Michigan’s first Borlaug-Ruan interns credit 4-H for their success
In just three years, two Michigan youth have received the prestigious Borlaug-Ruan International Internship, an honor bestowed on individuals who fight for food security for all. Francine Barchett and Kayla Zhu, both former 4-H’ers, credit Michigan 4-H for helping to ignite their passion for addressing global issues and preparing them as true leaders who plan to make a difference in the world.
The opportunity to earn a Borlaug-Ruan internship was made available to Barchett and Zhu as a result of having attended the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute (WFPMIYI), a one-day event where high school students present research and recommendations on how to address a key global issue: food security. The program is hosted by Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, Michigan 4-H, Michigan FFA and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. From the WFPMIYI, outstanding youth are selected to represent Michigan at the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute, a three-day program where more than 300 high school students and mentors from across the U.S. and world present their research projects to more than 1,000 global leaders.
Only attendees of the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute are eligible to apply for the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship, a prestigious program in which students embark on an eight-week, all-expenses-paid internship at one of 34 leading agricultural research centers around the globe. The Borlaug-Ruan internship gives youth the opportunity to further their passion for addressing global hunger, and impressively, Michigan natives have secured two internships in the three years since the WFPMIYI launched.
Barchett, a 19-year-old Benton Harbor native and sophomore studying international agriculture and rural development at Cornell University, was awarded the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship in 2015. Her internship took her abroad to India’s International Crops Research Institute in 2016 where she studied how the Indian national sanitation campaigns affected household nutrition and health.
“My internship was one of the highlights of my life,” Barchett said. “My highlight [of the internship] was spending one week collecting data in a village that lacked basic amenities like running water and cars. That is where the realities of food insecurity and open defecation came to life and I realized that my actions can make a meaningful impact.” Barchett began 4-H when she was a “wide-eyed 5-year-old” and now credits her success to the program.
“4-H allows leaders to grow organically from the ground up by giving youth various opportunities and proving to them that their voice matters,” she said. “I remember when I began 4-H, I was very shy, but through public speaking engagements and gradually taking leadership initiatives, I was poised and confident by the time I became club president. It is more about the journey of growth than the end result.”
In 2016, Barchett was joined as a Borlaug-Ruan International Internship recipient by Kayla Zhu, a 17-year-old high school senior from Farmington Hills.
Like Barchett, Zhu’s internship took her to India’s International Crops Research Institute, where she is working this summer with a leading researcher studying gender and nutrition. Before leaving on June 16, Zhu said she was most looking forward to “being able to connect with people on the ground level.”
“I’ve never been to a developing country, so being able to collect data and connect, firsthand, with people who are experiencing food insecurity will be an extra valuable experience,” Zhu said.
Unlike Barchett, Zhu only became involved with 4-H a few years ago.
“I learned about 4-H my freshman year before the Michigan Youth Institute,” Zhu said. “I’m not from an area that has a lot of 4-H involvement, but I met MSU Extension 4-H educator Makena Schultz, who organized the WFPMIYI, and from there, I’ve been able to become involved with more opportunities to further my passion in international development and economic policy.”
Although she was only in the program a few years, Zhu still credits 4-H for enhancing her leadership skills.
“When you join 4-H, the biggest thing is that you know you have at least one thing in common with the other 4-H’ers: you know you care about certain issues,” Zhu said. “4-H trains you to use those issues you care about to become a leader, and inspires you to keep going. Once you’re involved, you don’t stop. You continue as a leader through the rest of your life.”
Zhu plans to take what she learns in India and apply it to her ultimate career goal: passing the Foreign Service Officer Exam with the U.S. Department of Foreign Service, where she hopes to make an impact with public policy and international development.
Barchett’s career goals for after completion of her undergraduate education at Cornell University include possibly joining the Peace Corps and then law school. Ultimately, she said she hopes to enhance people’s access to quality and nutritious food by helping people help themselves.
“As I look back on my 4-H career, I realize that 4-H helped me help myself,” Barchett said. “Reaching my potential was never about natural intelligence, talent or wealth, but rather about receiving inspiration and opportunities to discover that I can go anywhere with passion, persistence and collaboration.”
Michigan 4-H offers many opportunities for youth to develop leadership skills and explore areas of interest. To learn more about Michigan 4-H, visit http://4h.msue.msu.edu or contact your local MSU Extension office.