Interdisciplinary Research Training for Undergraduates:
Crop Diversity and Food and Income Security in East Africa

The University of Vermont is excited to be the host institution for the NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site Geographic, Socio-economic, and Cultural Factors Shaping Crop Diversity and Livelihood Outcomes in East Africa.

Each summer from 2021-2023 eight undergraduate students from U.S. institutions representing diverse backgrounds will be provided the opportunity to conduct path-breaking interdisciplinary research on the links between crop diversity – at local and regional scales – and livelihood outcomes among smallholder farm households in East Africa.

  • Program Description

    The goal of this REU is to provide an engaging, rigorous, and inspiring interdisciplinary research and educational experience for selected U.S. students, preparing them for graduate and/or professional work in international development, applied economics, sociology, demography, public policy and related fields. Participants will develop and apply social science and STEM research methods, with instruction and training in Geographical Information Systems (GIS), statistical analysis of large farm/household datasets, and hand-on field research spanning disciplines from applied economics and rural sociology to agro-ecology, plant sciences, demography and nutrition.

    This REU Site seeks to contribute to active debates around how production of diverse crops relates to food and income security. Ugandan farmers cultivate an extraordinary diversity of crops, including hundreds of varieties of beans, bananas, and other staple and specialty food crops. Student projects will link newly available geospatial datasets and large household survey datasets on crop diversity, climate patterns, and farm livelihood outcomes (nutrition, health), as well as primary data collected with partners in East Africa. Results will be shared widely through meetings of community partners, co-authored student publications, and student participation in professional conferences.

    Download the 2021 REU Site at UVM Program Announcement

    Apply to the 2021 REU Site at UVM

Program Details and Application Instructions

Eligibility

  • The University of Vermont Summer REU Site is open to current, full-time undergraduate students from all U.S. institutions – including 2-year and community colleges, and all private and public colleges and universities.
  • Past experience in social or ecological field research is not required, although some specific projects may require students to have coursework experience in statistics, agricultural / ecological sciences, or related fields.
  • Applicants must be U.S. Citizens or Resident Aliens at the time of application and throughout the duration of the Summer REU Site program, and must possess or obtain a passport valid through February 2023.
  • Students from under-represented/served groups in STEM sciences, students from low socioeconomic experiences, and students from institutions with limited or unavailable research opportunities are particularly encouraged to apply for this opportunity.
  • Students must be available between June 15 and August 15, 2022 for the face-to-face portion of the program, and may not be enrolled in other coursework or have employment responsibilities during the eight weeks of the face-to-face program.
  • Applicants must be a respectful visitor in a foreign country and an engaged member of a research team.
  • Per NSF rules, students who have received their bachelor’s degrees and are no longer enrolled as undergraduates at the time of the Summer program are not eligible to participate (http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2007/nsf07569/nsf07569.htm#elig).

Accommodations

  • Students who are selected to participate will receive a generous stipend and additional financial assistance covering transportation, housing, and meals during the 8-week summer program
  • During the training program in Vermont, students will visit local agricultural centers including Shelburne Farms, Philo Ridge Farm, Abenaki heritage sites, and other rural agricultural enterprises including PI Reynolds’ own 600-acre maple syrup and beef family farm in the small town of Stannard (population ~120; pavement = 0).
  • Applied fieldwork in Summer 2021 will be based at the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at Sterling College in Craftsbury, VT

Program Schedule

Below is an approximate schedule for the 2021 Summer REU Site program at the University of Vermont:

DateActivity
Late AprilAttend the online University of Vermont Student Research Conference and e-meet fellow REU Site Participants, program faculty, and international partners
June 14Welcome and orientation to the Summer 2021 REU Site program at the University of Vermont
June 15-30Research and cultural training at the University of Vermont; Develop research proposals with project partners in East Africa
July 1-5Midsummer Break
July 6 - August 1Research program working remotely with project partners;
Applied fieldwork based at the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at Sterling College in Craftsbury, VT
July 28-30Present research at the UVM Undergraduate Summer Research Retreat
August 1-9Finalize summer projects; develop research and results sharing plan

A detailed itinerary will be provided in advance of travel.

