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The 2018 Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium


The World Food Prize recently held a symposium, the 2018 Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, from Oct. 15 to 19. The symposium was supported by the efforts of interns from Drake University as well as several other local colleges and universities. Students Claire Hueg, Kathleen McKracken, and Valerie Shepherd are part of a group of eleven students who participated.

Hueg, a senior studying environmental politics, said she was surprised by the massive amount of time and energy required to support a symposium.

“The helicopter rule says that for every one-hour meeting for the big shots who helicopter in, there’s about nine hours of work from their team,” Hueg said. “When you think about how many hours of meetings, panels, events, and ceremonies we had this week, really an incredible amount of effort went into preparing for it. I did just one sliver of the work and it was still an extreme effort.”

The five-day event included the Iowa Hunger Summit, a day of side events and the three-day Borlaug Dialogue. The events included a list of over 60 speakers. All these events and speakers were tailored to the World Food Prize’s call to “rise to the challenge” and explore possible ways to feed the 9.5 billion population expected by 2050.

Shepherd said she was glad that the symposium went smoothly. “While running the Iowa Hunger Summit breakout sessions, I was actually surprised at how smoothly things had gone,” Shepherd said. “I walked in very nervous about the events and being in charge of such a major part of the events week. I walked out much more confident in my leadership abilities.”

McKracken, a sophomore majoring in international relations, said that despite the daunting nature of running the Symposium, many people are willing to rise to the challenge of helping it run smoothly.

“I think the most surprising part of preparing for the Symposium was the number of volunteers involved,” McKracken said. “So many people take a full week off of work or school to volunteer for the World Food Prize. This creates a wonderful sense of community and teamwork.”

The Drake interns had advice for students considering an internship.  “I would say to go for it,” McKracken said. “I consider any experience to be a learning opportunity. Apply, and see what happens. Whether you enjoy the experience like I did or find it to not be your cup of tea, then you have learned something either way.” Drake’s location in Des Moines places it near industry giants like Hy-Vee, The Principal Financial Group and the Meredith Corporation, as well as many media outlets, nonprofits and governmental organizations. With many opportunities in Des Moines, there is the ability to gain experience in every field of study at Drake.

Shepherd similarly encourages students to pursue an internship, even if they aren’t sure that it will fit perfectly with their major. “Do it,” Shepherd said. “I honestly was not very sure that it was the fit for me and my major and it really applies to everyone. I was a history major and looking into law school when I applied and was not sure exactly how this would fit in. I gained so many networking opportunities with politicians, public and private sectors. It was an incredible experience to see my background being applied in ways I never imagined it could be used for.”

Hueg said that there is a need to be truly passionate about any organization in order to intern for it, especially if the internship is unpaid.“It’s a lot of work for no pay, so it has to be worth it for you,” Hueg said. “I really am passionate about food security and agriculture policy so this was absolutely worth it for me, but it might not be for others. Assess where your passions lie and don’t do work that doesn’t align with them.”

Hueg also said that people can learn from internships by critiquing their organizations. “The best way to hone your critical thinking and problem-solving skills is to understand the weaknesses or shortcomings of the organization for which you work,” Hueg said. “It isn’t disrespectful to critique an organization as long as you are putting in the effort to help it grow. While interns are often seen as yes men, that skill is not applicable beyond intern work.”

Hueg said she encourages people to use internships as a time to practice skills in critical thinking and evaluation. Shepherd appreciated the fact that many of the people she worked with at the event were interested in her educational background and experience as well. “It was also impressing how interested they were in my educational background and took the time to find out more about me rather than just giving me their knowledge,” Shepherd said. “I found that my J-Term experience in Cuba applied so much more to food science than I could have ever known at the time and so many people began asking me about it when they found out.”

Shepherd said that nonprofit and volunteer organizations should emphasize connecting with and involving as many students as possible. She also believes that students should, in turn, participate in these opportunities even if they are worried that it may not be a perfect fit for their field or interests.

“I think it is very important to see the outreach to youth and college students to get more involved,” Shepherd said. “Like I said previously, I did not think my major or future would apply very well and I was pleasantly surprised. I think we get very narrow-minded in our majors and do not always recognize all the ways our individual background and experience can apply to different topics.”

One of the key features of the Symposium is the extensive efforts it takes to provide leadership and experience opportunities for high school and college students. The George Washington Carver internship is just an example of an opportunity provided to students.


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