Around The World: Grad Student Represents Texas A&M Agriculture’s Growing International Appeal

Texas A&M AgriLife Research/Kathleen Phillips)

Aditi Pandey of Nepal is working on a master’s degree at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Beaumont.

By Kathleen Phillips, Texas A&M University AgriLife

Highlights

  • Aditi Pandey’s village in Nepal discouraged higher education for girls
  •  Agriculture grew as the field of choice for international students by 15 percent between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years
  • The influx of international representation in Agriculture is the result of an effort “to extend our research and knowledge to the community”

Aditi Pandey is one of more than 1 million young adults who left their native countries last year for an education in the U.S.

About 21 percent of the foreign students came to study engineering, another 19 percent came for business and management, and almost 14 percent came for computer science and math degrees, according to the 2016 Institute of International Education’s Open Door report.

But not Pandey.

After completing a bachelor’s degree in her native Nepal, Pandey’s family allowed her to follow an 8,440-mile dream to the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Beaumont. Her heart was set on earning a master’s degree by learning ways to help farmers in her country produce food sustainably on their land.

Pandey is unique not only for choosing agriculture but because she’s a girl who, she said, by the code of her village in Nepal should have stopped school the minute she learned to read and write so her parents could save for her wedding dowry.

Dr. Sai Sree Uppala, Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant pathologist, Beaumont. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife)

Dr. Sai Sree Uppala, Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant pathologist, Beaumont. (Texas A&M AgriLife)

Agriculture has been a global ticket since the dawn of time. For millennia, traders have crossed sea and country bringing local commodities to new lands and hauling back goods from afar.  But increasingly, today’s markets are more about producing enough food for the world population, scientists say.

Of the 1 million foreign students, some 12,300 — only a little more than 1 percent — are pursuing agriculture, the Open Door report noted, though researchers worldwide are clamoring to discover ways to feed the estimated 9 billion people on the planet by 2050.

Interconnection in agriculture

Though agriculture students only comprise a tiny percent of the total number of foreign students, agriculture grew as the field of choice by 15 percent between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, according to the Institute of International Education report.  

“There’s a connection between food, energy, water, sanitation, health, nutrition and also smart politics,” said Dr. Fred Davies, Texas A&M University Regents professor and Senior Borlaug Fellow of Horticultural Sciences in College Station, and a senior advisor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. “So the whole thing is interconnected. And this is the first time in human history where the availability of water, land and nutrients are not going to increase. So how do we become more efficient?”

Dr. Rodante Tabien, Texas A&M AgriLife Research rice breeder, Beaumont. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife)

Dr. Rodante Tabien, Texas A&M AgriLife Research rice breeder, Beaumont. (Texas A&M AgriLife)

The AgriLife center in Beaumont has long been a landing spot for foreign researchers and graduate students because the facility focuses on rice, a major staple worldwide. Rice feeds more than half of humanity, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Because most Texas rice is grown along the Gulf Coast, the Beaumont facility has been researching the crop in that region for more than 100 years. Top scientists from U.S., China, Vietnam, India and the Philippines are there to work on variety development, entomology, plant diseases, plant physiology, weed and water management, genetics, and soil and crop nutrition.

Extending the agriculture community

The center also reaches out to graduate students worldwide and hosts area public school science teachers for hands-on instruction to take back to high school classrooms. The goal of both efforts is to convey an urgency that in order to keep up with the world food demand, young minds need to fill the shoes of numerous well-known researchers who are approaching retirement, officials said.

“One of our missions is to extend our research and knowledge to the community,” said Dr. Mo Way, AgriLife Research entomologist in Beaumont and organizer of the annual science teacher in-service day for the region. “And beyond that, my colleagues and I have talked about whether there will be anyone to replace us in a few years when we retire.

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Continue reading this story by Kathleen Phillips on AgriLife Today.


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