Application Instructions

Application requirements include:

  • Two letters of reference, at least one from a faculty member and the other from any faculty or employer familiar with your work; we encourage you to request letters early via the online letter request form;
  • A complete resume of your educational, employment and volunteer work experiences;
  • Information from your official or unofficial transcript, including school contact information and grades for relevant coursework; and
  • An up to 500-word essay describing your interest in the Summer REU Site at the University of Vermont and how the program will contribute to your educational and professional goals.

Detailed application instructions including the application essay prompt are available on page 1 of the online application.
Review of applications will begin on February 28th and continue until filled.

Statement on Covid-19

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the summer 2021 program will not be able to travel to Uganda. This program will retain its international focus through working with project partners in Uganda and utilizing existing data sets gathered in the region. Applied field experiences will take place in Vermont, in collaboration with the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at Sterling College, located in Vermont's beautiful Northeast Kingdom. We are cautiously optimistic that this NSF REU program will move forward as an in-person program taking place in Vermont, but will adjust to follow guidelines set by the university, public health officials, and local, state, and federal governments. If a 14 day quarantine period is required, the first two weeks of the program will be held virtually while participating students quarantine in UVM housing.

Faculty Profiles

Travis W. Reynolds, Ph.D.

An Assistant Professor of Community Development and Applied Economics (CDAE) at the University of Vermont, Dr. Reynolds' research areas include institutional economics, agricultural development, and payments for environmental services, with an emphasis on the links between agriculture, food security, community governance institutions and the environment.

He has been involved in environmental and food systems research and community outreach activities in East Africa since 2007, including working with U.S. undergraduate students and local collaborators to conduct interviews and surveys exploring formal and informal insitutions governing resource access and use. These fieldwork activities are complemented by lab-based Geographic Information Systems (GIS) research and analysis of large-scale farm-household survey datasets including the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA).

Daniel Tobin, Ph.D.

Dr. Daniel Tobin is an Assistant Professor in CDAE, and holds a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Extension Education and International Agriculture and Development from The Pennsylvania State University. His research applies rural sociological theory and methods to understand how small farmers respond to external environmental and institutional factors with specific focus on livelihoods, crop diversity conservation, and market-oriented development.

 

 

Gloria Otieno, Ph.D.

Dr. Gloria Otieno is a senior researcher and staff lead based in Bioversity International’s East Africa headquarters in Kampala, Uganda. A Kenyan national, Dr. Otieno has conducted research on rural seed systems in East Africa for over a decade, and has a broad network of agricultural development research collaborators from across the CGIAR Consortium.

 

 

 

Kristal Jones, Ph.D.

Dr. Kristal Jones is an Assistant Research Scientist at SESYNC and holds a dual-title Ph.D. in Rural Sociology and International Agriculture and Development from The Pennsylvania State University. Her research uses mixed methodologies to analyze the human-environment interactions present in agricultural production, and to identify the impacts of cross-scalar changes and perturbations to the social and ecological foundations of food systems.

 

 

Tony Vanwinkle, Ph.D.

Dr. Tony VanWinkle is the Director of the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at Sterling College in Craftsbury, VT and holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Tennessee. His research centers on the intersections of seed systems, subsistence technologies, and the socio-ecological systems in which these are embedded.

 

 

 

Jane Kolodinsky, Ph.D.

Dr. Jane Kolodinsky is a Professor and the Chair of CDAE, and holds a Ph.D. in Consumer Economics from Cornell University. She has been researching and exploring controversial food system policy issues including prices of sugar sweetened beverages, the economics of information related to the labeling of foods produced using genetic modification, and the use of subsidies to increase fresh food access for families with limited resources.

 

 

Yolanda Chen, Ph.D.

Dr. Yolanda Chen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Science, and holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from the University of California, Berkeley. She studies and publishes widely on the ecology and evolution of insects within agroecosystems to seek insight on how to “farm with nature” within a globalized world.

 

 

 

Asim Zia, Ph.D.

