First-year student awarded study abroad funding as Borlaug-Ruan intern

Kelly Jedrzejewski
November 12, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Emma Steely, a first-year environmental resource management student in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica through her participation in the Pennsylvania School for Excellence in the Agricultural Sciences at Penn State.

Steely, of Catawissa, was a Borlaug-Ruan Intern at EARTH University, Costa Rica. The prestigious Borlaug-Ruan International Internship is open to high school students who have participated in the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute.

The internship provides students with an eight-week experience working with internationally renowned scientists and policymakers at leading research centers around the world. Students participate in original research projects while gaining a new perspective on pressing food security issues and nutritional problems in poverty-stricken areas of the developing world.

Emma Steely

Emma Steely, of Catawissa, was a Borlaug-Ruan Intern at EARTH University, Costa Rica.

IMAGE: Emma Steely

Steely said she always has been interested in environmental science, but a high school ecology teacher introduced her to the role agriculture plays in environmental issues. From there, Steely became involved with her high school’s agricultural programs.

In researching online before starting college, Steely learned about the School for Excellence, a four-week residential program, which provides academically talented rising high school seniors an opportunity to explore the agricultural and natural-resource sciences and life on a college campus. She was a member of the school’s class of 2018.

As part of the program, Steely and fellow students were required to write research papers on a topic related to food security in a developing country. Based on her paper, Steely was among those selected by a panel of judges to represent Pennsylvania during the three-day Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa, hosted by the World Food Prize Foundation. It also made her eligible for the Borlaug-Ruan internship.

While in Costa Rica, she researched cucumber growth in different substrates and met students and faculty from around the globe. She studied at the Periurban Farm and the Tropical Crops Farm at EARTH University, a private, nonprofit, international university that was created with support from the Costa Rican government, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

At the university’s farm, Steely worked with individuals who spoke only Spanish — adding a new challenge to the first few weeks of her research. Steely’s other duties included harvesting, washing and packaging pineapples, yuca, rambutan, green onions and lettuce plants.

“The focus of my work was to learn every part of agricultural production, from planting the seeds to shipping to market, which I thought was fascinating,” Steely said. “I worked in different areas of the farm every day, and while it was still farm work, it was a new experience for me.”

"It has changed the way I think about myself. I am inspired. I am determined. I am positive I can make a difference in the world, too, if I step outside my comfort zone and challenge myself every day."

— Emma Steely, environmental resource management student, Penn State

Another challenge Steely faced was conducting research with little help or guidance.

“The experience helped me become a stronger student because I had to spend so much of my personal time conducting the research outside of work,” Steely said. “When problems arose, I had the responsibility of finding a solution on my own rather than relying on the other workers who were involved in their own research.”

Steely said her time as a Borlaug-Ruan intern will be beneficial to more than just her academics, calling the internship an incredible opportunity during which she grew as an individual. The most important takeaway from Steely’s summer experience was the people she encountered.

“I befriended a player for the UNC Wilmington soccer team who was starting her third degree in higher education, and I also met a Haitian woman who speaks four languages,” she said. “And, I met a student who is a few years older than I am who founded Heritage Prime Academics, an educational facility in Uganda that gives children in underprivileged communities an education.”

Steely said she “appreciated how these remarkable people make a difference in the world, and it has changed the way I think about myself. I am inspired. I am determined. I am positive I can make a difference in the world, too, if I step outside my comfort zone and challenge myself every day.”

Steely attended the Global Youth Institute in Des Moines last month to present her research. She thanked everyone at the institute and Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation.

“Ambassador Quinn and everyone in this program have done great things for young people around the world and inspired many more to keep pushing for changes,” she said. “I am honored to have been part of such a meaningful program.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 12, 2019