Tapping the next generation of hunger researchers

Students partake in the Minnesota Youth Institute program.

On a festive spring day on the St. Paul campus, the University got a glimpse at the next generation of minds dedicated to food security… and vice versa.

Nearly 150 high school students—from the south side of Minneapolis to Grand Rapids—were at the U of M as part of the annual Minnesota Youth Institute (MNYI) World Food Prize competition. They took part in interactive, hands-on science activities, met the president of the World Food Bank and agricultural industry experts, and presented papers outlining their solutions to food-security issues in developing countries.

“I think the program is a fantastic opportunity to get students at the table with researchers … and to give students a voice at the end of the day in how we solve these complex problems,” says Mohamed Yakub, the coordinator of the MNYI. “Food is not a science problem. It’s not a political problem. Lack of food is a world problem. Everyone needs to be pitching in on this.”

In the end, the student pitches met with rewards ranging from applause to financial incentives. Each participant was named a Borlaug Scholar and earned a $1,000 scholarship to the U if they enroll in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Nine of the students were chosen to present their solutions to the Global Food Institute in conjunction with World Food Prize Day in Des Moines later this month.

Yakub is clearly excited at what his program means to a world hungry for food solutions. “In 15 years I won’t be the person making the decisions; they will be,” he says. “I want them—no matter what they end up doing—to think critically about where their food is coming from, how are they reducing waste, and other similar issues.”