International ag students chosen to attend forum for future leaders

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Two graduate students in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences have been selected to attend the Future Leaders Forum, to be held as part of the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development annual meeting, May 31-June 2 in Washington, D.C.
 
Sarah Eissler, a master's degree candidate from West Chester, and Megan Wilkerson, a doctoral degree candidate and native of Savannah, Georgia, were among only 12 students selected to participate out of nearly 100 applicants from universities across the country. Both students are enrolled in the college's International Agriculture and Development, or INTAD, dual-title graduate degree program.
 
The International Agriculture and Development dual-title degree program provides students with international perspectives and expertise to strengthen their primary graduate degree. Students graduate with a diploma that notes both the primary degree as well as the INTAD dual-title.
 
The students' selection to attend the Future Leaders Forum is one example of how the INTAD program has helped create opportunities for students to broaden their outlook, according to Gary Felton, professor and head of entomology, whose department has reaped some of the benefits.
 
"INTAD is making a difference in our programs and in the quality of students we can attract," he said.
 
Wilkerson is pursuing her primary degree in entomology. She hopes attending the Future Leaders Forum will give her a better understanding of issues that inhibit food security, while opening doors to future collaborations.
 
"This forum not only offers unique insight on rural topics and potential careers, but also provides a networking opportunity to advance myself personally and professionally," she said.
 
Megan Wilkerson

Megan Wilkerson, an entomology Ph.D. candidate in the International Agriculture and Development dual-title graduate degree program, hopes to enter the governmental sector and help developing countries enhance food security.

Image: Penn State
 
She noted that, besides enhancing her credentials for selection to attend the forum, the INTAD dual-degree program is what attracted her to Penn State. "I always wanted to obtain a Ph.D., but my interests were not limited to entomology," she explained. "Pursuing a dual-title degree fulfills my interest in both social and scientific perspectives."
 
Wilkerson pointed out that insects can significantly affect human health and food security. She said while scientific breakthroughs are important, how these advances affect underdeveloped communities and how policies affect populations are the types of questions she is interested in answering.
 
"My dual-title degree program has allowed me to explore the human dimensions and social aspects that the scientific world tends to ignore," she said.
 
After earning her doctorate, Wilkerson plans to enter the governmental sector and serve as a food security advocate for developing countries battling pest prevalence and agricultural knowledge deficits.
 
"I am deeply passionate about breaking down paywall barriers that limit the accessibility of agricultural knowledge," she said. "I'm also keen on reducing the distance from farm to fork by promoting production and consumption of local crops to make domestic farming more lucrative and sustainable."
 
Eissler, whose primary degree program is rural sociology, said she expects the forum to provide an opportunity to meet, engage and network with peers and established professionals in her field of interest. "The event will expose me to the various career paths that can help me to accomplish my goal of working with interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary teams to tackle complex challenges affecting international agriculture."
 
Eissler explains that she always has had a desire to work in an international career.
 
"On a study abroad trip to Vietnam during my undergraduate years, I came to learn about coffee production and the global coffee market," she said. "It fascinated me, and I chose to write my undergraduate honors thesis on the sociocultural impacts of coffee in selected major coffee-producing and consuming countries."
 
She has continued to develop this topic and her interests in understanding global smallholder commodity production, which in turn led her to her current graduate research.
 
"My rural sociology and INTAD dual degree has provided me with the necessary skill sets to operate successfully in the international field," she said. "From experiences in and outside the classroom, I have gained invaluable skills and professional networks that are critical to international agriculture and development work."
 
Following graduation, Eissler plans to pursue a career in international agriculture and rural development, focusing on small-scale farming and locally based natural resource management in the face of climate change and food-security challenges.
 
"My goal is to work with interdisciplinary teams to design projects, programs and solutions that effectively tackle these challenges and help to build capacity and resiliency in local communities," she said.
 
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Last Updated May 29, 2015