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IIC Students Engage with Sustainable Agriculture

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Media, Film & Journalism Studies

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By Hannah Kipersztok, first-year MA student in international studies

Cassie Vander Meer

When Cassie Vander Meer started the master's program in international and intercultural communication (IIC), she wasn't sure what her focus would be. She knew she loved to travel, she loved learning about other cultures, and, like most of us, she loved food. Kathryn McCauley, on the other hand, born and raised on her family's ranching business in Texas, came to IIC with deep roots in agriculture. She hoped to find a way to grow and nurture those roots into a global career. Both women have leveraged the flexibility of the IIC program to develop specialties in global agriculture and sustainability, and are now poised to enter a field of growing importance and opportunity.

In an era of Instagram famous #Foodies and the addicting "Chopped Junior" and "The Great British Baking Show," it's startling to think how rarely people think about or know where their food comes from, even though food is something we encounter every day and need to survive. In our developed economy, the process of acquiring food has become deeply disconnected from the process of growing and producing food. 

Current large-scale food production makes the agriculture industry one of the leading contributors to climate change, an issue that affects the survival of all of Earth's inhabitants. According to a United Nations Report, the world's population is expected to increase to nearly 10 billion by 2050, which will result in a huge increase in agricultural demand. The same report highlights how this growing demand will lead to further competition for natural resources, more greenhouse gas emissions, and additional deforestation and land degradation.

These effects will continue to harm our environment, which is why both Vander Meer and McCauley have made it their mission to address these problems and work for positive change in the agriculture industry.

Cassie Vander Meer

Vander Meer, a second-year student due to graduate in spring 2019, is specializing in strategic communication for global corporations or nonprofits. Her goal coming out of the program is to spread the word about the benefits of good agricultural practices and how many aspects of people's lives are affected by agriculture. She argues that bulk production, which has become necessary in order to keep up with consumer demand, has negatively impacted small-scale farmers and has increased health risks associated with food production, such as E. Coli.

Coming to these realizations, Vander Meer decided to take an internship at Slow Food USA, where she learned methods to combat the agricultural processes that are negatively affecting the environment and public health.

Vander Meer was amazed by the work Slow Food USA is doing domestically and abroad. "Slow Food's international projects work to promote ground up development of sustainably grown farms in efforts to help developing countries establish agriculture programs that reach back to traditional growing practices instead of feeding into the big agricultural processes we see in many first-world countries."

Kathryn McCauley

Kathryn McCauley, a first-year student, hopes to work for the USDA or a similar organization in foreign agriculture service, primarily focusing on international agricultural relations. While earning her bachelor's in agricultural communication from Texas Tech, she noticed that the program was severely lacking in courses that had an international emphasis. Through the IIC program, McCauley is focusing her studies on this global aspect of agriculture, her deepest passion. She recently wrote a research paper on the relationship between famine and media coverage and has taken courses such as Agriculture and Sustainable Development and Food Security.

She plans to utilize the IIC program's internship requirement to work at an international organization with an agricultural mandate. Ultimately, Kathryn is interested in pursuing her PhD to research and study international agricultural communication and become a leader in this emerging field.

For both Vander Meer and McCauley, agriculture should be something we consider every day, as it is the source of all of the food we eat  and the leading cause of climate change. Unfortunately, agriculture is not a topic that usually gets a lot of attention. McCauley and Vander Meer hope to shift sentiments about agriculture by bridging their knowledge about international agriculture with the communication knowledge they have gained within the IIC program.