UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Melanie Miller Foster, co-founder of the Global Teach Ag Network in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, discussed the role of educators in preparing the next generation of agricultural leaders as an event panelist at the 2021 World Food Prize Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium.
Held annually in October in Des Moines, Iowa, the three-day symposium brings together international leaders, farmers, agribusiness executives, nongovernmental organizations and development experts to address the most critical issues affecting global food security. The conference is named in honor of Norman Borlaug, the late Iowa native who started the World Food Prize in 1986.
Miller Foster participated in a panel led by the secretaries of agriculture from countries in the Northern Hemisphere, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Mexico Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Victor Manuel Villalobos Arámbula, and Canada Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau.
Called “Education, Extension and Research: Building Blocks for the Next Generation of Agricultural Leadership in North America,” the event was hosted by the North American Agricultural Advisory Network, which links agricultural extension communities with one another and with stakeholders within Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Miller Foster spoke about the role that 4-H played in shaping her future aspirations.
“While the suburban public schools I attended were wonderful, I felt ‘seen’ in 4-H,” said Miller Foster. “It was a place where I could pursue my interests, and it formed the basis of a growth mindset. There was a cadre of caring adults around me in the form of project leaders, the state 4-H staff and the county 4-H educator.”
Today, those experiences are a motivating force in her role as an associate teaching professor of international agriculture at the University. Her research focuses on global competency, global learning and transformative learning experiences, most notably in Latin America and Asia.
Miller Foster encouraged the forum's attendees, including current and future educators, to remember educators’ influence on future generations of leaders in agriculture and food security. She noted that educators often are left out of the conversation when building agricultural and educational systems.
“The conversation often focuses on developing curriculum, developing standards, building schools or buying computers,” she said. “When we do talk about the role of education in food systems transformation, there’s little conversation about the educators who will make curriculum and classroom come alive for youth.”
In response to that gap in conversation, Miller Foster and Daniel Foster, associate professor of agricultural and extension education, created Global Teach Ag, which is a collaborative effort between the college’s Ag Sciences Global office and the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education.
The program’s purpose is to help all educators — formal, nonformal, informal, secondary and postsecondary — collaborate to advance authentic global learning in agriculture. It also supports the World Food Prize Global Guides, a cohort of educators who take part in professional development courses designed to help them incorporate food security issues in their classes and programs.
Miller Foster also talked about how one person can make an impact and shared the example of Jan Low, 2016 World Food Prize Laureate, who met with the Global Guides a few years back. Low, an American economist, was part of a team that developed the drought- and disease-tolerant, orange-fleshed sweet potato, which is used to alleviate vitamin A deficiency in regions throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Because of Low’s involvement with the Global Guides, a culinary arts teacher from Iowa understood the important role that her discipline plays in food security.
“The teacher returned to her classroom and shared with her students how important the aspects of food preparation and nutrition education are to food security,” Miller Foster said.
Another Global Guide, a teacher from Honduras, worked with Low, the International Potato Research Center and Zamorano University to have orange-fleshed sweet potato seedlings sent to Honduras. Her students grew the seedlings in their school greenhouse and donated the vegetables to the community.
“That’s the work that educators can do,” Miller Foster said. “And there’s no telling what impact they will have on the scores of communities and youth that they influence. Imagine if there were more opportunities like this for educator professional development around the world — where educators could truly be a partner in community development and food systems transformation while influencing the next generation of leaders.”
More information on Global Teach Ag can be found by visiting its website, globalteachagnetwork.psu.edu.