EARTH University’s curriculum is marked by a series of transformative experiences that students look forward to excitedly and alumni recall fondly. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these milestones, including the beloved international internship, had to be adapted or postponed.
This year, our Class of 2021 traveled to host sites in 29 countries for 15 weeks, to further operationalize the knowledge acquired during their hands-on education on our campuses. They recently returned to Guácimo, brimming with reflections about all they learned while abroad. What follows are three such stories.
Agricultural education for women and girls in Malawi
When Mastercard Foundation Scholar Zakeyu Tawonga (’21, Malawi) was a child, she liked to watch whenever one local woman – a nurse, neatly dressed in an impeccably clean uniform – would pass by. For Tawonga, that proud woman was a role model, someone who – without knowing it – empowered her to reject the traditional gender roles of her country, to leave the confines of the home and become a skilled professional who helps others. Since then, she has studied with that goal in mind.
The road to education was riddled with rocky stretches. Tawonga, the eldest of 12 siblings, was unsure how she would pay the high price of tuition. Thanks to CAMFED, a nonprofit that seeks to eradicate poverty in Africa through the academic empowerment of females, Tawonga continued studying, finished high school, and trained at a prestigious leadership academy in South Africa. That support – and the experiences it made possible – bonded her to the organization “for life” and would later inspire her to return home to help develop CAMFED’s new agricultural-education program.
“In my internship, I created a manual to help CAMFED-sponsored girls connect with agriculture. The document covers everything, like how to operate an agricultural business, adapt farming to climate change, and responsibly manage natural resources,” Tawonga says. “I was also in charge of working with women who have small gardens, to analyze their present practices and implement improvements. Additionally, I held sessions with current CAMFED beneficiaries to talk about my educational journey. The students reacted effusively when I told them ‘I am Tawonga, and to reach my university, I fly in three planes.’ For them, that expansiveness was inspiring.”
Returning to Malawi to work with an organization that had dedicatedly supported her was a way to start giving back – and to pay it forward. Now only a few months from her EARTH graduation, Tawonga dreams of repatriating, building her own business, and creating dignified, empowering jobs for the women in her community.
Running an intensive dairy in Brazil
Ana Marian González (’21, Nicaragua) grew up in a cattle-ranching family in Nicaragua. It was clear to her from a young age that cows were her passion. While searching potential internships in Brazil, world-famous for its animal husbandry, Ana Marian discovered Fazenda Colorado, the largest producer of grade-A milk in the nation. The company has 2,100 lactating cows and produces up to 96,000 liters of milk per day.
“During my first few days there, I kept getting lost. There were so many animals!” says Ana Marian. “Despite this, the high quantity and quality of the milk produced is thanks to the smart management practices and humane treatment that cows receive at every stage.”
Her main goals during the 15-week internship included refining the knowledge she had gained at EARTH, using the latest technologies, deepening her understanding of nutrition at each stage of bovine development, and performing well in a working environment. While in Brazil, Ana Marian also grew as a person – adapting to a foreign country, learning how to live alone for the first time, and acquiring a new language.
“I learned a lot about the technical side of running an intensive dairy. On a personal level, I managed to overcome my shyness, encouraging myself to converse and learn from other people,” she adds. “I arrived without knowing Portuguese, and that was a challenge for me. By the end of the internship, I got along well with all the workers and managed to communicate effectively in Portuguese with the whole team.”
After graduating from EARTH, Ana Marian plans to pursue a master’s degree in animal production and return – full of knowledge and experience – to Nicaragua, to lead improvements in animal welfare and production efficiency within the livestock industry.
Fighting invasive plants in Florida
Usman Mohammed (’21, Nigeria) stepped outside his comfort zone to cultivate a passion for eradicating invasive species. Although his previous interest had been in animal production, he decided to travel to the University of Florida’s Indian River Research and Education Center to work with Dr. Carey Minteer on research about leaf beetle (Calomela intemerata) larvae, a biological control agent.
With consistent effort, Usman was able to determine the beetle’s longevity and fertility at different temperatures. He was also tasked with mentoring a new intern, which put his interpersonal skills and insect insights to the test.
“I realized that I knew more than I thought while working in the entomology lab, and that is thanks to my EARTH professors’ teaching and support. Upon graduation, I would like to apply all the knowledge I have gained to my country – combining animal nutrition and production with biological control of invasive species,” he says. “In the internship, I was researching Nigeria’s non-native weeds, which are posing big problems in agriculture, as well as negatively affecting biodiversity, human health, and economic development throughout the region. I want to apply my newfound knowledge to promote better environmental decisions.”
Additionally, Usman dreams of teaching animal production in his home country, replicating EARTH’s experiential-learning model.
Earlier this month, students of EARTH’s Class of 2022 packed their bags and traveled to 20 countries to pursue their own transformative internship experience, as the fourth-year students had done during the previous academic trimester. We look forward to the stories of growth they will share upon return. ¡Buen viaje!