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Hastings student participates in World Food Prize events

Since the age of 10, Hastings resident Tessa Ries has known she wanted to help. She had taken a family trip to Guatemala, and while she was there, she realized that not everyone enjoys the same comforts as most U.S. citizens, and that not everyone has access to something so basic as food.

Now at age 17, Ries is already making a difference. Technically a high school senior at Red Wing High School, Ries is in her second year of full-time PSEO (post-secondary enrollment option) courses at the University of Minnesota. Also in the past two years, she's participated in the World Food Prize events internationally and nationally.

Two years ago, Ries wrote a five-page paper on Guatemala and the ways she thought food security - or access to safe, nutritious food - could be improved there. High school students from all across the country submitted similar papers, and 130 of them were chosen to be presented at the 2011 Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa. Ries's was among them.

At the Global Youth Institute, Ries got to watch global leaders discuss world food issues and saw how they collaborate to create solutions. On the last day, the students presented their papers.

But Ries's experience wasn't over. As a participant in the Global Youth Institute, Ries got the opportunity to apply for the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship. The internship sends students overseas to research centers in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East to work with leading scientists and policymakers. This year, 21 students were awarded internships, Ries said. Ries earned a two-month trip to Turkey this past summer, where she worked with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Her particular work was with wheat an improving wheat genetics to make it more resistant to crown rot and cereal cyst nematodes. She helped in the testing - giving different varieties of wheat the diseases and then scoring them on their tolerance. The point, she said, was to find wheat varieties that could be grown without fungicides and also wouldn't be wiped out by disease.

Ries also picked up an extra project helping a friend on a drought yield trial, or finding wheat varieties that would produce just as well under drought as in normal conditions.

The work was hard, Ries said, but worth it. She realized that everything she did there would only make food more available to those who don't have it.

Last month, Oct. 15 to 20, Ries was back in Iowa for this year's World Food Prize event to make a presentation on her internship. At the event, she got to sit in on things like the Iowa Hunger Summit and talk to those advancing food security. She even got to meet and talk with this year's World Food Prize Laureate, Dr. Daniel Hillel, an Israeli scientist who developed micro-irrigation, a type of sustainable watering.

Meeting Hillel was the highlight of the trip, Ries said. Hillel's wife had spent a lot of time in Turkey, so they were interested in hearing about her work there over the summer. She also enjoyed meeting up with the other interns and hearing about their work.

"It was really rewarding to talk to the other interns about their experiences," she said.

The students come back to the U.S. different after having learned so much about other cultures, she said. Being a part of another culture is an experience she said she thinks everyone should have. Ries had nothing but appreciation for her own experience.

"I've never been around such kind people," she said.

Ries is planning on continuing her work. In the next few weeks she'll start a new job in the wheat lab at the University of Minnesota. As a full-time student there she'll be pursuing a degree in applied plant science, and said she wants to find a career in agriculture research.