Former student plants seeds for growth, sustainability

When Val Schull conducted graduate study at Purdue, first for their master’s degree and then a doctorate in agricultural and biological engineering, they were encouraged by their advisor, Dr. Margaret Gitau, to think creatively and to be a problem solver. Val applied that advice not only to their graduate work in water quality modeling and sustainable farm research, but also to helping others on campus learn about food production and have access to culturally important foods.

Val SchullVal became connected to the Latino Cultural Center (LCC) through their involvement in the Latinx Graduate Student Organization (LGSO). “The LGSO, as well as the staff at the LCC, provided a strong network while I was at Purdue,” Val says. “I always looked forward to National Latinx/e Heritage Month celebrations, as the LCC presented speakers and events that really demonstrated the complexity and diversity of the Latinx/e community. As a queer and nonbinary Latinx person, it has been great to see the LCC collaborate with the cultural centers on campus to bring programs that demonstrate how the Latinx/e community is not a monolith.”

Val was a leader in creating the LCC’s Jardin Semillas, an on-campus community garden. “One of my roles involved making connections with students interested in gardening and urban agriculture, as well as campus partners who had similar initiatives,” Val says. “Our connection with the Purdue Student Farm brought students who were interested in sustainable agriculture and food justice together, and also helped us develop partnerships with faculty and staff members in the College of Agriculture.”

Quote 1Val stresses that the creation of Jardin Semillas was a collaborative effort that started with three graduate students and grew into a community coming together to make the garden a reality. “Jardin Semillas not only helped provide accessible, local fresh vegetables, but also coincided with the LCC's pop-up pantry in collaboration with ACE Food Pantry,” Val says.  “When planning the garden, we worked to ensure that the vegetables harvested could be used to prepare culturally-important foods. This provided students opportunities to learn, as well as share recipes for a variety of dishes.”

Val has been particularly gratified to see students engage with Jardin Semillas and want to learn more about food sovereignty and agriculture. “Jardin Semillas is a hands-on educational experience for students to learn not just about food production and sustainable irrigation, but also what it means to be connected and having access to culturally-important foods in a food apartheid,” Val says. “It has been exciting to see that Jardin Semillas has become an important part of the LCC, and how the community has come together to transform the space to meet its needs.

quote 2Val completed their PhD in August 2021 and is now a Research and Outreach Specialist for the New York Water Resources Institute at Cornell University. Val’s goal is to continue to do research while empowering students from marginalized communities who have interest in water quality modeling and sustainable farming research. Val also enjoys gardening and training for competitive powerlifting. Lifting tremendous weight in one smooth motion isn’t unlike completing a PhD, they say: “Results take time. You need to prepare. You need a lot of practice and guidance, and a support network to motivate you.”