Dr. Asim Zia is a Professor of CDAE and Computer Science, and holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the Georgia Institute of Technology. His extensive expertise includes spatial analysis and modeling, computational policy analysis, governance networks, social ecological systems, coupled natural and human systems, sustainable development, food, energy and water systems.

 

 

 

Brian Thiede, Ph.D.

An Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology, Sociology, and Demography at Penn State, Dr. Brian Thiede examines the relationship between environmental change, demographic behavior, and economic development, primarily in low- and middle-income countries. Current projects examine the effect of climate shocks on internal migration and livelihoods.

 

 

 

Eric Bishop von Wettberg, Ph.D.

Dr. Eric Bishop von Wettburg is an Associate Professor of Plant & Soil Sciences, and holds a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from Brown University. He provides expertise in evolutionary ecology, symbiosis, climate resilient agriculture, crop domestication, and crop wild relatives.

 

 

 

REU Graduate Assistants

Michelle Saunders

Michelle Saunders is a graduate student in the M.S. CDAE program and has a B.S. in Animal Science with a minor in International Agriculture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests center on land tenure and land security, on-farm crop and livestock diversity, and gendered inequalities in smallholder agriculture in East Africa.

 

 

 

Hannah Lacasse

Hannah Lacasse is an M.S. candidate in the Community Development and Applied Economics program at UVM and earned her B.A. in Environmental Policy at Colby College. Her research focuses on the economic implications and consumer perceptions of hemp production and products.

Carina Isbell

 

Carina Isbell is a master's student in CDAE and has a B.S. in Community & International Development with a minor in Global Studies from the University of Vermont. Her interests include agrobiodiversity conservation as a mechanism for supporting the public good, social institutions and agri-food system governance, and food justice.

2021 REU Participants

Marisa Thomas

Name: Marisa Thomas

Major: Environmental Engineering

Home State: Maryland

Marisa Thomas is a junior majoring in environmental engineering and minoring in Spanish at Johns Hopkins University. Her research in the University of Vermont NSF REU Site concerned how crop diversity decisions and market access of Ugandan smallholder farmers relates to their food security. In conducting this research, she used Stata 16.0 and ArcGIS Pro to compile and analyze household survey data collected by the World Bank Uganda National Panel Survey (2019-2020) and COVID-19 High Frequency Phone Survey (2020). In addition to this focused research, she worked with the University of Tennessee USAID Peanut Innovation Lab to look for trends in peanut growth and production among Ugandan farmers with an interest in youth and women. As a result of this program, Marisa has found a new interest in the intersection between water management and agriculture.

Katherine Morrissey

Name: Katherine Morrissey

Major: Food Systems; Nutrition and Food Sciences

Home State: Massachusetts

Katherine Morrissey is a sophomore in the Honors College at the University of Vermont. She is pursuing a major in Food Systems with a minor in Nutrition & Food Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). Katherine's research involves crop diversity, dietary diversity, and market access in sub-Saharan Africa. She is also interested in agroecology, community nutrition, and food sovereignty.

 

Audree'Auna Morris-Garrett

Name: Audree'Auna Morris-Garrett

Major: Plant Science

Home State: Georgia

Audree'Auna is pursuing a Plant Science Degree with a Biotechnology concentration at Fort Valley State University. With a horticulture background she has worked with the FVSU extension program, the Atlanta Botanical Garden and many community farms. Her research interests include urban farming, agroecology, conservation, and plant nanotechnology.

Abigail Merolle

Name: Abigail Merolle

Major: Environmental Studies

State: New York

Abigail Merolle is a senior at Florida International University where she is earning a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies as well as certificates in Biological Conservation and Agroecology. She is particularly interested in the relationship between social and climate justice and would like to work in a field that allows her to address the climate crisis and its impact through the lens of agroecology. Since completing the 2021 REU program in Vermont, Abigail continues to work with collaborators and colleagues met over the summer and hopes to have her work published.

