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By Kelly Merchan
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  • Polson Institute for Global Development
  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development

Gretchen Hanson, MPS ‘23 came to Cornell hoping to build on her international development implementation experience in agriculture and education. When the opportunity arose to spend a summer in Ghana, she did just that.

With support from the Polson Institute for Global Development, Gretchen was paired into a mentored research experience on a project that aims to improve nutritional and financial security of women and youth.

Led by the International Potato Center (CIP), the project — Generating Revenues & Opportunities for Women to Improve Nutrition in Ghana (GROWING) — is an integrated climate-smart agriculture-nutrition-marketing initiative that focuses on transforming individual agency and creating an enabling environment for women to improve their lives in northern Ghana.

“Development projects make strides to improve livelihoods every day, but many times initiatives don’t reach their intended target,” said Gretchen, a Master of Professional Studies (MPS) student in Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“This opportunity gave me hands-on experience with a team who seeks to bridge gaps in the development sector — between research and implementation; extension and education; and staff and communities.”

At the heart of GROWING, researchers seek to improve nutrition and incomes amongst women, especially pregnant and lactating mothers, young children and youth, encouraging them to diversify what crops they grow and linking them to new markets.

Bringing her past experience as an international development project manager and passion for agricultural education and extension to the team, Gretchen took the lead on developing 26 training modules for a manual that would enable the community to harness localized research through participatory, facilitative trainings.

For Gretchen, training is not meant to be a one-way engagement from teacher to student, but rather a reciprocal learning opportunity between program staff, researchers, and communities. She worked with fellow researchers, extension agents, and farmers to identify learning objectives, taking into account varying levels of literacy and education, and creatively using visual aids, graphics, and animations that would resonate with participants.

This fieldwork made her think about how important it is to blend research and practice while adapting to the realities and drivers of decision-making on the ground.

“Whether it be agricultural development in Ghana or upstate New York, people are always at the center of development interventions,” she said. “Finding new ways to be inclusive of all voices and embrace existing community-based knowledge was one of the most valuable things I learned working with CIP.”     

Fieldwork experiences bring added value to MPS students in their required capstone project, according to Terry Tucker, who mentored Gretchen in the Polson-funded project.

“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,” said Terry Tucker, professor of the practice in Global Development.

“We are thrilled to see students like Gretchen already making a difference throughout their time in the MPS program.” The MPS program in Global Development, designed for early and mid-career professionals to gain practical and technical skills and prepare them for a career in field-based development and policy in low-income and rural communities around the globe.

The GROWING project is funded by Global Affairs Canada and implemented in partnership with CIP, CARE International, the nutrition division of Ghana Health Services, local NGOs, and District-level Ministry of Food and Agriculture extension personnel and regional and district level agents of Women in Agricultural Development Directorate.

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