AECM Professor will bring a Global Vision to the Classroom after visit to Africa

The chance to immerse yourself in another culture through international travel is not only limited to students. Agricultural Communication & Marketing Assistant Professor Rebecca Swenson will be the first to tell you that these opportunities are as valuable for faculty as they are for students.“I learned just as much as the students did,” she said about her recent trip to two African countries. Dr. Swenson served as a mentor for CFANS student and Global Food Challenge Emerging Leader Sierra Williamson. Because of this mentorship, she spent just under two weeks learning about agriculture in Malawi and South Africa alongside Sierra. Their travel group included university students and ambassadors, Land O’Lakes employees, and other Global Food Challenge Emerging Leaders.

Before Dr. Swenson and Sierra embarked on their adventure, they spent time learning through curriculum focused on global agriculture. They met every other week from May to August to uncover what agriculture looks like in different parts of the world by exploring topics that included international development, agricultural policy, and agricultural economics. Dr. Swenson said that this approach helped them gain perspective and gave them a stronger background in international agriculture before their trip.

Dr. Rebecca Swenson stands in front of scenic mountain vista with village belowWhile in Malawi, the group gained knowledge around the country’s agricultural-related government policies and visited a dairy co-op, tobacco farm, and tomato processing co-op run completely by women. In South Africa, they visited larger agricultural companies including a biotech company and a Land O'Lakes partner company. Dr. Swenson compared these companies to WinField in the United States. The group also learned about the role of the Forgeign Agriculture Service in South Africa and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This combination of experiences gave Dr. Swenson and the rest of the group a deeper understanding of how governments, universities, and corporations work together internationally. She also discovered how these three parties provide opportunities for students on a global scale.

At Chitsanzo Dairy Farmers Cooperative in Malawi the listened to farmers share testimonials about how their cow(s) changed their lives. Dr. Swenson explained that this was the most powerful part of her time abroad. She recalls a story about a widowed women who said, “When I lost my husband a year ago, I lost my resources. Now I feel like I have a big fat husband; the cow.” Another elderly gentleman credited the clothes on his back and the food in his belly to his cow. These moving stories demonstrate the impact that one cow can have and has had on the lives of these small-scale farmers.

This experience also affected Dr. Swenson in her role as a professor. It gave her the inspiration for a more global vision, and as a result she plans to incorporate more global case studies in her courses, such as one about water usage in South Africa. Another piece she may bring back to the classroom is how communication differs on a global scale. For example, word of mouth is the main form of communication in the small villages she visited in Malawi. That is much different from the social media and digital advertising that students often focus on in the United States.  Dr. Swenson’s time abroad was an adventure that she was quick to recommend for other University faculty. She explained “It inspired me more than anything else to look at more international opportunities for students with study abroad and research.”