Muscatine students enter World Food Prize Youth Institute

Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert works as the Editor of Discover Muscatine Newspaper.

Muscatine Living

MUSCATINE, Iowa–Three students from Muscatine, high school students Belinda Brain and Leah Cortez and junior high school student Kensley Paul, participated virtually in this year’s World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute April 22. The trio distinguished themselves, writing thoughtfully about how to address issues relating to food insecurity in countries around the world and earning scholarships in the process.

An annual event, each of the students learned about the Youth Institute through their agriculture teachers. To prepare, each student picked a country from the list of choices available, researched a topic broadly related to food insecurity, such as agricultural practices, weather, or governmental policy, and wrote and presented a two to three-page paper on it.

Belinda, who previously participated in the Youth Institute in 2020, researched arsenic levels in water in Guanacaste Province in Costa Rica and how moss filtration could help reduce the levels. Kensley looked into food insecurity in the Dominican Republic and ways to alleviate it, including methods to protect crops from severe weather and ways to collect unused food from tourist resorts and get it to local food pantries. Leah studied animal agriculture in China and how a need for more vets, overreliance on antibiotics, and current biosecurity practices cause food insecurity and how addressing these concerns could reduce hunger.

At the virtual institute, students heard from keynote speakers such as Governor Kim Reynolds and Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen. Following these addresses, students gave their papers to groups of two world hunger experts and four other students. After their two to three-minute presentations, other students could ask questions about their research. Now that they have completed the Youth Institute, each of the participants will receive a $1,000 scholarship if they choose to pursue one of several agriculture-related majors at Iowa State University.

An opportunity for students to put their research and communication skills to the test in a real-world situation, each of the Muscatine students who participated found the experience meaningful and each cncidered different parts the most enjoyable. “I would say for me, it was the research part,” shared Leah.

“I think what I enjoyed most was finding out why people chose the countries they did,” said Belinda.

“I enjoyed hearing others’ ideas and learning more about world hunger in other countries and how to find solutions,” added Kensley.

Muscatine agriculture teacher Sam Paul thought the students each did a good job with their research and presentation and hoped they came away with a better understanding of how agriculture affects people around the world, even though the Youth Institute looked somewhat different than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic. “The kids did well–they learned a lot,” he observed. “It’s a bit different because of the virtual format, but they still got to interact with other students and experts.”

An annual event, Belinda and Leah encourage students interested in going to Iowa State University to check it out in part because of the scholarship opportunities. Belinda, a senior, will attend Iowa State in the fall to study public horticulture. Leah, a junior, hopes to go to Iowa State after she graduates to study veterinary medicine.

Along with these benefits, all of the students found the experience eye-opening. As Kensley summed it up, “it is a great chance to try something new and learn about solving world hunger in another country.”

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