Jacobson named first Global Faculty Fellow in College of Agricultural Sciences

September 27, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A longtime champion of global engagement will serve as the first Global Faculty Fellow in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Michael Jacobson, professor of forest resources in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, will help lead the college's Ag2Africa programming, as well as collaborate with Penn State's Office of Global Programs in its efforts to build a Water, Energy, Food Systems (WEFS) initiative in Africa.

Michael Jacobson Global Fellow

Michael Jacobson, professor of forest resources in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, has been named the first Global Faculty Fellow in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

IMAGE: Penn State

"Penn State has amazing faculty expertise in every discipline, and their knowledge and skills have and continue to be instrumental in solving global problems of hunger, water scarcity, poverty and energy," said Jacobson. "Through this fellowship, my goal is to bring faculty together, see what synergies and interests we share, and develop mechanisms to internationalize sustainable development initiatives."

Deanna Behring, assistant dean and director of the college's Office of International Programs, praised Jacobson's work to improve the quality of life for people all over the world. She said that his "experience, particularly in Africa, will help cultivate internationalization and involvement across academic units."

Jacobson, who brings more than 30 years of international experience to the Global Fellows' table, was born and spent most of his childhood in South Africa, before his family emigrated to Connecticut in 1977.  He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Connecticut, a master's degree in environmental management from Duke University, and a doctoral degree in forest resources from North Carolina State University.

His academic pursuits, coupled with service in the Peace Corps, instilled in him a passion for helping vulnerable communities.

"There is nothing more important and powerful than to give communities the knowledge and resources they need to provide nutritious food, clean water, and affordable and renewable sources of energy for the citizens," Jacobson said. "By doing so, we are positioning them to establish thriving markets and stable economies and governments, and that benefits us all."

A member of the Penn State faculty since 1999, Jacobson has taught courses in forest economics, global agricultural systems, agroforestry and international forestry, and has built a robust research program. He has received more than 70 grants and contracts and more than $4 million in external funding for studies related to forest economics and finance, agroforestry, bioenergy, invasive species, and land restoration, both nationally and internationally.

His research has taken him all over the globe — from France to Indonesia and points around and in-between — but he has a particular interest in Africa, a continent designated as one of the most populous and poorest in the world.

"A fast-growing population such as Africa's presents many challenges, with food scarcity and land use among the most pressing," said Jacobson, who serves as affiliate faculty in African studies at Penn State and is extraordinary professor at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

"Even more mind-boggling is that by 2050, 60 percent of Africa's population will be under 25 years old — 350 million people — all in need of jobs. Our goal is to examine how and where agriculture and agribusiness fits to address those problems."

A recent study took Jacobson to Kenya, where he is working with smallholder farmers to help them scale-up biofuel production and improve their livelihoods through agroforestry — more specifically, the use of croton trees for energy, animal feed and organic fertilizer. He also received a Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research grant funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development titled "Adoption and Scale-Up of Charcoal Alternatives in Zambia."

Earlier this summer, he was one of 60 participants from the U.S. and 10 African countries who took part in a workshop held on the campus of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria. The purpose of the gathering was to develop a significant World-Food-Energy Nexus program in sub-Saharan Africa and to explore possible partnerships with institutions and individuals interested in immediate collaboration around specific nexus research, education or outreach programs.

In these academic and research pursuits, Jacobson ensures that students play a role, either by assisting with the research or sharing his experiences in classroom lessons.

"I want my students to look beyond the corners of their own worlds," he said. "They can learn a great deal from international lessons on natural resources, energy, agroforestry, and how to overcome societal and economic constraints. That knowledge can be leveraged to benefit people around the world, across the United States and right here in Pennsylvania."

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 27, 2018