Today's Students- Learning to Solve the Challenge of Feeding the World

By Brooke Talbott

Effectively addressing the world's growing need for food will hinge not only on the scientific research advances in agricultural sciences, but also on the mindsets of students sitting in classrooms today.

"Food scarcity touches every person on the planet," said Steve Waller, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "I think the most powerful thing is to envision yourself as part of a global community," he said. "We all eat."

Food scarcity is part of every student's future, Waller said. The people who will solve the production challenge are in our colleges today, he said. They will be either mid-career or at the peak of their careers when the world population reaches nine billion.

"It's part of the future their children and their grandchildren will live in," Waller said, "and consequently, to ignore the food issues that are global in nature would be a mistake."

Increasing agricultural literacy

Educators today need to focus on "broadening the umbrella of agricultural literacy" by connecting students with the production systems that grow the food they eat, Waller said. Students need to understand the food production system, the importance of nutrition, stewardship of resources, interpersonal development and how to get involved in their communities. "We can be educators locally and developers, entrepreneurs and researchers internationally," he added.

By educating local students, the knowledge they gain will spread to people around the world as students "touch other lives" with their expertise, Waller said. "One of our great challenges is going to be to educate our own public in the United States," he said. "I think it's a land-grant responsibility nationally to make sure that the public understands their food and fiber systems because much of the food production is going to come through the United States."

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is one of more than 100 land-grant institutions in the United States and its territories. The Morrill Act of 1862 established the land-grant system and provided 30,000 acres of land to each sitting congressman to establish land grant universities. The Second Morrill Act of 1890 established funding for those institutions. Prior to the Morrill Acts, education was accessible only to the upper class; the landgrant universities made higher education accessible to all people.

As a land grant institution, Waller said, the faculty, staff and researchers in CASNR are connected to Cooperative Extension, which develops programs that translate scientific research into practical applications.

Cooperative Extension was established in 1914 by the Smith-Lever Act, which formed a partnership between land-grant universities and the United States Department of Agriculture. Cooperative Extension programs extend nationally and internationally to promote lifelong learning for people of all ages, said Waller.

Faculty members from CASNR are teaching kindergarten through 12th graders about agriculture, stewardship of resources and the STEM areas of education: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Through these programs, students learn to connect the food on their plates with the process of agricultural production. Waller said today's youth will address the issue of food scarcity in the years to come, which is why learning at an early age is important.

Children can't be exposed to science too soon, Waller said, as long as it is done with age-appropriate learning. "Having young children appreciate what their world will be like and how they can help is important," he said. Kindergarten students going through extension programming in Lincoln, Nebraska are learning concepts like photosynthesis and can adequately relay the information to one another, he said.

"I think one of the things we often do is underestimate what those young children can grasp and understand, and that they actually will change the world."

Global campus, global learning

Steven Waller"I think there's no place like Nebraska," said Waller. "But if we embrace the responsibility of being one of the leading landgrants in agriculture, then I think our students also must accept the responsibility of contributing to the solutions globally." Students need to have a concept of what it means to be a global citizen, Waller said, "from food all the way through other aspects of their life."

Waller believes students better understand the magnitude of an issue when they are exposed to it. "I think that's part of what a university education is all about... to really get a glimpse of things that they don't know firsthand," he said.

Students need to have some exposure beyond their own cultures, Waller said. When educators ask students to solve a global challenge, those students need to have the confidence that they can function in a global environment, he said. Learning about different environments, cultures and sometimes languages can provide the understanding and confidence to help solve those challenges.

Study-abroad programs are great ways for students to gain that confidence and capability, he said. CASNR offers study abroad programs at international institutes in Brazil, China, India and South Africa, among others.

"My goal would be that our students get out and about, share their knowledge, help solve problems, but ultimately find a way back to enjoy the good life," Waller said.

Opportunities in Nebraska

lab coats hanging in an officeAs for local opportunities for students to grow, CASNR offers courses that focus on interpersonal development through community service, Waller said. Those courses help students learn how to serve, how to manage their time, how to value serving within their community and how to lead on a local level.

