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Dean's Message

Students’ International Research Changes Lives—and Careers

Dean Boor

With this issue, we are introducing some changes in CALS News to allow us to showcase an even broader array of great reports from around the college. I am excited to share these stories and recognize the accomplishments of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Of note, we are increasing our reporting of student activities. This issue features “The Hero's Journey” a story that presents some of the important and exciting research our dedicated graduate students are conducting in remote locations around the globe.

This story is close to my heart. My own experiences as a grad student in Africa differed from those of Lydiah Gatere, MPS ’05, one of our featured students, but, likewise, they played an important role in my life.

While a food science graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in 1981, I joined a research team in Maseno, Kenya, near Lake Victoria. I was supported by Winrock International, a nonprofit organization to promote animal health and well-being for the benefit of humankind. I was the team’s food scientist, working with animal scientists, veterinarians, nutritionists, agronomists, breeders, economists, and sociologists to develop and implement a multi-purpose goat system for small-scale farmers in western Kenya.

At that time, western Kenya and the surrounding area was experiencing the most rapid population growth rate of any place in the world. Family farms were divided among the sons with each successive generation. With increasingly small family farms, and many mouths to feed, crop space had become limited and many families could no longer support animal agriculture. I could see the consequences of nutrient deficiencies and imbalances among the children.

Successful adoption of milk-producing goat systems into these communities allowed families to provide themselves with milk and meat for their own consumption, and manure to fertilize their fields. Some families even generated important revenue by selling excess supplies. While I have not returned to Maseno since 1983, I understand that milk-producing goat systems now can be found throughout the region.

To be a community member in western Kenya for nearly two years, and to witness firsthand the dramatic resource limitations among my neighbors, was life-changing for me.

It was also career-changing. Before going to Kenya, my food science career path was still undefined. But what I saw in that beautiful country was how true suffering arises due to growth of unwanted microbes in the food supply. So much food is lost because of spoilage. A lack of infrastructure to support good personal hygiene also causes many to fall ill needlessly, and these problems are compounded by marginal nutrition.

My experience in Africa led me to examine my own life and interests, and how I could apply those interests to help people. Food microbiology became my passion.

I would encourage all students to expand their horizons by embracing opportunities to study abroad.

One hallmark of a CALS education is that it is not limited to the classroom. Experiential learning is an integral part of the Cornell experience and can take the form of an internship in the field or research in a lab. Some of the work being done by students has contributed to significant developments in cancer research, as highlighted in the Cancer’s Big ‘Cs’ feature.

As the “Hort Is Hot” feature and the “Farmer and the Dell” story show, while our courses and technologies have evolved over the years, our mission remains true: to develop leaders and deliver knowledge with a public purpose through exceptional educational, research, and extension programs.

I hope you enjoy this thought-provoking glimpse into our college and the people who make it great.

Kathryn J. Boor, Ph.D.
The Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences