Three recent Virginia Tech alumni and one Ph.D. candidate were selected as International Agricultural Education Fellowship Program fellows for the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, a unit of Texas A&M AgriLife.

Selected in spring 2021, nine fellows were chosen from the numerous applicants for their passion for agriculture education, their leadership, and their unique life experiences. The fellows took their passion for agriculture education to communities in Ghana in July 2021.

The fellows will serve for a year as agriculture teachers, Cooperative Extension agents, and 4-H advisors to help support agricultural education in rural Ghanaian communities.

The fellows will work in classrooms with local teaching partners, but the experience will be unique for each fellow based on the needs of the community in which they will work. Common to all fellows, though, is the lasting impact of their work.

The Virginia Tech recipients of the fellowship are Arogeanae Brown, a doctoral degree student in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education; Tessa Hawley, who earned her bachelor’s degree in applied economic management; Mary Michael Lipford, who earned her bachelor’s degree in crop and soil environmental sciences; and Lauren Seely, who earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental science.

In Brown’s time at Virginia Tech, she was selected as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences outstanding master’s student, was active in the Agricultural Education, Leadership, and Community Education Graduate Student Council, and Virginia Tech’s chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences.

Brown joined the Rural Development division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture after high school as an 1890 USDA Scholar. As an activist and intellectual, Brown earned this award by advocating for underserved communities and exploring the ideas of food security and agricultural careers as an economic source for impoverished communities of color.

After graduating from Virginia State University with a Bachelor of Science in agricultural business, Brown continued to pursue higher education by obtaining her Master of Science in agricultural education, leadership, and community education. During this study, Brown focused her thesis around African American youth and their interest in agricultural careers, serving her overall passion of providing agricultural education to Black youth and attacking poverty.

Hawley became interested in agriculture after taking an elective course on international development during her first year of college that explained the important role agriculture plays in alleviating poverty and food insecurity.

She participated for two years in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics Sustainable Research Summer Internship program where undergraduates learn analytical skills to assess the techniques of conservation agriculture in the developing area of the Chimbo watershed in Ecuador. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, her group was unable to travel to Ecuador last summer to complete their research. Nonetheless, Hawley volunteered to participate in the program for another year where she learned valuable data analysis and analytical skills through a revamped Sustainable Development Data Analysis summer internship program.

While an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, Hawley interned with multiple agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, American Council on Renewable Energy, and the Virginia Tech COVID database project. She also participated in the Students for Sustainable Practice and the Agriculture and Forestry Green House Gas Inventory Committee.

At Virginia Tech, Lipford received the Aspire! Award, which recognizes students, faculty, and staff who exemplify Student Affairs’ Aspirations for Student Learning. In addition to receiving numerous honors, awards, and scholarships, Lipford is also known for her roles outside of academics. She has been an Irish dance instructor, a member of the Student Life Council at Virginia Tech, a member of the Cru community, and an English as a second language tutor for the Virginia Tech Coalition for Refugee Resettlement.

In June 2021, Lipford traveled to Senegal with Ozzie Abaye, a professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, to assist with the utilization and implementation of the mungbean in that region, simultaneously addressing malnutrition and food insecurity in Senegal. The introduction of mungbean into household farming systems is expected to result in health benefits and provide much-needed proteins and micronutrients, such as iron and zinc, often lacking in common starch-based diets.

Seely’s agricultural knowledge stems from working with both dairy and corn farmers and has extended into a soybean breeding program. In college, she spent a semester studying in Argentina to learn about the beef industry.

In addition to her major at Virginia Tech, Seely minored in both wetland science and Spanish.

The four Virginia Tech International Agricultural Education Fellowship Program fellows will help the Borlaug Institute continue its namesake’s mission of helping elevate small-holder farmers around the world out of poverty and hunger through agricultural science. The Borlaug Institute focuses on designing and implementing science-based agricultural development and training programs to benefit small-holder farmers in the developing world.

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