Reflections from the Global Youth Institute

November 20, 2020
CFANS student Adynn Stedillie.

CFANS first-year student Adynn Stedillie was one of 200 young people worldwide selected to participate in the Global Youth Institute hosted by the World Food Prize Foundation 

This October, Adynn Stedillie had the opportunity of a lifetime — and one that will certainly shape her future. The first-year CFANS student, who is majoring in Plant Science with a track in horticulture and minoring in Food Systems and French, participated in the Global Youth Institute hosted by the World Food Prize Foundation. While in high school, Stedillie participated in the Minnesota Youth Institute, hosted by the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). From there, she became one of just 200 high school students worldwide selected to attend the global event. 

Stedillie looks forward to pursuing a career in food security and crop production in countries where the climate doesn’t support agriculture. She loves cooking with things she grows in her garden, and spends much of her time expanding her house plant collection. As part of an undergraduate research program called RAP, she hopes to study nutrient cycling and sustainable crop systems around the world. She shares her reflections on attending the Global Youth Institute here. 

By Adynn Stedillie 

The Global Youth Institute — before this time last year, I never expected that this organization based in Iowa would have such an impact in my academic career, and introduce me to the world of agriculture in a much deeper way. It started when I was a senior in high school, in my economics class. I had two options for the final: I could write a paper on resilience in the age of COVID-19, or I could write a paper for the Minnesota Youth Institute. Out of my class of 35 some people, I was the only one who chose the latter.

I spent weeks researching the water crisis in my chosen country, Cambodia; how wastewater had a profound impact on the food people ate and how lack of sanitary infrastructure in rural regions was the source of serious issues economically, in terms of health, and the poverty of the country. I typed it up, cited my sources, and prepared for the first conference of people my age delving into food systems for what was probably the first time. This was the Minnesota Youth Institute, the precursor to the international gathering of hundreds of people, where delegates from Minnesota were selected to represent the state and attend the conference in October.

When all was said and done, I felt I understood just how big a role agriculture plays in the future of all of us. It reaches into every aspect of life, as proven in the wide diversity of topics and countries that were the focus of the dozens of papers submitted just in Minnesota. It turns out I would have the opportunity to share my knowledge yet again — with the help of my amazing group leaders Mary Buschette and Priscilla Trinh, I found out I was selected to attend the Global Youth Institute, a virtual (for this year!) conference featuring speakers and students, professors and CEOs, people from all positions in agriculture that would come together for a two-week get-together to work to find a solution for hunger. By this time I had graduated high school and was looking forward to my first year at the University of Minnesota.

Right from the start, the international conference kicked off with a welcome speech from the president of the World Food Prize Foundation, the host of the conference, Ms. Barbara Stinson. She introduced us to the timeline of events we would be able to partake in, including one-on-one conversations with previous World Food Prize Laureates and the opportunity to speak with leaders in the fight against hunger, workshops and small groups for people with similar institutes, and of course, the awarding of the next World Food Prize. It was exciting, to say the least! Tjada McKenna, the incoming CEO of Mercy Corps was next, and I learned so much about her journey from university to discovering how important sustainable agriculture was, to making her way up to CEO. We had an activity with Cactus Cares to learn about nutrition in schools and food deserts and the work they are doing to make sure every kid has something to eat so they can learn. This was all in the first day! The upcoming weeks followed a similar theme, and offered so much to the attendees.

The next meeting I attended was the roundtable discussion, an opportunity for me to share my paper with experts in the field and answer questions, and speak to other attendees. While public speaking is not my forte, I actually really enjoyed this part in particular. All of my hard work was able to be showcased, and I received great feedback and words of encouragement from people like Dr. Coffman from Cornell University, an international professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, as well as Ms. McNabb from Winrock International, among others. The next two weeks were filled with other activities, too many to name, but I would like to talk about the amazing opportunities to speak with previous Laureates of the World Food Prize. Two past winners would host QandA breakout sessions where students could speak directly to them to learn anything from the work they do to advice they have for aspiring students. To name a few, David Beckmann and Catherine Bertini, Jan Low, and Lawrence Haddad, and so many others were there to be a part of this international conference.

The final opportunity we could watch live was the awarding of the World Food Prize to Dr. Rattan Lal. Per the website, “Dr. Rattan Lal, native of India and a citizen of the United States, will receive the 2020 World Food Prize for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that restores and conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.” For a little bit of background, the World Food Prize was created to recognize the work of individuals internationally who improve the quantity, quality, or availability of food, and was created to reflect the standards of the Nobel Prize when such a category did not exist to recognize the crucial work in agriculture that was being done. It started with Norman Borlaug, the ‘father of agriculture’ and a central figure in the green revolution that changed agriculture as we know it today back in the 1940s. Dr. Borlaug actually won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in agronomy and specifically wheat, and founded this organization to continue his work and legacy.

It’s hard to fit those two weeks into words. I had such an amazing team of people supporting me, from U staff to upperclassmen, who helped me write my initial paper in high school to continuing with my research in college. So many amazing things have happened since; my paper has been published, I have numerous international research trips and internships all over the world available to me, and I connected with countless people in the industry. I spoke with the other delegates in my cohort a few weeks after the fact, and heard their perspectives of the conference. The theme of what they had to say was that agriculture is a part of so many things — health, the economy, and even though not all of us wanted to go into the industry for our careers, it would impact all of us at some point, and we were all there to learn about it for a reason. It was a fantastic experience for everyone. While it’s a bummer we couldn’t attend in person this year, I’m looking forward to being a group leader for other students pursuing whatever goals they have and attending the conference in the future.