That’s how Tessa LeCuyer, a clinical assistant professor in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, described the CALS Global Opportunity Initiative ­ trip to East Africa this past summer.  

“I view this experience as the foundation for future collaborations and globalization of my research efforts. I have been interested in global health and the role that livestock health plays in public health for a long time,” LeCuyer said. “This trip pushed me to further contextualize my work beyond animal health in the United States. I am rejuvenated in my efforts to push my work into a space that has an international impact.”

This is a key goal of the CALS Global Opportunity Initiative Program: make it as easy as possible to take the research faculty already do at Virginia Tech and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and apply it in both domestic and international contexts. Contextualization and understanding realities on the ground are central to achieving this goal.

“There can be a lot of barriers to entry to international work,” said Jessica Agnew, the associate director of CALS Global. “Through this program, we want to help faculty understand how they can engage internationally and develop partnerships that will further them both professionally and personally.”

This trip was the capstone trip of the Global Opportunity Initiative (GOI) offered by CALS Global. The GOI is a professional development program offered collaboratively with the veterinary college that trains faculty to use tools such as challenge mapping and systems thinking in the context of international research. It culminates with a capstone trip to East Africa to solidify partnerships, forge international collaborations, and contribute to solutions to challenging issues in international agriculture and life sciences.

In June, participants on the trip met in person with faculty and leadership from Egerton University in Kenya, Makerere University in Uganda, and representatives from agricultural technical schools, agro-dealers, community leaders, and many other people working in agricultural value chains, research, and development.

Other partners visited in the region include the Farm Input Promotions Ltd. Africa, the Kenya Bureau of Standards, and the International Livestock Research Institute.

“The public-private partnerships have incredible value not only to our faculty and to our region, but also our colleagues in Eastern Africa,” said Tom Thompson, the director of CALS Global. “These partnerships allow all of us to grow and work together to reach our shared goal of increasing agricultural productivity.”

In the months following the study tour, international partnerships have proved important in other ways too.

“We’ve continued to be in communication with the faculty we met with to explore new collaboration opportunities on initiatives related to some of the challenges local partners have identified,” said John Ignosh, a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering. “I am excited to see where these new opportunities might lead.”  

The opportunity to connect, listen, see, and learn, along with the unique experiences extended, was invaluable for each attendee.

“The diversity of the experiences and people we met during the trip were the greatest strengths of the GOI program in East Africa,” LeCuyer said. “I learned so much from interacting with government officials and industry innovators. Without this program, I would have never been able to interact with those important sectors of agriculture.”

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