Young Scholars Program Sparks Interest in Global Health
By Allie Byrd
Christine Akoh wants to change the world through agriculture, one country at a time.
A sophomore food science major from Athens, Akoh aspires to work as a global health advisor and help reduce hunger and poverty and improve health.
She got her first taste of international agriculture as a high school student when she was selected for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Young Scholars Program. Through the program, Akoh worked alongside CAES faculty and assisted with research in pharmacology, entomology and food science.
The program allowed her to travel to Honduras in 2008, where she planted chili peppers and toured farms. She also participated in homestays and took Spanish classes.
“I love the Young Scholars Program. It was my first time doing research and traveling abroad,” Akoh said. “Going to Honduras helped me realize I can live abroad and do international work, and it sparked my desire to want to help people in other countries.”
Having graduated from high school, Akoh is no longer eligible to participate in the Young Scholars Program so now she serves as a chaperone. In her new role, she traveled to Costa Rica in 2009. There she and the Young Scholars planted trees for the carbon offset program, milked cows, watched birds and visited coffee farms.
Akoh used her time as a Young Scholar to jumpstart her education at UGA. Through the UGA Honors Program’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities, or CURO, Akoh is working with CAES food science professor Joe Frank. She is studying Listeria monocytogenes, a food-borne pathogen found in produce, raw meat, raw milk and ice cream.
“This pathogen is of great importance to both public health and the food industry because it causes human listeriosis, a food-borne infection,” Akoh said. (Food science research is closely connected to Akoh’s home life, too. Her father is CAES food science professor Casimir Akoh.)
In addition to her studies, Akoh serves as an Ag Hill representative and participates in Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences. She has traveled to MANR S conferences and workshops in South Carolina, Indiana and Washington, D.C.
After graduating from CAES in 2012, Akoh plans to attend graduate school to study global health and nutrition. Akoh hopes to help achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which include reducing hunger and poverty.
Many of the goals are tied to agriculture, she said. She first studied the goals in an international agriculture development class taught by CAES assistant professor Maria Navarro.
“The class opened my eyes to a lot of global health problems and what federal and international organizations are doing to help,” she said. “I became interested in international agriculture and global issues and learned key elements that make international development organizations successful.”