"We expect that all of our students give back, be engaged and realize how fortunate they are," he said. Nebraska has vast amounts of land, water and human resources that will pave the way for students to be leaders in educating people around the nation and the world about agriculture and production systems. "That's their way of giving back and that's another way to solve some of these future challenges," he said.

Nebraska Innovation Campus will bring the public and private sectors together to address food and water issues that are global in nature. The opportunity to be at the center of a campus that addresses issues that are global in nature is incredibly important, Waller said. "It's going to permeate the whole culture of this university."

Nebraska Innovation Campus is a public-private technology development at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on the former site of the Nebraska State Fair. The development will focus on technology innovations in food, fuel and water that will help to feed a growing world population.

"The private sector that comes into Lincoln will be looking at students as potential employees," Waller said. He envisions embedded scholarship programs that will benefit students and the private sector companies as together, they address the great challenge of feeding the future.

Addressing this issue will take people from all backgrounds, Waller said. "Everybody will play a part in the food scarcity issue... everybody can contribute to the challenges of the future if they treat each other with respect and appreciate differences," he said. "Because food scarcity is going to be the one that touches home first."

There is no single solution to this challenge, Waller said. There are challenges of distribution, transportation, politics, culture and socioeconomic barriers. "Doubling the crop yield and those kinds of things will be a science-based program, but that by itself won't solve the problem," he said. "We've got to have a broader approach and that will be the social sciences as well."

At the end of the day, said Waller, "I think if we prepare our students to be critical thinkers, futurists and optimistic, we are actually preparing them for the future."


The Morrill Act of 1862


A Message From:

Harvey Perlman

Ronnie Green

Steven Waller

Facing the Global Food Challenge

A Place Without Limits: NU's Leading Role in Ag Innovation - J.B. Milliken

"Ag is Sexy Again" as Global Need for Food Increases- Ronnie Green

Today's Students- Learning to Solve the Challenge of Feeding the World- Steven Waller

Ag Researchers' New Knowledge Benefits Nebraska, the World - Ron Yoder

"Failure is Not an Option" in Addressing Global Food Scarcity- Archie Clutter

Nebraska Innovation Campus Will Address Global Food Issues- Dan Duncan

Lenton the Founding Director of Daugherty Water for Food Institute- Roberto Lenton

Growing More Food with Less Water, Improving Global Water Condition- Marc Andreini

Dickey Reflects on Years as Dean of Extension- Elbert Dickey

Food Scarcity Information Dissemination Complex, Vital- Karen Cannon

Technology and Food

Driving Toward the Future of Biofuels, Molecular Nutrition- Paul Black

Nebraska- the Food Capital of the World?- Rolando Flores

Is a Fully-Sustainable World Within Reach?- Mark Burbach

Agricultural Efficiency Sustains Resources, Produces More- Roch Gaussoin

Technology, Teamwork and Stewardship Vital in Meeting 2050 Global Food Need- P. Stephen Baenziger

UNL Research, Extension Help Ag Producers Manage a Changing Climate- Suat Irmak

Protein Production Essential in Feeding the World- Matt Spangler

Nebraska's Irrigation Research Goes Global- William Kranz

The Plight of the Honey Bee- Marion Ellis

Global Goal: Reducing Hunger, Ensuring Food Safety and Nutrition- Tim Carr

Society's Health Reflects Changing Food Culture- Georgia Jones and Marilynn Schnepf

Steps to Building a Healthier World- Jean Ann Fischer

Economics of Food

Ag Economists- Working to Assure Abundant, Safe Food- Larry Van Tassell

Global Food Scarcity, Distribution, Roadblocks- Dennis Conley

Global Economics Research Explains Food Scarcity Challenges- Lilyan Fulginiti

World Food Supply Adequate, but Poverty is the Problem- Wes Peterson

Ag Land Reflects Value of Growing Food for the Future- Bruce Johnson

Strengthening World Economies, Increased Production Key to Food Challenges- Eric Thompson

There is No Place Like Nebraska for Meeting Food Challenges- Greg Ibach

A Land of Plenty- Exporting to the World Stan Garbacz- Stan Garbacz