By Grace Finnerty, CFANS freshman studying plant science and 2022 Minnesota Youth Institute and Global Youth Institute participant
As soon as I saw the email about the Minnesota Youth Institute in my inbox, I knew I had to participate. It was a conference centered on food security and inspired by Norman Borlaug, the little known plant breeder who saved at least a billion lives with his work. Throughout high school, my only opportunities to connect with plant science were outside the classroom. I eagerly competed in science fairs and pursued home gardening. Much of the time, it was a solitary project. So I was very excited to be a part of a conference centered on the topics I care about, where I could meet other people with similar concerns and interests.
I chose the issue of genetically modified bananas in Uganda for my paper. Researchers from Uganda had developed bananas resistant to banana wilt and others that were fortified with Vitamin A. These modifications were similar to genetic modifications I had seen in other crops, but something about this research was different: the bananas were developed by Ugandans and for Ugandans. In researching for my paper, I frequently lost track of time. I was consumed by my curiosity, and I enjoyed searching for information on a topic that had little commentary about it. I could form my own thoughts about the issue because there were few opinion pieces to consider.
The day of the Minnesota Youth Institute was fantastic. I was able to hear about issues from around the globe. Our peers and the roundtable experts pushed us to think deeply about why solutions succeed or fail. This was one of my first interactions with CFANS on the St. Paul campus. The opportunity to come here for this conference was a very positive experience and the delicious lunch that was served certainly helped.
I was thrilled to be accepted as a Global Youth Institute delegate. Months later I had the opportunity to present my paper to another roundtable, this time with students from across the country, and even across the world. The Global Youth Institute took place during the middle of the semester, when I was busy keeping up with the demands of college. I was worried that the extra commitments would prove to be stressful, but I found that they were well worth it. The daily framing videos were particularly impactful. They reminded me of why I am here, studying on this campus. They inspired me to look ahead and think about what my future holds, what our collective future holds. I was moved by the attention paid to issues of food security, which, due to their long-lasting nature, are often overlooked in political debate. By focusing on Covid, conflict, and climate change, we were able to explore important interactions between agriculture and pressing global issues.
I am so glad that I had the opportunity to participate in the Minnesota Youth Institute and the Global Youth Institute. These programs give students a platform to explore a wide range of relevant food issues here at CFANS. My involvement in these programs connected me to others involved in food security issues and inspired me to think deeply about solutions to global challenges.
I would like to thank Mr. Howard, my mentor for the Minnesota Youth Institute, and my parents for supporting me. I would also like to thank CFANS for offering this Institute and making a CFANS scholarship available to students who participate.