The appeal of College of Arts and Sciences was “the promise of a caring and engaged faculty”
Tackling food insecurity in Ghana
Focusing his dissertation on food security was personal for Daniel Fobi, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geography within the College of Arts and Sciences. Born and raised in Ghana, his family experienced food security issues as did many Ghanaians who struggled when dramatic hikes in food prices impacted the country nearly 20 years ago.
His research on conservation agriculture is a direct result of the same conundrum his family and fellow Ghanaians dealt with: how, in a country with plenty of arable land and 60 percent of the working population in farming, did something like this happen, and how could it be prevented?
Daniel earned a bachelor’s degree in medical geography from the University of Ghana, but as his experience with food insecurity shaped his interests, he began searching for geography programs with specializations in food research. With exceptional faculty, generous funding opportunities, and an active career center to help him reach his goals, choosing IU and the College of Arts and Sciences was a no-brainer for Daniel.
The appeal of the College of Arts and Sciences was “the promise of caring and engaged faculty and advisors, research and tuition funding, and the opportunity to try teaching,” Daniel said.
Engaged Faculty and Staff
An important consideration for Daniel in choosing where to pursue a Ph.D. came down to finding skilled faculty with the same passion that drove him. “I chose IU over other universities,” said Daniel, “because what IU offered matched my interests, and importantly, the supervisor, Professor Kurt Waldman, has been doing a lot of work in Zambia so he had experience in Africa.”
Waldman, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, has made his career researching food security, environmental decision-making, including in Africa, and, noted Daniel, “He also works with farmers directly, so I saw that great connection.”
“It has been exciting to see Daniel develop his research idea while taking classes the last couple of years, make connections with a local organization, and now be preparing to do his data collection,” says Waldman. “Daniel is very hard working and enthusiastic and I think his dissertation will make a valuable contribution to our understanding about soil health and food security in Ghana.”
Envisioning himself working in the field (literally and figuratively), directly with farmers in Ghana and other sub-Saharan African countries, Daniel found his home in the College’s Department of Geography. He was also struck by the care that his professors showed him as he worked through a language barrier.
“In my department and in the College, we have very caring professors,” he said. “I remember when I came here, at first there was a language barrier because [Ghanaian] English and American English are quite different. The accent was a big change, so I had to talk to one of the professors, like, I’m not an American, can you please slow down for me? And that was it. He just got it right and from that point forward, always making sure that I could follow.”
Daniel also observed the great relationships between College faculty and graduate students: “There is not this gap with professors at one side and grad students at the other. This allows you to learn more from your supervisors.”
Opportunities for funding
Daniel received a scholarship to fund five years of his master’s and Ph.D. For him, this represented the value that IU and the College placed on his success in his Ph.D. and the research he would produce. The assurance that this and other funding would be available for him was essential in his decision to make IU his academic home.
This award gave him the freedom to pursue his master’s research on how informal market systems competed with grocery chains and the existence of food deserts – areas where residents have limited access to affordable, healthy foods - in Accra, Ghana’s capital, and then his Ph.D. research on how to increase food production for Ghanaian farmers without depleting the soil.
The Walter Center for Career Achievement and its supportive staff also helped Daniel invest in his own research.
“Trevor [Verrot] from the Walter Center had sent out an email for students wanting to do internships, for people wanting to go to into an academic or non-academic set-up. I thought, I should try to see if I could get this support,” said Daniel.
Trevor, a graduate career coach at the Walter Center, explained, “I regularly remind Ph.D. students about funding opportunities to support the development of additional skillsets and to gain supplementary experiences that enrich their graduate experience. We’re proud of the support we’re able to offer not only our undergraduates, but also our Ph.D. students, who do amazing work locally at IU and, as evident in Daniel’s story, globally as well.”
Daniel and his supervisor, Dr. Waldman, agreed it was a good idea for him to apply, and he was soon awarded the Ralph Walter Internship Scholarship. The $3,000 award helped him secure accommodations, transportation, food, and supplies while he lived away from home in Ghana for three months that summer, working with farmers and conducting research.
“The College has been very supportive, especially compared to other places I applied to and the conditions that were given to me. I mean, IU promised a five-year funding package, so that alone was a big assurance to me.”
Ready for anything
Daniel enjoys that his experience in the College has made him well-rounded and has helped prepare him in his career, most immediately, for his post-graduate research.
“I’m now in my fourth year but I’ve already co-published three research articles with my professors, including one that is submitted for which I’m the lead author. So, by the time I’m done with school I’m confident that if I want to go into teaching, perhaps into development jobs, I’ll have the credentials to qualify for those. I’m really benefitting from the College’s offerings.”