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  • Department of Global Development
  • Agriculture
  • Global Development
With a passion to confront malnutrition and poverty through agriculture and plant science, Sage Grasso-Monroe joins the MPS in Global Development 2020-2021 cohort as an awardee of the Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship, which offers financial assistance for graduate studies to returned Peace Corps volunteers. After serving in Ethiopia on food security projects, Grasso-Monroe brings her experience in rural development and community engagement to the program.

Hometown: Queensbury, New York

College attended and major: University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Bachelor of Science in Public Health

Peace Corps dates: January 2018 - March 2020

What are the big challenges you want to tackle in the world?

The pressing need for food security through interdisciplinary and creative solutions has driven my passion and career goals to encompass international agriculture in order to address this fundamental challenge. My ambition is to participate in an agriculture-based program that is combined with international and rural development. My interest lies in the integrative approach between plant science and agriculture to address malnutrition and poverty. This is an essential aspect of global development as crop production for low-income areas is vital for meeting essential food needs around the world. I envision myself in the career field of international development centered around discovering approaches to sustain and feed a population that continues to grow, with an emphasis on low-income and rural areas.

Where were you stationed in the Peace Corps and what projects did you work on?

I was stationed in the town of Mehal Amba, Ethiopia. My primary project was focused on constructing chicken coops and home gardens to improve food security. I worked with 25 low-income farming families to build chicken coops and access hens in conjunction with poultry maintenance training. This project was coupled with demonstrations, educational meetings and construction of sustainable, nutrient-diverse home gardens. In addition, my counterpart and I facilitated training sessions with community members about Kenyan top-bar beehives. These agriculture initiatives were coupled with nutrition education and cooking demonstrations to incorporate more nutrient dense foods in cultural dishes.

My secondary projects were focused at the local primary school. I facilitated, along with local counterparts, an environmental science club, gender club, English club and an HIV/AIDS prevention club. I was also involved with teaching 8th grade English through comprehensive lessons with students, as well as hosting English educational opportunities for teachers.

Tell us about the most impactful experiences you’ve had as a Peace Corps volunteer.

I was impacted through culture exchange and engaging fully with my community. My most enjoyable experiences were on holidays when I felt part of the community as people opened their homes and shared their local customs and traditions with me. Through connection, music, coffee, food and local beverages, I was able to learn more and delve deeper into the complexities of integrating and working within different cultural contexts.

I found that I could connect deeper through food and coffee. My relationships grew as more people accepted me into their kitchens and were open to sharing the know-how of preparing local foods and drinks, which was the backbone of everyday life. Through this window of opportunity I was able to get to know women and children, who became my allies and slowly opened to working with me on agricultural initiatives.

Coffee was an excellent way to help me integrate and begin work within the community. I prepared and was a guest to many coffee ceremonies, which consisted of an hour-long process. This time allowed me to understand and learn from those around me while creating an open opportunity to discuss community wants and needs for agriculture-based initiatives. People were more receptive and involved in projects when they were integral in the planning and implementation. I was a foreigner in their community, but I am grateful that they were gracious enough to allow me to become an active member for a short two years. Within the community, locals ultimately hold the knowledge about which projects are most essential as well as tools to implement change. Coffee ceremonies allowed for open communication to get to know each other and plan projects together — as a community, for the community, with the community and by the community. I was there to listen and serve as a resource from an outside perspective. I gained valuable insights through these ceremonies on how to work within cultural contexts and norms to help others utilizing my own professional skill set. 

Why did you choose Global Development at Cornell CALS?

The Global Development program is directly aligned with my goals and will help me pinpoint exactly what my future career will look like. It will prepare me for field-based curriculum and further my research and education goals, specifically through the capstone or problem-solving project. CALS has a reputation for equipping students for field work by gaining practical knowledge to become critical thinkers and analyze development strategies. Such skills will be advantageous in my future career.

My objective is to use this degree to work in an interdisciplinary capacity in order to creatively and effectively face the complex fundamental challenges in food security. With a concentration in International Agriculture and Rural Development, I intend to delve deep into food systems, especially related to field crop systems and development policy. I am resolved to earn an education to compliment my experience related to rural food security internationally.

What does global development mean to you?

Global development is an integrated approach that involves holistically looking at countries and communities in cultural contexts to help provide relief and aid. There is a wide array of sectors within global development, but all involve activism, advocacy and awareness. Global Development addresses poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, violence and tyranny throughout the whole world.

Global development professionals are qualified and trained in specialized fields and work together with communities to help train and implement sustainable and regenerative projects. Global development should be a partnership with locals in the countries and communities involved, where locals are at the forefront of organization and implementation. This allows for a sustainable solution without dependency. The role of a global development worker is to connect communities with resources and strategies that are best suited for their specific needs and wants while keeping as many colleagues and resources as local as possible.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Please do!

I am grateful to be in the 2020 cohort of the CALS Global Development program. I am excited to work with the well-qualified professors and staff at Cornell to get a well-rounded education, preparing me for a future in Global Development through agriculture-based initiatives. I am privileged and honored to be joining such a prestigious institution such as Cornell and look forward to playing a dynamic role in finding solutions to address food insecurity.

Learn more about the Coverdell Fellowship in Global Development.

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