The New Jersey Youth Institute, hosted by the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, is a transformative experience for high school students. This year Rutgers welcomed 114 students, 24 mentors, and 46 expert judges comprised of Rutgers staff/faculty/industry professionals virtually on March 5.
During this day-long program, students learned about critical global issues, networked with local leaders, and explored exciting ways to make a difference in New Jersey and around the world, becoming effective change agents in their own communities, and tomorrow’s scientific, humanitarian leaders. Students who participate in the New Jersey Youth Institute earn recognition as a Borlaug Scholar and qualify for internships and further opportunities.
The World Food Prize statewide youth institute is an innovative model that seeks to engage and inspire high school students to pursue STEM career paths relating to agriculture and global food security. This program is open to any New Jersey and tri-state high school student (grades 9-12) interested in food security issues. To participate, students research a global issue related to agriculture and food insecurity and submit a research paper evaluated by the World Food Prize Board of Reviewers.
The March 5 event opened with a welcome address by Thomas Leustek, dean of Academic Programs, where he spoke about the issues that the World Food Prize addresses. He remarked that by 2050 it’s projected that the world’s population will reach 10 billion and that scientists estimate the latest technologies for food production and distribution will have reached their limits in terms of supporting a population of that size. He reminded the teens present that they will be in the challenging position of figuring out how to get the job done.
Dean Leustek then introduced keynote speaker First Lady Tammy Murphy, whose policy initiatives focus on climate change education and fostering women-owned businesses throughout New Jersey. The First Lady’s address focused on the climate crisis, the role government can play in preparing for the future, and the fact that the crisis we are facing will affect every part of our lives, including how we eat and deal with the problem of world hunger. She inspired the students, calling them “brilliant, motivated allies of this (climate crisis) cause,” and spoke about New Jersey being the first state to incorporate climate change throughout the K-12 curriculum and that the state is on its way to achieving 100% clean energy by 2050.
“We need ALL of you to be well-equipped to take on the future green economy as leaders filling jobs in every industry,” she challenged the students. Despite the existential threat and complex challenges we face, she went on to say that she is optimistic because this generation of students is ready to act on climate change, “I know that New Jersey’s future is in great hands!”
Students then participated in virtual roundtable sessions and presented their research papers to panels of expert judges. Research presentations focused on solving vital global challenges such as water scarcity, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture. Students presented their solutions, responded to questions from judges and fellow students, and participated in small group discussions with statewide experts, global leaders in science, industry, and policy and professors and college students in New Jersey working to end hunger.
During lunch, students had additional opportunities to network with the experts. Following this, three of the 2020 Global Youth Institute alumni—Nidhi Girish, 2020 GYI Delegate from John P. Stevens High School in Edison, Elizabeth Rutenberg, 2020 GYI Delegate from Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, and Aalind Tyagi, 2020 GYI Delegate from Plainsboro High School—inspired attendees with their personal experience and participation in the New Jersey Youth Institute.
Kelsey Tyrrell, Director of Youth Leadership Development, World Food Prize Foundation, delivered the farewell message.
At the conclusion of the event, several students stayed to talk about their experience that day.
I really liked talking with the judges. They all had interesting questions and I appreciated the in-depth conversations and being able to elaborate on the topic I had prepared. The experts were really dedicated and well-prepared and I appreciated that. This was my 2nd year and I told my friends presenting here that even though this year was virtual, they didn’t miss out on anything; it was great!” – Jasmine Richardson Union County Vo-Tech High School, Scotch Plains.
“This was my first time attending the World Food Prize. I loved it! It was a melting pot of creativity in solving problems. Everyone brought new ideas. The country I chose was the Ukraine and the topic I chose was conflict. There’s a 400 kilometer line that people must cross to get their benefits and they have not been able to access the things they need. I think my presentation went well. And the judges’ feedback really helped.” — Roxy Hreb, Freehold Township High School, Freehold.
“The day was very enjoyable. This is one of my first experiences at a big conference. It was more of a discussion, a sharing of creative ideas on the issues we are facing today. The country I chose was Laos and almost no one knew about that country. It was neat learning and experiencing other people’s ideas and working to solve the problems that face our world.” — Student from Union County Vo-Tech High School, Scotch Plains.
“My group presented on the topic of water and sanitation. I liked hearing others’ opinions and presentations. I learned that all of the world’s problems are really interconnected.” – Adrija Kundy, Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Technologies, Edison.
“It was a wonderful competition. We got to engage with others and hear how others interpreted the same topic I worked on. My favorite part was being able to engage with everyone else.” – Diya Nair Middlesex County Academy for Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences, Woodbridge.
“The roundtable discussions were the best. I really enjoyed talking and interacting with the judges.” – Rachel Anne Scholl Union County Vo-Tech High School, Scotch Plains.
“The most valuable part of the experience was getting to hear other people’s perspectives. I got to see the hours of work that others put in on their presentations and their ideas and points of view. The experts were really insightful and I learned a lot.” – Payge Neals Cedar Creek High School, Egg Harbor City.
“Attending this event was extremely enriching and beneficial for me, and I really appreciated receiving feedback from the judges. There is so much to learn about responding to food insecurity and other climate and environmental crises on a global scale, and today’s discussions helped me to further analyze those truths.” – Kate Neal High Tech High School, Secaucus.
Participants from this event will be invited to represent New Jersey at the Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa. Considered the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture,” the World Food Prize emphasizes the challenges of ensuring that all people have access to a nutritious and sustainable food supply, while highlighting the accomplishments of those individuals who are working to improve global food security.
At this global event in Iowa, students from across the U.S. and abroad gather to study and write about a pressing global food issue and present their papers to distinguished global leaders and fellow students. While at this international symposium, students also can attend training/educational programs, go on field trips, and participate in a team service project. All expenses paid for participants and provided by the World Food Prize, Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and donors.
The New Jersey Youth Institute is hosted by Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences with the generous support of the New Jersey FFA, New Jersey 4-H, Rutgers Against Hunger (RAH), Student-Organized Rutgers Against Hunger (SORAH), and Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
Visit the N.J. Youth Institute of the World Food Prize webpage for instructions, sample papers, evaluation rubric and registration, and more information.