MSU welcomes high school students eager to feed the world


Twenty high school students participated Friday in the World Food Prize Mississippi Youth Institute [April 1] at Mississippi State University. Pictured, front row from left, is Caroline Kobia, assistant professor in MSU’s School of Humanities; high school student Haley Shaw, Clear Moore, director of academic affairs, Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science; high school students Chloe Dobbins, Danielle McConnell, Piper Conrad, Evan Ballard, Newt Thomas, Jackson Walters, Jonah McCrory, Ashton Watson, Jaiden Laughlin and Audrey Gully; Ben Blackburn, master’s candidate in biochemistry at MSU; High school student Jaden Johnson and Priya Basu, assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology. Pictured back, from left, is Paul Williams, supervising research geneticist at USDA-ARS; Dan Reynolds, associate vice president for international programs and executive director, MSU International Institute; high school students William Carter, Drew Williams, Josh Word, Rett Keenum, Fleming Archer, Kade Smith, Katie Keenum and Emma Claire Markham; and Scott Willard, dean of MSU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station. (Photo by David Ammon)

Contact: Vanessa Beeson

STARKVILLE, Mississippi—A group of bright young people from Mississippi gathered again at Mississippi State University to fight food insecurity at the World Food Prize Mississippi Youth Institute on Friday [April 1].

Twenty students from Starkville Academy, Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, Mendenhall High School and the Hamilton Attendance Center presented research papers that addressed specific issues impacting food security in developing countries around the world whole.

At the event, hosted by MSU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), the students were named Borlaug Scholars.

Scott Willard, dean of CALS and director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, spearheaded the creation of the Mississippi Youth Institute in 2017. Willard said providing a forum for high school students to engage in meaningful dialogue with global experts in food security benefits more than the students.

“These scholars represent the future of global food security. As the world’s population grows, their ideas and knowledge will contribute to solutions to feed, clothe and power the world,” Willard said.

Starkville Academy science teacher Susie Wall has brought students to the Mississippi Youth Institute since its inception. This year, 16 students from the school were designated Borlaug Scholars.

“This program is great for students because it helps them think outside the box and focus on other people from different parts of the world instead of just focusing on their surroundings,” Wall said. “I hope the experience will inspire them to pursue fields that will allow them to work to secure food sources for the world, whether in agriculture or life sciences or simply by engaging in a study abroad where they will learn about food security challenges in other places.”

She said the experience pushes students out of their comfort zone in a good way.

“I’ve been very fortunate that my students have done an amazing job over the past two years, and we’ve had scholarship winners from Starkville Academy. I think it’s a great experience that challenges students to tackle tough questions through hard work and research,” she said.

Piper Conrad, a sophomore at Starkville Academy, presented on restoring traditional diets to reduce obesity and malnutrition in the Philippines. As a first-time participant, she said the experience heightened her interest in global food security.

“The most exciting part was learning about the culture of a country that I wouldn’t have studied otherwise. The process really opened my eyes to the impact of Western influences on traditional diets in the Philippines,” she said.

In addition to Conrad, participating Borlaug Scholars and their presentation topics included (by hometown):

BRAXTON—Jaden Johnson of Mendenhall High School is improving food security in India.

HAMILTON—Haley Shaw, of the Hamilton Attendance Center, the roles of agricultural education and emergency response systems in food security in Haiti.

LEAKESVILLE—Chloe Dobbins, Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, climate change in China.

OLIVE BRANCH—Danielle McConnell of the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science improves industry and infrastructure in Liberia.

STARKVILLE—(All Starkville Academy students) Fleming Archer, reducing malaria in Nigeria; William Carter, Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Somalia; Audrey Gully, climate volatility in Uganda; Jaiden Laughlin, water and sanitation issues in Yemen; Katie Keenum, Enhancing Industrial Growth in Zambia; Rett Keenum, improving agricultural practices and education in Haiti; Emma Claire Markham, the human rights crisis in Afghanistan; Kade Smith, improving education in the Dominican Republic; Newt Thomas, addressing political unrest and introducing tax incentives to reduce malnutrition in the Central African Republic; Jackson Walters, agricultural innovation in Chad; Ashton Watson, on gender equity to improve food security in South Korea; Drew Williams, improving political disarray in North Korea; Josh Word, food access and climate change in Bolivia.

STURGIS—Jonah McCrory, Starkville Academy, water and sanitation issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Evan Ballard, from Starkville Academy, how the Ukrainian conflict contributes to food insecurity.

Top Mississippi Youth Institute students will be invited to October’s Global Youth Institute in Iowa. Participating students are also eligible to apply for the Borlaug Ruan International Internship and the USDA Wallace-Carver Fellowship. Anyone interested in the World Food Prize Mississippi Youth Institute should contact Darrell Sparks at (662) 325-5307 or [email protected] To learn more about the Mississippi Youth Institute, visit

The Mississippi Youth Institute is hosted by Mississippi State University with generous support from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Barry L. and Lana B. White, and the Madison Charitable Foundation.

MSU is the main university in Mississippi, available online at


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