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By Jacob Zajkowski ’26
  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development
Cornell University’s campus was on the cusp of spring, with buds blooming and thought-provoking conversations around global challenges in the air. Sustainable agriculture, water scarcity, and dietary diseases were among the topics on the agenda for a gathering of young visitors.

Each year, a group of innovative young researchers convene to discuss challenges and propose solutions to issues of food security and climate change. This group, however, is not made up of visiting professors or postdocs but rather the future leaders of the global food system: high school students. On March 17th, the New York Youth Institute (NYYI) brought together sixty high school students from 26 schools across 17 New York counties for a day of learning at Cornell and to share their research and ideas around global food security issues.

The event was co-hosted by the World Food Prize Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting innovations that increase the quality, quantity, and availability of food for all, and the Department of Global Development at Cornell University. Event coordination is led by Polly Endreny Holmberg, Training Program Coordinator and Associate Director of the Humphrey Fellowship in Global Development, with support from a network of Cornell-based volunteers and experts.

Leading up to the event, students were asked to research a global issue they found interesting within the context of a country that was not their own, empowering them to propose solutions and join the conversation on global food security at the New York Youth Institute event.

“The New York Youth Institute empowers high school students to research issues they care about, propose their own innovative ideas, and explore exciting ways to make a difference in New York and around the world,” said Nodira Kurbanbaeva, a Humphrey Fellow from Uzbekistan and volunteer expert panelist at the event.

Students engaged in dynamic discussions centered around the complex issue of food security with guidance and feedback from a diverse group of Cornell faculty, fellows, and graduate students. A select group of student participants will earn a seat at the 2023 Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa this upcoming October.

“Youth between the ages of 15 and 24 make up over one-sixth of the world’s population and have a critical role to play in shaping the future, said Lydia Ngonzi, a Humphrey Fellow from Uganda who served as a volunteer expert panelist at the event. The New York Youth Institute allows students to discover who they are and what they need to develop to be agents of change in the future of agriculture.

Participants had the pleasure of listening to a keynote speech by Ed Mayaba, Research Professor in Global Development and Director of the Humphrey Fellowship Program at Cornell. Mayaba shared insights into how seed varieties can drive food and nutritional security in his home community, inspiring the audience with his knowledge and experience.

Throughout the day, students engaged in public speaking and experiential learning activities, including tours of Cornell research facilities. Student subgroups visited the Animal Agriculture Teaching Barn, Hydroponic and Aquaponic Research Greenhouses, and one of Cornell’s Digital Agriculture labs for a hands-on grafting activity. CALS Ambassadors helped lead the tours, providing insight and answering questions from participant students and their teacher mentors.

For Rye High School junior Sofia Tello, who also participated in last year’s event, the new digital agriculture tour and data systems in agriculture piqued her interest in becoming a student at Cornell.

"The speakers were incredibly inspiring, and the new digital agriculture tour was amazing – I am falling more and more in love with Cornell CALS," Tello shared.

Jacob Zajkowski ’26 is an undergraduate student majoring in Plant Sciences with minors in Communication and Education.  

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