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Three Students Awarded Global Food Initiative Fellowships

October 23, 2015

Isabella BeltranThe University of California has selected its second class of Global Food Initiative (GFI) fellows — including three students from UC Merced — who will work on projects ranging from food access to policy to waste.

The 44 fellows, representing all 10 UC campuses plus UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will help advance the systemwide initiative, which aims to put UC, the state and the world on a pathway to sustainably and nutritiously feed themselves.

The $4,000 fellowships to undergraduate and graduate students, selected by the campuses, will fund student-generated research, projects or internships that support the initiative’s efforts to address food security, health and sustainability. Examples from throughout the system include projects to increase food recovery, advance food literacy, and expand experiential learning opportunities in food systems.

UC Merced’s GFI student fellows and their projects are:

  • Isabella Beltran, campus community garden and solar irrigation system;
  • Hoaithi Dang, increasing student awareness and participation in the GFI; and
  • Andrew Zumkehr, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through local sourcing of food.

Based on feedback from last year’s fellows, one fellow from each campus this year will receive an additional $500 as student GFI ambassador to help build campus engagement for the initiative.

As the campus’s ambassador and a second-time fellow, Dang is working to increase students’ awareness of and participation in the GFI by coordinating efforts like social media, tabling and events. Dang has been instrumental in organizing the campus’s inaugural EcoFest on Oct. 29. The event is open to the greater community, and will feature booths, live performances and prizes like a reusable water bottle.

I hope to leverage my role and draw on students’ perspectives to open a dialogue with other UC campuses about issues such as food scarcity and healthy living,” Dang said. “The context of sustainability is dynamic and constantly takes on new forms. By having these passionate fellows begin this work — specifically in a food context — we can create a substantial movement that works towards bettering our communities.”     

Hoaithi Dang with President NapolitanoIn April, the first class of GFI fellows toured an organic peach farm near Fresno. In July, they teamed with UC’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative fellows at a symposium to learn, network, build leadership skills and share information about their projects. A survey of the first class of GFI fellows found that 76 percent agreed the fellowship influenced their career plans and 96 percent agreed the fellowship exposed them to new ideas and concepts.

One of UC Merced’s first GFI fellows, Rebecca Quinte, has been working on a project that that could benefit farmers in the Central Valley and beyond. The mechanical engineering major’s research aims to find an alternative solution to pesticides to repel bugs and insects that feed on the seeds of crops like pomegranates, almonds and pistachios.

The new group of fellows will participate in an orientation, leadership training, spring field trip and joint summer symposium with Carbon Neutrality Initiative fellows. The bulk of the fellowship funding comes from the UC President’s Initiative Fund, with several campuses augmenting the funding to support additional student fellowships.

The UC Global Food Initiative fellows play a critical role in helping to advance the initiative through research, service and engagement,” said Wendy Slusser, associate vice provost for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and co-leader of multiple GFI working groups. “I was very impressed with the first class of fellows and am looking forward to supporting the new fellows as we work to improve the health of our students, faculty, staff and the broader community.”

Dang hopes to inspire others to take action.

We need more trailblazers paving the way, and at UC Merced this seems to be a common thread,” he said.