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Internships foster collaboration between universities and FAO

21/05/2013 - 

Thirteen US university students will spend the summer working in FAO field offices, providing extra capacity to the organization on the ground and gaining valuable international experience.

Students from Cornell University, Mississippi State and the University of Minnesota will have the chance to apply their knowledge in agriculture, economics, food law, public health and other areas, working with FAO staff in Sri Lanka, Gabon, Cuba, Rwanda, Viet Nam, Peru, Chile and Morocco.

“For the FAO offices, it’s a chance to tap students’ expertise in specific domains, while exposing the students to the work of an international organization, particularly its work with the government,” says Florence Rolle, FAO Senior Liaison Officer in Washington. “The relationship with the government is what really distinguishes these internships from other field-based learning experiences.”

“Students, both graduates and undergraduates, are always looking for opportunities to work abroad for organizations such as the FAO," says Cornell student Ivi Demi, who participated in the program last year in Gabon. “At the same time, staff at FAO offices seem to always have projects and missions which could benefit from extra hands and minds being around.”

Building partnerships

FAO is also trying to build three-way partnerships among agricultural universities in the host countries, FAO and participating US universities. While in their assigned country, the students are expected to establish contact with an agriculture university working in their area of specialization.

The idea is to create a working relationship between the institutions that will extend beyond the work of specific students and foster continued sharing of expertise and eventually perhaps joint activities.

Increased interest in food security

“There is a sudden surge in interest from students wanting to be involved in global development and sustainable food security,” says Cornell professor Peter Hobbs. “Enrolments in our International Agriculture and Rural Development program have grown consistently over the past 10 years.”

A key component for these future international development professionals is good hands-on field experience, Hobbs says. The program requires students to spend a minimum of two months overseas.

“Our involvement with FAO internships for our undergraduate students the past year is an excellent example of the type of experience we want to promote. They are accepted into the FAO family in the country to which they are assigned and learn firsthand how FAO operates, how it interacts with country governments and programs, providing the student with valuable experience.”

Recent participants in the program second this. “The field work in the rural communities where we were involved really resonated with me,” said Cornell student Andrew Mellinger, who also interned at the FAO office in Gabon last year. “I enjoyed going to the fields and looking at them, hearing what farmers had to say about them and the challenges they face. It reminded me of going to 4-H meetings when I was young and experiencing that initial pause between farmers who do not routinely meet, which eventually gave way to excited talking about the many things they hold in common.”


Submitted by: Florence Rolle