September 19, 2019
Purdue student aims to make world, food safer on prestigious national security fellowship
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Safer food and a safer world are inseparable goals for Purdue University student Margaret Hegwood. A master’s degree candidate in biological engineering, Hegwood is in Kenya this month on a prestigious Boren Fellowship for national security and strategic language studies.
Hegwood received the fellowship based on an ambitious plan she proposed to the United States government for learning the Swahili language while continuing her research on beneficial, culturally appropriate adaptation of food-processing technology for Kenya’s maize and peanut crops. She sees a strong connection between a country’s food supply chain and its social and economic stability.
“Hungry people are angry people,” said Hegwood, who is from South Windsor, Connecticut.
She will travel to the city of Eldoret for a semester of work in university laboratories and in the field, where the country grows, develops and brings to market products that help sustain farmers and whole sectors of the economy. Work in these areas also assists in offering good nutrition for Kenya’s entire population.
The Boren Fellowship advances Hegwood’s big-picture view of a career, as well as her contributions to an African country she has already visited twice. Boren Fellowships recognize that language learning is indeed a strategic skill with significant implications for U.S. national security.
Hegwood hopes to become a globally competent biological engineer, while helping to enhance Kenya’s infrastructure for healthful foods. Additionally, her work will assist the U.S. in maintaining positive foreign relations.
“This is a nice intersection of all those things,” Hegwood said, adding that she has wanted to develop a fluency in Swahili, which is a unifying force among Kenya’s diverse populations.
The U.S. Department of Defense, which provides the Boren fellowships, has approved Hegwood’s four-month plan. It combines intensive language studies with work on her master’s thesis.
That research aims to optimize food processing in order to reduce risks from components called anti-nutrients and aflatoxins, which are carcinogenic compounds made by molds. The precautions are particularly important when product storage facilities may not always maintain safe temperatures and other conditions, Hegwood says.
In return for the fellowship aid, she will serve as an employee of the U.S. government for at least one year, using the language skills or international knowledge she gains overseas. Hegwood anticipates receiving her master’s degree in 2020 upon completion of her five-year program of combined undergraduate and graduate study.
She is double enrolled in the College of Agriculture, studying economics and policies undergirding the U.S. food distribution system, and in the College of Engineering. Hegwood holds a graduate assistantship with the College of Engineering’s Global Engineering Programs and Partnerships, and has already interned this year with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Belgium.
“The staff at GEPP have been really helpful with connections regarding what it means to be a global engineer,” Hegwood said.
Hegwood worked closely with Purdue’s National and International Scholarships Office for her Boren Fellowship application. NISO helps lift students into extraordinary and prestigious programs, like the Boren Awards.
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