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Learning global solutions to local problems

Seven scientists were selected to participate in a year-long global awareness program which would end with an international immersion trip to Mexico. They're back and believe the culminating trip is just the beginning of their international journey.

During the year and on the trip, they tackled an assignment to learn about the Mexican culture and the challenges that the country and people face, while engaging in the loosely wrapped theme of diabetes and obesity. These are important concerns in Mexico because 24 percent of the population is overweight or obese and about six percent have diabetes. Each scientist brought their own perspective and area of expertise to the problems and questions they encountered, from nutrition to engineering -- crop sciences to economics.

They are the first graduating "class" of Aces Global Academy. Each member of the Academy is a junior faculty member (one from each of the seven departments in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences) paired with a senior faculty mentor who has already had scholarly experience on an international level.

Finding a theme that all seven faculty members could study was one of the first challenges of the program. Diabetes and obesity was selected because it is a worldwide problem but each member studied it from their own unique perspective. So, for example, a horticulturist might look at what healthier fruits and vegetables can be grown, while an economist looks at the feasibility of growing the crop. Mexico's high rate of obesity and diabetes is compounded by the fact that sweetened beverages are preferred over water due to the poor quality and inadequate supply of safe drinking water -- a problem perhaps to be tackled by an agricultural engineer.

Economist Urvi Neelakantan was one of the junior faculty members in the Global Academy. She said that she went on the trip knowing very little about Mexico. "We learned about the main challeng
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Contact: Debra Levey Larson
dlarson@uiuc.edu
217-244-2880
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
26-Oct-2006


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