FAO Partnership Expands to Increase Country Office Internships
This summer the Food and Agriculture Organization offered several University of Minnesota (UMN) students internships at its country offices in Morocco, Rwanda, and Peru.
Five students from the School of Public Health (SPH) and the UMN law school gained valuable international experience and the opportunity to observe agriculture methods, systems of productions and Intergovernmental Organization’s operations in contexts vastly different than the U.S. through the continued partnership between FAO and UMN.
After years of successful FAO collaborations with Center of Animal Health and Food Safety’s Global Food Systems Leadership programs, an MOU between the University of Minnesota and the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was signed in 2010. The shared commitment to a breadth of collaborations lead to the 2013 internship opportunities.
Teaona Hasbrouck, a SPH student specializing in environmental health services, was placed in the FAO’s Morroco office. She worked with a team at the Hassan II Agronomy and Veterinary Institute to assist with a web hub designed to connect farmers with research institutions and disseminate current agriculture information. The site is known as the Virtual Extension and Research Communication Network (VERCON).
In addition to the web hub assignment, Hasbrouck was given the opportunity to “harness a passion and create a self-inspired project.” Hasbrouck, who also works with the University of Minnesota Women’s Center, conducted research on Moroccan farmers and found that 57 percent are women. She provided FAO with recommendations to ensure that VERCON offered adequate online “productive resources, opportunities, and support services” to stakeholders of all genders. Hasbrouck was amazed to see “how one internship opportunity turned into an evolving landscape of lessons for my personal and professional life.”
FAO’s interns in Rwanda were able to apply their academic interests to their internships. Spencer Peck, a UMN JD and Masters in Urban and Regional Planning candidate, focused on implementing the UN Convention to Combat Desertification as a Project Technical Assistant at FAO’s Kigali office. He worked with FAO officials to develop informational leaflets on the Kagera Transboundary Agro-ecosystem Management Project (TAMP). TAMP is designed to help Rwandan farmers utilize sustainable land management practices in order to preserve the Kagera River basin. Peck says that his experience “will be useful in future international development settings where cultural sensitivity, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and the ability to work within a complex bureaucratic and technical setting are necessary for success.”
Masters in Public Health student Michelle McGraw, worked out of FAO’s Kigali office. She served in a health communications capacity building role and was tasked with conducting a gap analysis and subsequently developing strategies to facilitate risk communication between the Kigali FAO office, the Rome FAO office, and other UN agencies. Her work culminated in a consultative report that advised FAO on how to maintain a steady line of contact between the organizations, thus expediting the dissemination of important public health and agricultural information. McGraw says that her risk communications coursework at SPH and her participation in CAHFS’ Engaging Intergovernmental Organizations (EIO) program laid a solid foundation for her communications work as well as her ability to serve as an effective liaison for an IGO.
The students agree that their internships allowed them to explore their professional interests, including public health, agriculture, and communications, while adapting to a unique cultural context. They also gained invaluable experience for their future career paths.