Water for Food

Hands-on learning approach prepares future water for food leaders

February 27, 2018

Former intern James Garza

Former intern James Garza speaks to a researcher from the University of Jordan next to the Zarqa River in April 2016.

By: Ellen Emanuel, program coordinator

“My internship at Water for Food gave me direction for my future career. Discovering that I wanted to work in water gave me focus and made me more passionate about school.”
-Alexander Stejskal, former DWFI intern

The Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI) offers students at the University of Nebraska opportunities to enhance their professional skills and abilities through career-driven experience. Students interested in global water and food security issues join the institute’s internship program to learn about the water sector through research, professional networking and hands-on experience. Through projects ranging from website development to qualitative research on farmer attitudes, DWFI staff mentor students as they work to identify their passions and set out to improve global water management in agricultural and food systems. The institute has provided internships to more than 15 university students in the three years since the program began.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) agricultural economics student Will Ruffalo of Omaha, Nebraska first learned about the institute in a class co-taught by Nick Brozović, DWFI Director of Policy. Now Ruffalo is approaching a full year of interning for DWFI. His favorite part of the experience has been working with people of varied backgrounds and gaining exposure to a broad range of international agricultural and water-related issues. Ruffalo says this internship has strengthened his research and interviewing skills, and he has gained knowledge regarding a broad range of agricultural and water-related issues around the globe.

“The experiences I’ve had while interning at DWFI have allowed me to think more critically about my future career plans and the skills I can bring to the table,” said Ruffalo.

This summer, Ruffalo plans to use these skills in a new internship with John Deere, an iconic American company that manufactures agricultural, construction and other heavy equipment. He credits the institute for preparing him for the new internship by helping him develop professionalism and a valuable knowledge base.

“My experience at DWFI played an integral part in my application for the internship with John Deere… Not only did I have a strong knowledge of the agribusiness marketplace from my work at the institute, but I was confident in my workplace skills and readiness for a high-level internship program like John Deere’s,” he said.

Upon completion of his summer internship at John Deere, Ruffalo looks forward to returning to classes and DWFI in the fall.

Inevitably, student interns graduate and move on to their next endeavors. Such is the case for DWFI alums James Garza from Laredo, Texas, and Alexander Stejskal from Cedar Creek, Nebraska. The institute keeps in touch with these students and the work they are doing in their fields after graduation.

For Garza, interning at DWFI gave him opportunities to complement his coursework in international affairs. Garza traveled to Jordan with a group of DWFI staff and fellow interns to learn more about water security challenges in the Middle East. On this trip and throughout his internship he enjoyed learning research tools and conducting on-the-ground, hands-on studies.

“Most students don’t have those opportunities until graduate school,” Garza said, “Coming from a background in global studies, I was well aware of the human security issues related to water resources, and particularly water security,” he said. “Interning at DWFI gave me valuable insight into the science of water resources, while giving me perspective from an agricultural producer’s point of view.”

Garza graduated from UNL in May 2017 and is now pursuing a master’s degree in international studies at the University of Oklahoma. His study tour in Jordan continues to motivate his work, as his thesis focuses on the country’s water scarcity issues. Specifically, he is interested in how tribal politics affect water governance. Regarding this research, he continues to communicate with the network of water stakeholders and researchers whom he met while visiting Jordan.

“Working at DWFI motivated me to look further into water scarcity research, particularly in the Middle East,” said Garza. “Traveling to Jordan and conducting research grounded my knowledge in the subject that I am now drawing upon in my graduate studies at Oklahoma.”

As an undergraduate student, Stejskal was studying agricultural economics and wondering where his degree would take him after graduation. He heard about DWFI as a student in a natural resources policy course and decided to get involved as an intern. Stejskal learned how to conduct research and gained knowledge covering a variety of new topics in agricultural and water-related fields. He also learned how to maintain technical discussions with diverse audiences, from industry workers to agricultural producers. These experiences gave him clarity for his next steps post-graduation and motivated him in his coursework.

“My internship at DWFI gave me my interest in water and gave me direction for my future career,” said Stejskal. “Discovering that I wanted to work in the field of water resources gave me focus and made me more passionate about school.”

Stejskal is now studying environmental science and management as a Sustainable Water Markets Fellow at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at University of California, Santa Barbara. He is focusing on water resources management and water markets. During his internship, Stejskal researched water trusts and instream flows, and developed a basic understanding of on-farm operations. He says this knowledge provided a good foundation for his graduate school work and has been “incredibly beneficial.”

In the future, Stejskal hopes to work in agricultural water transfers, and hopes to be part of the solution for “maintaining adequate stream flows for trout, salmon, and other local fish populations without damaging local agricultural economies.”

As Stejskal, Garza and Ruffalo continue to work toward resolving water issues around the world, DWFI is eager to follow everything they accomplish. The institute is proud to have given these three ambitious students a head start in successful water careers. We strive to offer all of our student interns unique and valuable professional development opportunities, such as those that helped these interns further their careers.

Looking forward, there is a critical need to build up the next generation of water and agricultural leaders. By continuing to build the intern program, DWFI commits to enabling and equipping young people to find solutions for global agricultural and water challenges. To learn more about the internship program, contact Nick Brozović at nbrozovic@nebraska.edu.

Will Ruffalo presents his agribusiness research at the 2017 Water for Food Global Conference at Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln

Intern Will Ruffalo presents his agribusiness research at the 2017 Water for Food Global Conference at Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln.

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