Meet Kate McHale’24, an undergraduate in Global Development who is on a mission to increase youth engagement specifically as it relates to nutrition. As an eight-year alumna and current student leader of 4-H, Kate advocates for youth’s voices in national policy. Throughout her time at Cornell, Kate has led high school students to research and present their findings to state and federal government bodies. We spoke with Kate to learn more about this experience and how her Cornell CALS has impacted her career path.
What are the big challenges you’re inspired to confront in your research and service?
I am very interested in studying the intersections between food, agriculture, education, and community development. Students' overall health and well-being play a huge role in academic performance. I am passionate about empowering youth to create change within their own communities and ensuring that every child has access to nutritious, healthy meals. Working closely with high school students as a 4-H facilitator has shown me that teens are eager to create positive change in their communities, but this cannot happen on an empty stomach.
Tell us more about your experience with 4-H.
Over the last two years, I have interned as a Roundtable Facilitator at the National 4-H Conference in Washington, DC. The Conference brings together 4-H youth members to collaborate with various federal agencies seeking youth perspectives on popular issues.
As a facilitator, I led a team of 15 students from around the country through the process of researching, developing, and presenting a formal briefing to the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture about how youth voices can be better integrated into national nutrition security programs.
This project has been an incredible opportunity to combine my passions for community development and agricultural education in a way that allows me to empower youth to create change within their home communities.
What does your ongoing involvement with 4-H look like?
I am still involved with 4-H and continue to be involved throughout the year. I attended the White House Conference on Hunger, Health, and Nutrition this fall. This conference was the first time there was a formal national convention combining the private and public sectors of Hunger, Health, and Nutrition in fifty years.
The Biden Administration announced its new national strategy for nutrition, and I got to attend workshop events with professionals where we exchanged ideas and projects that we were working on about nutrition.
I was there to emphasize the importance of including youth voices and engagement in nutrition policies because it truly affects them the most. And I will say there was far more emphasis on school lunches and policies related to kids.
You’ve talked a lot about “youth engagement,” what steps did you take to increase youth engagement in 4-H?
The most impactful thing we were able to do was to have students physically in the room with the Department of Food and Agriculture. Students were able to tell the department about local projects that have worked to improve food security in their communities and give suggestions for policy. I really think there is nothing more impactful than policymakers hearing from youth because they don’t get the chance to engage with anyone outside their office.
You’re also in the Education Minor. What have you taken away from your Education classes thus far?
My favorite class I have taken so far is GDEV 3510, or Education Through Extension and Outreach, taught by Dr. Jeffery Perry. What I enjoyed about the course is that it moves away from school-based education and teaches about what education can look like for the greater community. It was also really hands-on and a great way to learn about learning beyond the K-12 schooling system.
What I love about the minor is that you can personalize it to your interests. I am taking sociology classes about the education system because I want to go to law school in addition to classes that would prepare me to be a teacher or an educator.
How do you think your time working with youth and policy will impact your career path?
4-H has shown me the benefits of listening to youth and how often youth’s voices are not centered. I remember feeling as a kid feeling like adults never wanted to listen to my ideas, and I think there needs to be a person advocating for kids like that, and I want to be that person. Going to law school will help me take what I have learned from 4-H and Global Development and apply it to be the person who can advocate for people who cannot advocate for themselves. I hope to pursue a career in extension education and remain involved in 4-H once I graduate because 4-H shaped who I am as a person, and I would like to give that same experience to youth for years to come.
This field note was prepared and edited by Aerin Mann ’25. Aerin is a communications assistant in the Department of Global Development majoring in Global Development with minors in Business and Law & Society.
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