Some of the greatest things about the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are the diverse people you meet and the variety of classes you can take. You might even find your classes challenge some of your previously held ideas and experiences.
Lucy Nifong is a sophomore in Metropolitan Food & Environmental Systems (MFST), a new major in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). She grew up in Springfield, and says coming to ACES opened her to a new and diverse perspective of agriculture.
“I really enjoyed coming to ACES and seeing how much more diverse agriculture is compared to what I’ve perceived in my hometown, which is predominantly older white men and their families,” Nifong says.
Many of Nifong’s classes address issues – such as lack of diversity and climate change – directly, which both surprised and pleased Nifong. In her economics of food and environmental justice class taught by Amy Ando, for example, Nifong learned 90% of farmers are white and male. And she learned about United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs working to create policies that require the inclusion of more women and people of color in the industry.
“We look at the advantages of these policies and issues and how you have to weigh all of the components of these different solutions because you don't want to disadvantage current farmers, but you also want to incorporate new individuals into the industry,” Nifong explains.
Nifong recently declared a minor in International Development Economics and says she’s specifically interested in learning about the ways food systems function in other countries. She was accepted as a United Nations Food Systems Hero, which gives her platforms for spreading knowledge about sustainable food systems.
Also, Nifong helped launch the MFST Student Association (MFSTSA) with MFST director Megan Dailey, and three other MFST students. MFSTSA is a registered student organization for anyone interested in food systems.
“We want to communicate with members about volunteer opportunities like the Student Sustainable Farm and the Project 4 Less on campus, which donates to the Wesley food pantry,” Nifong says.
She hopes MFSTSTA will participate in Quad Day if COVID-19 permits. This is just one of the many things future MFST students can look forward to, and Nifong says students can craft their studies to fit what really interests them.
“Everyone here is really accommodating and friendly,” she says. “There's really a lot of room to customize your major and minor in your degree and fit it to your needs and what you want to learn about.”
This type of tailored experience allows students to get the most out of their time at ACES and feel well-prepared for their careers. Nifong, for example, wants to be an intern at the USDA or another type of large policy group and is interested in international work.
“I have an uncle who works for the International Women's Federation in D.C., and he constantly travels internationally, so I've been exposed to that and I really like that idea,” Nifong says. “I'm hoping to learn more about how international economies can work together and solve big food systems issues.”
Nifong has big plans, but she’s already accomplished a lot in her first year at U of I. In January, she was accepted to serve on the Student Sustainability Committee on campus, which directs funds from student fees to different campus groups that can apply for sustainability-related funding.
“I'm a communications project lead within the group as well as a voting member, and one of the things we've been working on is aligning ourselves with the Student Sustainable Farm to help them collaborate with university dining to ensure it is supporting the farm and continuing to purchase local foods,” she says.
This is just the beginning of Nifong’s college career, and everything she is doing future students can explore as well. Nifong assures future MFST students they will have a great college experience at ACES.
“I really enjoy everyone at MFST,” Nifong says. “For any prospective students, I think it’s a great opportunity.”