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Nina Domingo’s Reflections on the Inaugural Graduate Scholars Program

Learn more about the Institute on the Environment’s Graduate Scholars program! Read below for Nina Domingo’s reflections on her experience as a co-lead of the program’s cohort:

Reflections on the Inaugural Graduate Scholars Program  |  By Nina Domingo

The relationship between agriculture and climate change is of great interest to many Minnesotans. We know that statewide climate goals cannot be achieved without interventions to the agricultural sector, which produces about one-fourth of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, agricultural producers in Minnesota increasingly need to implement strategies to adapt to warmer and wetter environmental conditions that result from climate change.

The University of Minnesota is home to a diverse community of graduate students who study many different aspects of agriculture and climate change. Yet, graduate students rarely have formal opportunities to engage with the field outside of their specialization. To address this gap, the Institute on the Environment launched the Graduate Scholars program, an interdisciplinary cohort program which for 20-21 focused on holistically exploring the role of the agricultural sector in climate action.

Over the past academic year, I have had the opportunity to lead the inaugural cohort along with Ryan Gavin. Ryan (PhD student, School of Public Health) and I (PhD student, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering department) are both graduate students who conduct research on climate and agriculture, and were chosen to lead the cohort as IonE Graduate Leaders. Together, we created a program framework; recruited 9 members from 8 different programs; and researched, identified, and engaged speakers to join us at our cohort meetings every other week. Our cohort members are experts-in-training of diverse disciplines such as public policy, engineering, nutrition, plant science, and history.

Each cohort meeting is filled with discussions between our peers and speakers, which have included policymakers, farmers, researchers, community activists, and science communicators. Our discussions have included a wide range of topics–from effective science communication techniques to farmers’ financial decision frameworks to social justice implications of public programs. Often, I found myself in awe of the nuanced perspectives gained from the experiences of our speakers and members; and have since developed a much deeper appreciation of the different types of people that work to create a sustainable future. 

At times when climate issues are particularly disheartening, I’m especially grateful to have found this community that cares so deeply about advancing climate action in the agricultural sector.

I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to help develop a program like this with IonE and am excited to see how it grows with future student leaders. I am also thrilled to hear that IonE will be launching additional graduate cohorts focused on topics like renewable energy and the circular economy in the next year!

About the author: Nina Domingo is a PhD candidate in the Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering Department. Her research interests are at the intersection of food, the environment, and human health, with her dissertation focusing on the air-quality related health impacts of US agriculture. Outside research, she is involved with several grassroots organizations to help advance local social and environmental justice.

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