagement initiatives, and their relationship to global development. Special areas of focus will include the emergence of what has been referred to as a “world-grant” mission for land-grant universities, and the recovery, reevaluation and re-imagination of critical traditions of extension and community engagement across the Americas.

LeadNY, a leadership development program for adult professionals in the food, agriculture and natural resource sectors of the Northeast, will offer a study trip to Puerto Rico, where participants will learn about recovery efforts from multiple natural disasters in recent years. For the first time in the program’s history, LeadNY will partner with the service-learning organization Amizade and their local partner, Caras con Causa, to incorporate three days of engaged learning and service-learning work in community gardens, nurseries, and mangrove reserves, as well as meet with community leaders to learn more about food insecurity, food distribution and climate mitigation. Andrea Durmiaki, LeadNY program aide and a Global Development MPS student, will evaluate the effort to assess engaged learning outcomes.


Interested in applying?

The Polson Institute offers two grant cycles during the year. For full grant information, submissions processes, and deadlines, please visit our main grant page.