To Gain Various Agricultural Perspectives, One Must Travel

Caryn Dawson is going places.

Caryn Dawson

Seriously, she is 5,000 miles away in Rome, Italy, and that’s just her first stop this summer.

For the next four weeks, she and her peers are partnering with the FAO on projects meant to untangle misleading information from facts. This annual trip is known as the Iowa State University Dean’s Global Foods and Agriculture Leadership Program.

“The purpose of the program is to examine and analyze the issues in agriculture as undergrad students, and that gives you practice on solving real-world problems by working with one of the most important organizations internationally,” Caryn says.

Specifically, Caryn will be working on the FAO’s internal response to the EAT-Lancet report published earlier this year.

Dr. Frank Mitloehner (UC-Davis) visited Iowa State
to speak about feeding the world by 2050 without exhausting
natural resources. Photo courtesy of Dr. Frank Mitloehner.

“The response is from a neutral standpoint; it’s not a push-back,” Caryn says. “We’re just looking at the facts and the science of some of the claims they have made and correcting that.”

Preparations for this trip involved more than packing a suitcase, boarding a plane flight, and arriving in Italy. In order to churn out the communication pieces she’ll be working on, Caryn had to undergo a semester-long course. (The course even included a visit from CAST’s 2019 BCCA recipient Dr. Frank Mitloehner of UC-Davis, an expert and outstanding science communicator on the impact animal agriculture has on our climate.)

The preparation for the trip is extensive, but that is what Caryn likes about participating in the program.

“I think it’s going to challenge me professionally, academically, mentally, physically–all of the above,” Caryn says with a chuckle.

She isn’t kidding. This one project will require 30-40 hours of work per week, including regular meetings with FAO staff to ensure the students are on track.

Her summer plans don’t end in mid-June either.

The day after returning to the United States, she leaves for an internship out West with the Henry’s Fork Foundation. In Idaho, she will be a farm and irrigation intern and learn how to analyze data from center-pivot irrigation systems.

Going from coliseums to farm fields (i.e., a world-renowned organization to a local nonprofit) carries a common theme for Caryn–each experience builds onto her next, heightening her perspective of global agricultural challenges and solutions. As Caryn moves another year closer to graduation, she gives herself more reasons to build on her previous experiences.

“I look at things as next steps,” she says. “I don’t want to do the same thing because if I am already comfortable with that then I won’t continue to grow.”

When she isn’t traveling, Caryn still gains experience from her work at CAST.

“Knowing the names of the important people in agriculture [from our publications] and having those connections–and also having the access to the publications–helps me be more aware of the issues going on in agriculture,” she says.

By Kimberly Nelson

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