On her own path to end world hunger

July 28, 2017
Shantal Pai

Shantal Pai has a vivid memory of a moment at age 6 that would shape her life.

Her mom was from a dairy farm in Wisconsin, where Pai would spend summers, and her dad was from India. Occasionally her dad would take her to India, and on one trip the then 6-year-old Pai was riding on a shuttle bus in Mumbai, late at night, when she looked down through the open window to see a young girl, about her own age, holding an even younger girl in her arms and begging for food or money.

“I was very taken aback, having been from a background where not only is food plenty, it’s all you can see for miles in a cornfield,” says Pai. “The prospect that another person could not have enough food, while in this other place there was enough milk for 500 people each day, was stunning and shocking.”

Driven in part by that worldview-changing memory, Pai has immersed herself in coursework related to alleviating hunger. She’s majoring in plant science with a minor in political science, and she’s currently doing research with Jason Hill in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering. They’re studying gaps in yield for corn and soybean farmers with an eye toward maximizing production.

Pai, who serves as chair of the Student Senate Consultative Committee, is also interested in streamlining policies to capitalize on the latest science. So she’s looking into the field of administrative law, where she could take her understanding of science and help develop regulations that automatically update as the science updates.

It all comes back to her overarching goal of finding better ways to support hungry people around the world, so that scenes like she witnessed at age 6 will be no longer unfold. 

Watch a video featuring Pai.