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Three Osage High School students participated in the Iowa Youth Institute

Three Osage High School students participated in the Iowa Youth Institute


The Iowa Youth Institute hosted by the World Food Prize Foundation is usually a time for high school students around Iowa to meet and talk about something they’re passionate about: fighting world food insecurity. Due to COVID-19, the Institute had to turn its big event on April 27 into a virtual event.

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Three students from Osage High School participated. Led by their science teacher Eric Dralle, Gweneth Voaklander, Emily Maliszewski, and Abbi Rodemaker wrote papers focusing on different subjects surrounding global food insecurity. The girls then presented their papers in small groups over Zoom during the Iowa Youth Institute.

Maslizewski’s paper was titled "Sudan: Stopping Soil Erosion."

“We just kind of had to pick a topic in a country and research solutions for that project and just kind of try to figure out ways that would actually be realistic and affordable and ways that would fit in with the culture there,” says Maliszewski. “I found that using geotextiles would be the best solution because they’ve been used since Ancient Egyptian times with old plant fibers. It would be really cheap and easy to incorporate in the way they farm already.”

The students would’ve gone to Ames for the Institute and presented their projects to other students. The virtual roundtables that happened instead had eight students in each group and an adult expert on the topic.

Rodemaker says she was nervous about how the virtual presentations would go, but she said they ended up going better than she expected.

“I didn’t know how it was going to work,” says Rodemaker. “I did have my own few technical difficulties, but overall it was a really good experience. I feel like it went smoothly, especially for the first time (of doing the event virtually). I don’t think it could’ve gone any smoother; there’s always a few bumps in the road.”

Rodemaker’s paper was titled "Food Scarcity in Timor-Leste." Timor-Leste is a small Southeast Asian country.

“My solution was a model farm, which included composting, rainwater harvesting, and terrace farming on a small scale so that way the people of the country wouldn’t have to adopt the solution right away, but instead could observe it and see how it works,” says Rodemaker.

Voaklander’s paper was on the Cassava Mosaic virus in Kenya. She says the Cassava plant is a hearty plant that people in Kenya rely on as a food source. The plant is very hearty and easy to grow, making it a great food source, but when the virus attacks the plant, it destroys some of the root, meaning that there isn’t as much for people to eat.

Voaklander said her solution was to promote better agricultural practices. In her paper, she recommends the Kenyan people take on more hygienic practices when it comes to crop harvesting. She also says they should try to avoid taking from infected plants because that’s how the virus spreads.

She said the virtual event was a great opportunity for her to learn about other students in Iowa and their experiences. She highly recommended the World Food Project to any students who are interested in agriculture.

“It’s a good opportunity for people who are interested in Ag and sustainability and making sure that people are being fed worldwide,” says Voaklander.

After the roundtable discussions in the morning, the students would have normally gotten the chance to meet with faculty from Iowa State University’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and participate in hands-on labs and discussions about food insecurity. The students learn about the underlying issues that lead to food insecurity.

Kelsey Tyrrell, the Institute’s director of Youth Leadership Development, says the afternoon work usually gives the students the opportunity to see how they could make a difference when it comes to global food insecurity and shows potential career paths they could take.

The virtual Institute made the afternoon a bit more limited. Students got to choose from a selection of eight different topics, and then met an expert on their topic through Zoom. Tyrrell mentioned that one advantage of this was the fact that the discussions weren’t geographically limited. An expert from Washington, D.C., was able to log on and talk to the students about the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

In late June, 200 delegates from 30 U.S. states and territories and 10 different countries will be chosen to participate in the World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony, which will take place in October in Des Moines.

Every student who participated in the Iowa Youth Institute is eligible to be invited to the award ceremony. Students are given scores based on their written research paper and the presentations they gave at the Institute. The scores are used to determine which students are the most passionate about the issue of food insecurity.

All three Osage students are eligible and are waiting to see if they will get to present their papers again at the ceremony.

“We really want to make sure that every student in Iowa has that opportunity to share their ideas and have a seat at the table when it comes to big decisions in our food system,” says Tyrrell.

Molly Adamson covers Mitchell County for the Mitchell County Press News. You can reach her at or by phone at 515-508-1134. Follow Molly on Twitter at @OsageEditor.


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