Two Iowa State graduate students receive Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research fellowships

October 03, 2023 - by Sarah Igram

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) Fellows Program selected two Iowa State graduate students for its 2023 cohort. Oluwatuyi Olowoyeye, doctoral student in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, and Erika Ibarra-Garibay, doctoral student in Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, are the first students from Iowa State to be selected for this fellowship.

Oluwatuyi Olowoyeye and Erika Ibarra-Garibay

Olowoyeye and Ibarra-Garibay

Created in 2018, the FFAR Fellows Program is a three-year program that provides doctoral students studying food and agriculture sciences with training, professional development, and opportunities to engage with industry and government leaders. Olowoyeye and Ibarra-Garibay are two of just 30 fellows in this year’s cohort.

“I feel excited and elated to have been awarded this fellowship by FFAR. As an international student, I am not likely eligible for all fellowships out there, so it is excellent that it is open to all,” Olowoyeye said. “Also, meeting fantastic budding researchers from different parts of the USA in my cohort has been exhilarating.”

Olowoyeye’s research focuses on using computer models to quantify the benefits of regenerative agricultural practices. Specifically, he studies the Perennial Groundcover system, which allows the growth of row crops and perennial grass year-round and can potentially reduce runoff and erosion. Knowing the benefits of this system can help farmers adopt more sustainable practices.

Meanwhile, Ibarra-Garibay investigates how pesticides affect important species such as wild and managed bumblebee queens. Bees play a critical role in pollinating crops, and knowing more about how pesticides impact bees and how to test for their presence can shed light on the relationship between bee health and modern farming methods. Like Olowoyeye, Ibarra-Garibay also hopes her research will lead to the adoption of more sustainable farming practices.

“Ultimately, [my research] can help ensure an ample human food supply while also caring for our planet,” she said.

Olowoyeye came to Iowa State because of the quality of the Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering graduate program, currently ranked second in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, and because he wanted to work with his major professor Amy Kaleita. Ibarra-Garibay initially came to Ames because her significant other chose Iowa State for his graduate studies, and she began a position in Extension and Outreach where she educated youth about pollinators. She enjoyed Ames and Iowa State so much that she decided to pursue her graduate degree in Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology.

Both students heard of the FFAR Fellows Program from their major professors after sharing their career goals and intent to apply for fellowships.

“[It’s important to] let your advisor know what you want, because there are a plethora of opportunities that might seem hidden until someone brings them to your attention,” Olowoyeye said.

To apply, they submitted statements of interest, their CVs, and reference letters. Ibarra-Garibay dedicated time to introspection, which helped her craft her statement of interest.

“I pondered why I had returned to graduate school, clarified my career objectives, identified gaps in my knowledge, and recognized what I had hoped to learn in graduate school but hadn’t yet,” she said. “This can also help in the search for fellowships.”

Over the next three years, Ibarra-Garibay and Olowoyeye will focus on accomplishing their research goals and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the fellows program.

“Reminiscing on my experiences over the past month or so, from the in-person residential sessions and training to having a mentor from the industry, it is undoubtedly one of the best things that has happened to me professionally,” Olowoyeye said. “I also understand that it is a door opener to many other opportunities that are in the future for me.”

 “I am just so honored and filled with joy to have received this prestigious fellowship. My career ambition is to become a versatile scientist who effectively bridges the realms of science, policy, and public engagement,” Ibarra-Garibay added. “This fellowship is a pivotal stepping stone toward realizing these aspirations.

Tags: fellowships, agricultural and biosystems engineering, ecology evolution and organismal biology