MSU hosts high school students eager to feed the world

20 high school students participated in the Mississippi World Food Award on Friday [April 1] At the University of Mississippi State. Pictured, in the front row on the left, is Caroline Cube, an assistant professor at MSU’s School of Humanities; Hailey Shaw High School student, Clear Moore, Principal of Academic Affairs, Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science; High school students Chloe Dubins, Daniel McConnell, Piper Conrad, Owen Ballard, Newt Thomas, Jackson Walters, Jonah McKerry, Ashton Watson, Jayden Laglin and Audrey Gooly; Ben Blackburn, MSc in Biochemistry; Jeden Johnson High School student, and Priya Basso, an assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology. Pictured in the back row, on the left, is Paul Williams, a genetics research supervisor with the USDA-ARS; Dan Reynolds, Vice President Partner for International Programs and Senior Director, MSU International Institute; High school students William Carter, Drew Williams, Josh Ward, Rat Kinom, Fleming Archer, Cade Smith, Katie Kinum and Emma Claire Markham; And Scott Willard, dean of MSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the Mississippi Agricultural Experiment Station and Forests. (Photo: David Amon)

Contact: Vanessa Bison

STARKVILLE, Miss. – A group of brilliant Mississippi youths gathered again at the University of Mississippi State to fight food insecurity at the Mississippi Youth Institute at the World Food Awards on Friday [April 1].

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

At the event, hosted by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences of MSU (CALS), the students were defined as Borlog researchers.

Scott Willard, Dean of CALS and director of the Mississippi Agricultural Experiments and Forests Station, headed the establishment of the Mississippi Youth Institute in 2017. Willard said providing a forum for high school students to engage in meaningful dialogue with global food security experts is more helpful than students.

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

Susie Wall, a science teacher at Starkville Academy, has brought students to the Mississippi Youth Institute since its inception. This year, 16 students from the school were marked as Burlog students.

“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 inner circle,” Wall said. “I hope the experience inspires them to go into areas that will allow them to do some work to secure food sources for the world, whether it’s in agriculture or life sciences or simply by pursuing studies abroad where they learn about food security challenges elsewhere.”

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

“I have been very blessed that my students have done an amazing job over the last two years, and we have had several scholarship winners from Starkville Academy. I think it is an amazing experience that challenges students to face difficult questions through hard work and research,” she said.

Starkville Academy B student Piper Conrad presented the establishment of a traditional diet to reduce obesity and malnutrition in the Philippines. As a first-time participant, she said the experience increased her interest in global food security.

“The most exciting part was learning about the culture of a country I would not otherwise have explored. The process really opened my eyes to how Western influences have impacted the traditional diet in the Philippines,” she said.

In addition to Conrad, the participating Borlog researchers and their presentation topics included (by hometown):

BRAXTON-Jaden Johnson, from Mendenhall High School, Improves Food Safety in India.

HAMILTON— Hailey Shaw, of Hamilton’s Center for the Presence, Agricultural Education Roles and Emergency Response Systems in Food Security in Haiti.

LEAKESVILLE – Chloe Dubins, from the Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science, Climate change in China.

OLIVE BRANCH BRANCH – Daniel McConnell, of the Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science, Improving Industry and Infrastructure in Liberia.

STARKVILLE— (All Starkville Academy Students) Fleming Archer, Malaria Reduction in Nigeria; William Carter, Sustainable Farming Methods in Somalia; Audrey Goli, climate volatility in Uganda; Jaiden Laughlin, Water and Sanitation Problems in Yemen; Katie Kinum, Improving Industrial Growth in Zambia; Rett Keenum, Improving Agriculture and Education Methods in Haiti; Emma Claire Markham, Human Rights Crisis in Afghanistan; Kade Smith, Improving Education in the Dominican Republic; Newt Thomas, addressed political unrest and the introduction of tax incentives to reduce malnutrition in the Central African Republic; Jackson Walters, Agricultural Innovation in Chad; Ashton Watson, addressed gender equality to improve food security in South Korea; Drew Williams, improves North Korea’s political turmoil; Josh Ward, access to food and climate change in Bolivia.

STURGIS — Jonah McCrory, of Starkville Academy, Water and Sanitation Problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Owen Ballard, of Starkville Academy, how the conflict in Ukraine contributes to food insecurity.

Leading students from the Mississippi Youth Institute will be invited to the October Global Youth Institute in Iowa. Participating students are eligible to apply for Borlaug Ruan’s International Internship and the USDA Wallace-Carver Scholarship. Anyone interested in the Mississippi World Food Institute Youth Institute should contact Darrell Sparks at (662) 325-5307 or For more information on the Mississippi Youth Institute, visit

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

MSU is the leading university in Mississippi, available online at

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