WDMCS Students Present at World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute

Valley Southwoods Freshman High School student Samuel Throm and Valley High School students Phani Chevuru, Grant Gustafson, Meutia Hakim, Catherine Leafstedt, and Shaan Madhan  joined other top students from across Iowa last month to explore scientific, agricultural and global career opportunities at the World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute at Iowa State University.

The day was filled with interactive workshops. Students, who had all researched and written a five-page paper on a global food security topic, presented their innovative solutions to global problems and also saw how their interests intersect with real-world careers during interactive activities and lab tours on campus.

Throm presented on supporting animal breeding efforts to fight hunger in Rwanda, and was accompanied at the event by teacher Luanne Baker.

Valley students attended with teacher Brant Reif and wrote papers suggesting solutions for terracing hillsides to increase agricultural sustainability in Burundi; improving agricultural education to support farm families in Malawi; promoting breast-feeding to decrease malnutrition in Indonesia; scaling up participatory research and extension programs to support farmers in Peru; and introducing improved sorghum and cotton varieties to achieve food and economic security in Sudan.

Governor Terry Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa State University President Steven Leath, Dupont Pioneer President Paul Schickler and World Food Prize President Amb. Kenneth M. Quinn all spoke at the event, which was made possible by generous support from Paul and Claudia Schickler.

The event has been life-changing for many students. Rebecca Nellis, a student at Prairie Valley High School, attended both this year and last year – after last year’s experience, she and her 4-H club began a meal-packaging initiative, and she plans to study Food Chemistry and Human Nutrition in college.

“The Iowa Youth Institute on world hunger introduced me to people who have made a difference in the world and inspired me to do the same,” Nellis said. “I chose to take an independent studies class this year at Prairie Valley High School where I study food alternatives to supplement malnourished children. I would have never considered a career choice like this if it weren’t for the program.”

During lunch, while students rubbed elbows with the state’s business leaders and other experts, teachers spanning multiple disciplines from around the state collaborated and discussed how to integrate global issues and food security into their curricula.

Brad Horton, a biology teacher at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School, has been involved with the World Food Prize youth programs for several years and participated this year. “Students are usually shocked at the extent of poverty and hunger that they have largely never before considered,” Horton said. “By participating in the Youth Institutes, students feel like they are part of a larger group working toward the same goal of addressing food security.

“The youth institutes and internships our students have participated in have changed the direction of their lives. One student returned and held what has become an annual Hunger Banquet at our school. Over five years our school has raised $50,000 and packaged over 200,000 meals for Kids Against Hunger. A past intern is conducting research in college while another intern just accepted a position with Cargill.”

Gov. Branstad had lunch with students and also addressed them during a keynote speech. “Students, your participation today at this truly unique program the World Food Prize has created is a significant first step in shaping your future education, your careers, and your lives,” Branstad said. “Dr. Borlaug, who founded the World Food Prize, was passionately committed to science and its potential to improve lives, produce more food, and eliminate poverty. His life is an inspiration for all of you here today – it’s up to you to set the course for the 21st century.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds also spoke. “As the co-chair of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, I am thrilled to see this room so full of students and teachers, all here today to explore pathways toward careers that will solve the real-world challenges of the 21st century,” she said. “The World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute is STEM Education at its best, and the enthusiastic, talented students attending prove we have a promising future ahead.”

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, explained that the primary goal of the event is to get students excited about the huge variety of career paths available to them, and to show them how they can make a difference in the world. “The goal of this program is to inspire the next generation of scientific and humanitarian heroes to help solve global issues, and we hope to eventually have every school in the state participate each year,” Quinn said.

Iowa State University President Steven Leath noted that science and technology can be developed but emphasized that we need the next generation of people to apply that science. “One of the most difficult challenges facing our world is producing and distributing enough food to feed the growing population. We must employ our most powerful resources to meet this challenge – our best science, our best technology, and our best prepared, best educated young folks. We need students – motivated, energetic, creative young people – who are committed to building a better future.”

More information is available online at www.worldfoodprize.org.

Photos from the event can be found at www.worldfoodprize.org/iyiphotos. Additional photos can be found at this link.


The World Food Prize holds statewide youth institutes in several states. The top students each year and others from around the country are invited to attend the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute in October, where they participate in other World Food Prize events such as the Borlaug Dialogue international symposium, which last year drew 1,400 people from 75 countries, and the Laureate Award Ceremony. They interact with experts, participate in hunger relief programs and activities, and present their research findings to peers and global leaders.

Over 20 students each year are accepted as Borlaug-Ruan International Interns, and are sent on all-expenses-paid, eight-week internships at research centers in Asia, Africa, Latin American and the Middle East. Finally, students who participate in the World Food Prize youth programs are also eligible to apply for Wallace-Carver internships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The World Food Prize was founded in 1986 by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, The World Food Prize has honored outstanding individuals who have made vital contributions to improving the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world. Laureates have been recognized from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Denmark, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and the United States. The World Food Prize Foundation is based in Des Moines, Iowa, in the United States.