Local students chosen to make global impact

Michael Griggs, master's level research scientist at Cornell University, takes a break from his microbiological research to talk with a colleague.

Michael Griggs, master’s level research scientist at Cornell University, takes a break from his microbiological research to talk with a colleague.

Three Tompkins County students, the largest group to date, interned this summer with top researchers across the country to eradicate world hunger as part of the World Food Prize Wallace-Carver fellowship.

Only one other local student had participated in the program, Zoe Anderson of Trumansburg, who was selected in 2011, the year the program started.

“There were uniquely strong candidates from New York this year,” said Keegan Kautzky, World Food Prize’s spokesperson.

The World Food Prize selects about 30 students each year to work in laboratories and help solve problems related to world hunger. This summer, two Ithaca High School graduates and one Dryden High School graduate participated in the program. A Binghamton High School senior was also among those selected, and chose to work with Cornell University research entomologists.

“If you can identify enough remarkable young people with a lot of potential and passion, and then show them how they can use that energy in their interest to help change the world,” Kautzky said.

Each student was placed in an internship as a recipient of the World Food Prize Wallace-Carver Fellowship, organized by the United States Department of Agriculture.

One of the winners, Ithaca local and Penn State University student Lucy Lagoze, tested water and soil samples from the Chesapeake Bay watershed. She analyzed samples for traces of phosphorus and nitrogen in order to maximize efficiency and environmentally friendly practices of local farmers. She said that while none of the students’ internships tied directly to hunger and poverty, they still made an impact.

“The department I was working in is not directly necessarily related to food scarcity, but I think everything in the ARS is related somehow to food security,” Lagoze said. “You just have to look at the overall picture and see how it ties into that.”

Sean Lyon, a Wheaton College freshman from Dryden, worked in a plant pathology lab focusing on a fungus that attacks blueberry roots in Poplarville, Mississippi.

“Over the next few years I hope to continue with this interest and continue to learn ways to be an efficient and effective member of a global society,” Lyon said. “That’s one of the biggest ways to become passionate about something, is to be exposed to it.”

He has hopes to pursue a career that ties his affinity for biology and international relations to make strides in the battle against world hunger.

Lucy Duan, an Ithaca High School graduate, said she is proud of the impact that students from our community are making on such a large scale.

Duan credits a program she did as a high school senior for cultivating students who have the characteristics that make good fellowship candidates. All three students attended the Ithaca High School New Visions Life Sciences program, which gives students the opportunity to take classes at Cornell University and explore different opportunities in the field.

Nosa Akol from Binghamton studied wood-boring beetles in a Cornell University lab. Now a high school senior, Akol is exploring college options with her recent lab experiences in mind, along with her hopes to work in agriculture and politics. She said she feels these opportunities gave her an insight into why her future career path is so important.

“As the next generation, we should, at a young age, know where we’re standing and what we need to work on in the future so when we get to that age where we can take over, we’re not oblivious to the things all around us,” said Akol.

Michael Griggs, master’s level research scientist, and fellow biologist and entomologist John D. Vandenberg, Ph.D., worked closely with Akol this summer at the Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health in the Bio Integrated Pest Management department.

“She was very mature for her age and independent,” said Griggs, and pointing to the spot on the floor that she dyed electric purple in an accidental lab spill. “She really left her mark on us.”

While Griggs and Vandenberg have taken on interns in the past, Akol was the first World Food Prize fellowship recipient to engage in research with them.

See this story on Ithaca Week.

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