Jennifer Beltran Gastelum

Name: Jennifer Beltran Gastelum

Major: Environmental Science and Policy

Home State: Arizona

Jennifer Beltran Gastelum is a senior at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy with a focus on environmental justice. She is deeply interested in the socio-economic conditions of smallholder farmers globally. Her research focus is youth peanut farmers in East Africa. Jen primarily uses STATA to analyze World Bank LSMS-ISA data and GIS to create data visualizations. The NSF REU Site in Vermont and Uganda prepared Jen to pursue her research as an independent study by developing her skills as a researcher and everything that entails, from collaborating with multiple project partners, writing for peer-reviewed journals, and delivering research presentations.

Angus Fraser

Name: Angus Fraser

Major: Geography; International Studies

Home State: Vermont

Angus Fraser is a senior at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, majoring in Geography and International Studies. He is interested in GIS, agroecology, and development studies, and his REU research focuses on identifying relationships between land tenure and crop diversity among Ugandan smallholder farmers. Alongside this research, Angus will be spending the year learning new techniques in data visualization and remote sensing while completing his capstone projects.

Helaina Curtin

Name: Helaina Curtin

Major: Food Systems; Community and International Development

Home State: New York

Helaina Curtin is a student at the University of Vermont, pursuing a degree in Community and International Development with a minor in Food Systems. Coming from an agricultural background, her research interests include agricultural policy, seed systems, and livelihood outcomes of smallholder farmers, specifically in the Northeastern United States and East Africa.  During her time with REU, she evaluated how policy, gender, and access to agricultural extension shapes seed sourcing among smallholder farmers in Uganda.  Helaina intends to continue this research through the rest of her undergraduate career.

Twig Boisjoli

Name: Twig Boisjoli

Major: Environmental Studies; Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies

Home State: Nevada

My name is Twig Boisjoli, and my pronouns are they/them. I am a double major in Environmental Studies and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Cottey College. Participating in this REU Site was an incredible experience - it helped me realize how much I love research and because of this I have decided to go to graduate school to eventually pursue a PhD. I also gained skills that I continue to use in my college career. I actually understand how coding works which is amazing! It has opened up so many doors for data analysis that I can now perform because of my Stata skills. I also greatly improved my GIS skills which I'm very proud of. Overall, an amazing research experience and I'm so grateful to have been a part of the 2021 REU Site team.


 

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SMA-1950766. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Partners in the NSF REU Site at UVM:

  • University of Vermont (UVM) Department of Community Development and Applied Economics (CDAE)
  • The UVM Center for Rural Studies
  • The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), University of Maryland
  • Sterling College (Craftsbury, Vermont)
  • Pennsylvania State University (PSU) Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education (AESE)
  • Bioversity International

REU Highlights: Research Methods and Data Analysis Training

Participating students will engage in an intensive course in research design during the first four weeks of the program, including spatial, statistical, and qualitative social science methods. All students will receive introductory training in spatial analysis using QGIS software as well as an introduction to statistical analysis with Microsoft Excel and – depending on student interests and skills – either Stata or R statistical software. All trainings will have strongly applied components, allowing students to practice developing and testing research questions with real data relating to their research interests. Subsequent trainings will allow students to specialize in one or more methods in greater detail.

Individual Research Projects

Throughout the training program, students will be mentored by faculty to develop independent research plans. Each student will develop a proposal under the mentorship of Senior Personnel, including a review of literature, preliminary GIS or statistical results based on existing data, and peer-tested survey protocols for new data collection. All students will present a draft proposal during the second week of the program, then incorporate peer and mentor feedback, and present a refined proposal during the third week. This extended preparation demonstrates the iterative nature of research and will allow students to observe the various methods being used by their peers.

Research Presentation and Publication

Students will engage in formal final presentations of their work to local community stakeholders and university and NGO partners. Upon completion of the program, participants will present their work on their home campus, at UVM, and at regional and national meetings.

Statement on Covid-19: We are cautiously optimistic that the Summer 2021 NSF REU Site program will move forward as an in-person program taking place in Vermont, but will adjust to follow guidelines set by the university, public health officials, and local, state, and federal governments.