Wheaton freshman Sean Lyon did not anticipate the implications of the paper he wrote on the food shortage in Mali as a senior in high school. For Lyon, what began as a straightforward assignment led to a unique learning opportunity over this past summer.
Lyon’s research on the paper led him to attend the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, as a youth delegate. Lyon was one of 33 intern accepted to participate in the Wallace-Carver Fellowship over the summer of 2014.
The WFP was developed by Dr. Norman Borlaug, the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in agriculture. According to Lyon, Borlaug is credited with saving more lives than almost anyone else through his work sparking the Green Revolution. The purpose of WFP is to honor scientists who have contributed to food security.
A primary goal of the WFP is to reach out to young people, in order to further develop care for food security in the next generation. Through WFP, youth delegates can qualify for the Wallace-Carver Fellowship, a collaborative effort of the USDA and WFP. The Fellowship is named after Henry A. Wallace, a former secretary of agriculture, and distinguished botanist George Washington Carver. This summer the Fellowship accepted the largest group of interns thus far. Lyon said that they hope the number will continue to increase as awareness for agricultural issues grows.
For his Fellowship, Lyon worked in a plant pathology lab located in a small fruits research station in Poplarville, Miss. He worked alongside one researcher and two technicians, examining a fungus that attacks the roots of blueberries, killing them over a period of three to four years. Lyons and his fellow workers applied themselves to finding resistant varieties that could survive in a soil that the fungus cannot withstand.
Lyon said that the experience “opened my eyes to a whole new world of science research and innovation. I hadn’t thought about plant pathology before.” The introduction was also an introduction to a type of scientist he had never worked alongside.
Although Lyon stated that he is not likely to pursue a career in this area, he said the experience was beneficial in many ways. Lyon said that it taught him the importance of pursuing internships, using summers well and spending time intentionally.
Lyon said, “Even if I don’t have a fantastic experience doing something, I can still learn a lot, and that is invaluable.”
Looking ahead, Lyon hopes to apply for an international internship next summer, where he would spend eight weeks in a research context. Lyon said he was impressed during his summer with how much the United States government cares about the food safety of its citizens, and he realized how much of a need this is in other countries.
Lyon is currently deciding between a major in Biology, Business or International Relations, as he is fascinated by the interface between urban environments and food production. “The disconnect is not healthy,” he said, speaking of how people’s food is grown in distant places and transported to them. “We forget the importance of food and the struggle it takes to produce it.” Lyon would like to bring these spheres together in order to give people the ability to grow food in their local environments.
Speaking of his Fellowship, Lyon said he was really blessed to participate in an experience that helped him form relationships as well as new points of view and realizations that will accompany him far into the future.