Larson receives Spirit of Internationalization Award
The "Spirit of Internationalization" award acknowledges women from Penn State University and the local community who excel in academic achievements, artistic excellence, volunteerism in international organizations, or dedication to advancing the status of women.
Larson has been instrumental in fostering an interdisciplinary international collaboration with a program for street children in Kenya, the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre (CYEC). The CYEC is part of the Kenyan national program for street-dwelling children and was created to address issues of standards of care, program sustainability, and program exit.
Penn State faculty and students from a variety of colleges and campuses, including Penn State Berks campus and the Penn State Colleges of Agricultural Science, Engineering, Business, and Health and Human Development, are now partnering with the CYEC to address all three issues: developing a life-skills curriculum to enhance standards of care; improving agricultural production, value addition, and other business opportunities to support program sustainability; and creating entrepreneurship education and developing an eco-village where the older youth can transition to independent living as a key part of the exit strategy.
Larson has facilitated communication between the CYEC and Penn State on most of these initiatives, and has been directly involved in helping to develop the agricultural program, youth enterprises, and an eco-village. In addition, dozens of students have traveled to the CYEC in the past two years, and many others have worked on class projects related to these activities.
In the spring of 2010, Dr. Larson and Dr. Sjoerd Duiker co-taught an interdisciplinary course, Agricultural Systems in East Africa (AGRO/CED 497C), through which Penn State undergraduates addressed a challenge identified by the CYEC. The primary focus of this course was to develop a plan for the creation of an eco-village in a semi-arid region of the Rift Valley. This eco-village would facilitate program exit, providing a place for youth to live, work, and further their skills when immediate employment is not available.
Students in the course conducted background research for the development of the eco-village and compiled curricular materials for the agricultural training program at the CYEC. Specifically, they investigated the agro-ecological environment, socio-economic conditions, and agricultural practices of the region to identify crops and soil and water management practices appropriate for the area. They also developed a community assessment tool in order to understand local attitudes and agricultural practices.
The students completed the course by spending three weeks in Kenya, where the class visited several agricultural research institutes and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in order to obtain feedback on the research they had conducted. The class also carried out a community assessment to determine how the eco-village could support development of the local community, as well as to understand local markets for products, land and labor, and agricultural practices. The plan they developed is currently being implemented at the CYEC, a youth cooperative has been formed, and the curricular materials they developed were utilized beginning January 2011.
Larson and Duiker are teaching a similar course this year, focusing on post-harvest handling, including value-addition and marketing.
The long-term value of this initiative for the University is that it creates a model that incorporates and builds on the strengths and mission of a land-grant institution. Challenges such as food security, economic development, and resource management can only be addressed through drawing on the expertise of individuals in a variety of disciplines (research), engaging with practitioners to apply this expertise in an effective and sustainable manner (outreach), and creating opportunities for students to understand the complexities of these challenges more deeply (teaching/learning). It provides a means for Penn State to leverage its resources to address several of the world’s most challenging issues while providing students a rich learning opportunity.
In order to fund implementation of initiatives identified or created by Penn State students, as well as other programs and operating expenses, Larson established a non-profit cooperative, Zawadi Fund International (ZFI). ZFI is a tax-exempt, 501(c)3 organization, which in 2010 raised more than $50,000 for programming at the CYEC.
In addition, Dr. Larson co-taught a course on Puerto Rican Food Systems and Society, in which undergraduates learned about the role of agriculture in Puerto Rico’s development and the history of migration from Puerto Rico to Reading, PA. Students in the course worked with county extension educators to develop a nutrition program for low-income Puerto Ricans in Reading, then spent 10 days in Puerto Rico touring agricultural production and processing facilities.
Larson’s primary research interests include rural economic development and land tenure issues, both internationally and domestically. She has researched land titling and land markets in Latin America and has looked at the effects of development on agriculture in urbanizing areas domestically.
Larson was nominated for the award by Dr. Belén Rodríguez-Mourelo, Division Head for Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and Associate Professor of Spanish at Penn State Berks.