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Scecina freshmen visit Purdue Youth Institute, dig into challenge of feeding the world's hungry people

Update: After this story appeared, sophomore Amori Curiel was chosen to represent Scecina and the state of Indiana at this year’s Global Youth Institute hosted by the World Food Prize Foundation. Amori researched the effects of poor water and sanitation on hunger for people in Togo. She was one of only 10 students chosen from the state of Indiana to present her research at the Global Youth Institute this October in Des Moines, Iowa. 

By Beth Murphy, Director of Marketing Communications

Many of us think about food a lot. We might think about food dozens of times a day. That’s 7 billion people thinking about food.

Sadly, 40% of all food goes to waste. Most hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished. 

Four Scecina freshmen explored these issues as they took part in the World Food Prize Youth Institute at Purdue University this spring. 

The students wrote research papers and then proposed their ideas to solve these food challenges in presentations to a panel of Purdue experts and students. They were just freshmen going head-to-head with Indiana students who were juniors and seniors.

 “It was an amazing experience for our students,” said Scecina teacher Kathryn Wetzel. “I was just so proud of them, the work and the time they put it. They really became passionate about it.”

Among the issues and countries they explored were climate volatility in Australia and Malawi, and water and sanitation in Togo. Perhaps these Scecina students in the future will become part of the hope for brothers and sisters around the globe who struggle with food security and hunger. 

“For their research papers, I had all my honors freshmen research food scarcity in various developing countries and examine how other factors — such as water scarcity, climate change, and conflict — affect the food availability in that country,” said Ms. Wetzel. “I then chose the students with the most innovative solutions to present their research at Purdue.” 

Those four — Simbiat Abdul, Amori Curiel, Josh Thomas, and Chase Turner – had to go deeper into their research and write even more (3-5 single-space pages) for the World Food Prize project. They even came to school on a vacation day, Easter Monday, to work on their projects.

Scecina students also were able to view the hunger issue through the lens of Catholic social teaching, Ms. Wetzel said. 

The World Food Prize also is known as the "Nobel Prize for Agriculture." Purdue has had two World Food Prize laureates. The top students from the Purdue institute are chosen to attend the three-day, all-expenses-paid Global Youth Institute held in conjunction with the World Food Prize events in Des Moines, Iowa, in October. 

The students spent April 26 and 27 at Purdue University, courtesy of Purdue. 

“It was awesome,” said Chase Turner. “The process before being at Purdue was the hard part. Once you were done, it was fun. The most nerve-wracking part was presenting and answering the questions.” 

“The judges were tough,” said Ms. Wetzel. “They didn’t pull punches.” 

The students explored what Purdue is doing in the field of food science about the world’s food challenges. They saw classrooms that welcome livestock, robots that pull weeds in cornfields, and ready-made food kits that save women in Africa countless hours of food gathering and preparation. 

“Some of them got to mix (the food kits) and then they all tasted it. It was just an amazing experience for all of them,” said Ms. Wetzel. 

By participating in the Purdue Youth Institute, the students earned recognition as a Borlaug Scholar, named for Norman E. Borlaug, a scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his lifetime of work on world hunger and founded the World Food Prize. The students also qualify for internships and other opportunities. 

At Purdue, they also heard from a World Food Prize representative who explained the advances the world has experienced in alleviating food scarcity. 

“There is hope,” said Ms. Wetzel. “There are amazing things happening that we don’t hear about.” 

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