Keystone student fights world hunger

Research fellowship latest step in Wenndt’s work

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August 19, 2014 | 8:53 am

Anthony Wenndt is on a mission.

From a lab at U.S. Department of Agriculture ARS Crops Pathology and Genetics Research in Davis, Calif., the Grinnell College senior is completing the latest step in his passion project.

“It’s always been a goal of mine, ever since I got into the sciences, to apply my work to hunger relief and food insecurity,” said the Keystone native and graduate of Benton Community High School. “The whole battle of hunger relief is all about young active minds taking advantage of their respective opportunities.”

That’s exactly what Wenndt is doing. He is one of 33 U.S. recipients of a Wallace-Carver Fellowship. The program, a partnership between the USDA and the World Food Prize Foundation, provided him with a paid summer internship experience at the California lab where he is working on projects related to rice genetics.

“The focus is to provide opportunities for the most promising students who are passionate about making a difference in the world, who care deeply about these problems and how they affect people in the world,” said Keegan Kautzky, director of national education programs for the World Food Prize Foundation. “They can learn from the best scientists and American policymakers who are working to solve these problems.”

Until Wenndt’s junior year in high school, the French horn player had planned to pursue music and music education professionally, but he credits his first World Food Prize-related experience with changing his direction.

“It was the eye-opening experience that made me transition into a scientific career path,” he said of attending the Global Youth Institute in Des Moines. “My exposure in high school to the World Food Prize really opened my eyes to the real scope of agriculture, the scope that goes beyond the cornfields and the grocery stores. It plays an integral role in everything society does.”

Wenndt then went on to do other intermittent projects with the organization and the USDA, including research at the University of Minnesota, though he acknowledges that the seeds of his current trajectory were sown long before he ever acted upon them.

“My passion for hunger relief is really the result of my own agricultural upbringing,” Wenndt. He grew up on a farm and attended school in the largely rural Benton Community School District. “That gave me a more intellectual approach to agricultural issues that affect not only our local farmers but farmers, (food) producers and consumers around the world.”

Wenndt’s emotion and interest fall in line with the criteria Kautzky described for ideal Wallace-Carver recipients.

“What we’re looking for is everything from passion about the issues, a desire to make a difference in their community and the world (and) an interest in solving problems,” he said. “We want to make sure every student’s unique talents and interests are appreciated.”

Wenndt, who is studying biology and Russian language and pursuing a concentration in global development studies at Grinnell, said his career aspiration is to become a plant pathologist.

Kautzky estimated that a quarter of program participants pursue additional employment opportunities within the organization.

Wenndt said that’s an avenue he’d like to explore and also praised his fellowship experience, which he described as both “eye-opening” and “illuminating.”

“This summer has been really influential for me in conceptualizing the real science of nutrition and how that relates to hunger relief,” Wenndt said.

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