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4 Culver students recognized as Borlaug Scholars for research on food insecurity

Tom Coyne

From left, Allison Liu '23, Emilia Murphy '23. Vivien Huang '23, and Charles Boardman '23 are Borlaug Scholars, named by the World Food Prize each year.


Culver students advance to international round of World Food Prize competition

Sept. 29, 2022

Four Culver Academies students who wrote research papers about food insecurity challenges have been selected as Borlaug Scholars and have advanced to the international round of the World Food Prize competition. 

Charles Boardman ’23 (Culver), Vivien Huang ’23 (Shenzhen, China), Allison Liu ’23 (Fremont, California), and Emilia Murphy ’23 (Annandale, Virginia) were selected for the honor, giving Culver Academies four of the 20 Borlaug scholars from Indiana this year. Culver has never had more than two Borlaug scholars in a year before. 

“To have four of the 20 students selected coming from Culver is amazing,” said Josh Danforth, a senior humanities instructor at Culver who helps the students fine-tune their papers. “It’s a great educational experience.” 

Danforth said it’s gratifying to see students develop such great ideas because his goal as a teacher is to encourage students to serve society. 

"This is about as close as they can get without going out and doing something. They’re making plausible proposals to solve world problems. I think it’s awesome,” Danforth said. “I tell students that if they end up being a CEO of a major corporation or a lawyer or a doctor or something like that, I hope they will remember this project and have a way to give back.” 

Dorothea Ragsdale ’74, a language instructor and director of Culver’s Global Studies Institute, got to watch the students present their papers to the Purdue experts via Zoom. 

“I was so proud to see our students d0 so well. Their presentations were strong. They flowed very well,” she said. 

The World Food Prize Foundation believes that elevating youth voices is crucial to creating a more food secure, equitable, and sustainable world. Climate change, conflict, COVID-19 and fertilizer problems have pushed the number of people facing starvation concerns worldwide to 345 million, according to the United Nations. 

For Culver students, the competition begins when students in AP World History class write research papers where they identify a problem and find a country that is encountering that problem and start crafting proposals to address those problems. Students who write about food problems are encouraged to enter papers in the World Food Prize competition, where experts from Purdue University score the papers and the presentations by the students. Top students are selected as Borlaug scholars. 

The four students’ papers and presentations were selected to compete in the next round of the Global Youth Institute competition, which will be held virtually Oct. 16-21 at Iowa State University. Students will present their research to a roundtable of experts, participate in an interactive group project focused on global food security challenges, and attend workshops, where they will learn from leaders on issues related to food security, agriculture, climate change, and sustainability. During the conference, students will share key findings and recommendations from research that they conducted. 

 If their papers are selected there, students would be eligible for the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship, which provides students a unique professional experience working with world-renowned scientists and policymakers at leading research and development organizations around the world. 

Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Prize in 1970 and is considered the father of the Green Revolution that saved millions from starvation worldwide through improved fertilizers, hybrid crops and better irrigation techniques. Borlaug, who died in 2009, took the money he received from winning the Nobel Prize to create the World Food Prize in 1986 to recognize scientists and others who have improved the quality and availability of food.  

John Ruan Sr., an Iowa businessman and philanthropist, created the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute in 1994 to foster interest in science and agriculture and increase awareness of critical issues of food security among high school students. His son, John Ruan III, a 1961 graduate of Troop B, served as chairman of the World Food Prize Foundation for two decades. 

John Buggeln, Ph.D., master instructor of Humanities at Culver and the previous GSI director, said this program is better than most because it involves not only writing, but calls on students to conduct research and offer possible solutions. 

He said papers written by previous Culver students have led to internships at the White House, the Department of Agriculture and to working on various programs overseas. 

“It’s been one of the inspiring things about being a teacher at Culver is getting to watch these students do all these things and have these opportunities and see what they do with them,” Buggeln said.  

Murphy’s paper focuses on promoting sustainable agriculture in the Philippines using satellite data to distribute water more equitably through irrigation systems. Filipino rice farmers struggle to make ends meet and supply the population, and poor irrigation infrastructure is a major contributor to the problem. 

“It makes infrastructure for agriculture easier to assess so farmers are able to get more rapid updates on how they can distribute their water,” Murphy said. “The principal reason I chose this is I’m half Filipino and my grandparents are from the Philippines. My grandfather growing up saw this issue facing farmers and I wanted to connect to that community.” 

Liu’s paper is about food insecurity in the tiny remote Pacific island nation of  Nauru, which must rely on foreign aid from Australia and New Zealand, among others, to import fast food, contributing to an obesity epidemic. In the paper, she wrote about a system of aquaculture involving milkfish utilizing existing structures to combat costs and add jobs. This method would also improve the nonexistent agriculture on the island. 

Liu said the project lets her get a different view of the world. 

“I learned a sense of global perspective, of observing the world through the lens beyond Culver, beyond Indiana, and beyond the United States,” Liu said. “How food insecurity truly is a global issue.” 

Huang said she was inspired to write about food waste in China, specifically the discarding of food at the consumer stage, because she saw the problem growing up in a city in China near Hong Kong. 

“From what I see in my daily life back at home, I know that food waste is a significant issue. That’s how I came to food waste in China,” she said. 

She said food waste is a major issue across the world as it decreases economic productivity, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and exacerbates climate change. She focused on the problems in China and examines a successful attempt in South Korea, which effectively increased the quantity of food waste recycled. 

Boardman’s paper is about how rampant pollution in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay because of rapid population growth and not enough funds to build the needed infrastructure has harmed people who fish in the bay. He proposes installing small, port-a-potty-like units in highly populated areas and employ locals to remove the waste that could be collected and sold as fertilizer.  

Boardman said he began researching the issue after reading about the pollution causing athletes to get sick during the 2016 Olympics, which led to him proposing ways to help clean the bay. 

“It wasn’t an aha moment. It was pretty gradual,” he said. 

He said the competition allowed the students to learn about the challenges students at other high schools discovered and their proposed solutions. 

“It was really enlightening in the sense seeing how different people would choose different topics and different solutions,” he said.

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