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By Grace Campidilli ’22
  • Department of Global Development
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Global Development

Each year, high school students from around New York State gather at Cornell University to explore ways they can help develop real-world solutions to the greatest challenges in agriculture and food systems. At the 2022 New York Youth Institute (NYYI), students transformed their academic papers into a stylized policy report, thanks to a tool programmed by Grace Campidilli ’22 (Plant Sciences and Biometry & Statistics). The data visualization tool allowed youth to understand their research in a new lens and consider the perspective of policy makers and funders — from environmentally friendly fertilizer in Nigeria to sustainable farming in Mali. We spoke with Grace about the platform and how youth can best utilize data tools to advance their own research.

Tell us about the New York Youth Institute.

The New York Youth Institute is a program focused on empowering high school students to research and propose solutions to food security and agriculture-related issues. To participate in NYYI, students from any high school in New York can write a research paper on a topic and country of their choosing as it relates to food and agriculture. Upon submitting their paper, students become eligible to attend the day long NYYI event at Cornell University, which consists of workshops, speakers, tours, and more. The event is hosted annually by Cornell CALS through the Department of Global Development and supported by the World Food Prize Foundation.

How did you get involved with NYYI?

When I was in high school, I was involved in the World Food Prize’s Youth Programs in Iowa. I had so much fun attending the youth institute and meeting other students who shared my interests in agriculture and food systems. Further, this experience really helped me realize my passion for global agricultural issues. I’ve stayed connected with the World Food Prize since then, and this past year I had the opportunity to join the NYYI planning team led by Polly Endreny Holmberg in Cornell’s Department of Global Development.

This year you led NYYI ‘Using data to tell stories about food’ segment. Tell us about your project.

Using programming and web development skills, I created a website that allows students to explore different ways to present their research. By combining data analysis and visualization of FAO data with excerpts of the student's research paper, this tool gives the students the opportunity to transform the paper they wrote for NYYI into a data-driven magazine. This tool was introduced to the 50 high school students during a workshop at the 2022 New York Youth Institute.

The website could be thought of as a combination of a Google form and data dashboard. It is designed to capture the key ideas the user’s research paper focuses on. The user interface asks basic questions about the user’s research, such as: what country does your research focus on? and what is the key challenge your research focuses on? The interface also asks the user to input 2-3 sentence quotes from their paper about their topic and proposed solutions. Based on these inputs, the website utilizes FAO data to produce data visualization and summary statistics.

Then, with the click of the ‘Download my data’ button, all of the information on the webpage is downloaded onto the user’s desktop. From there, the students are able to arrange their data on the provided NYYI magazine templates, and, once finished, download a pdf of their magazine.

All of the code I developed for this project is available on my GitHub.

What was the motivation for this project?

Throughout my undergrad career, I’ve constantly grappled with how I can get people to care about agriculture. I developed the ‘Using data to tell stories about food’ project to address this question. People like stories they can understand and connect with. Because research papers aren’t particularly easy to connect with, I wanted the students attending NYYI to have the opportunity to break down their research into a visual product that is more inviting and easier to digest by the average person.

In addition, because the world is becoming increasingly data-driven, it is imperative that youth understand how to access and interpret raw data. Throughout the state of New York, education about these topics varies widely. I wanted this project to give students an introduction to data science regardless of their background or previous exposure to similar topics.

Learn more about the project and read sample reports from NYYI students.

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