UConn student wins global food quality award

Akriti Bhattarai’s internship gave her the opportunity to work on her own research project and taught her laboratory skills. Bhattarai receieved the Elaine Szymoniak Award for her work as a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in El Batán, Mexico.  (Photograph provided by Akriti Bhattarai)

Akriti Bhattarai’s internship gave her the opportunity to work on her own research project and taught her laboratory skills. Bhattarai receieved the Elaine Szymoniak Award for her work as a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in El Batán, Mexico.  (Photograph provided by Akriti Bhattarai)

The World Food Prize Foundation, an international organization that honors individuals who improve global food quality, recently awarded first semester biological science major Akriti Bhattarai the 2017 Elaine Szymoniak Award.

“I learned I was one of the winners of the Elaine Szymoniak Award in late September this year. I got a call and an email from Lisa Fleming, the former Director of Global Education Programs for the World Food Prize Foundation, and it was one of the most surreal moments of my life,” Bhattarai said in an email. “As an intern award winner, I had the opportunity to be a part of the World Food Prize Laureate Ceremony on Oct. 19, 2017. After watching the live broadcast of the ceremony for two years, being at the capitol as they awarded the prize was exhilarating.”

Bhattarai said she won the award for her involvement as a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in El Batán, Mexico.

“I decided to apply for the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship because it would provide me with hands-on experience in research and allow me to continue to learn from world-renowned scientists,” Bhattarai said. “When I received the email in mid-March 2016 that I had been selected as a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe that it was happening until late June when I landed in Mexico and had to figure out how to apply for a visa.”

According to Bhattarai, her internship allowed her to work with Dr. Gordon Huestis and Dr. Martha Hernandez in the biotechnology lab of the Global Maize Program. They taught her laboratory skills and gave her the opportunity to work on her own project.

“My project was to verify that a crude DNA extraction method using sodium hydroxide worked and then modify it to function with a robot that completed all the pipetting steps for us, which saved time and cut down on human error,” Bhattarai said.

According to Bhattarai, she first got involved with the World Food Prize Foundation during her junior year of high school as a participant in their Global Youth Institute (GYI).

“I was looking for opportunities for internships in agriculture and food security and I came across information about GYI on the internet...I wrote a paper on the impact of access to market on food security in Nepal and submitted it to the GYI as an at-large delegate because Connecticut doesn’t have a State Institute,” Bhattarai said.

According to Bhattarai, she traveled to Iowa to attend lectures and meet with global leaders and scientists.

“I was accepted and had the opportunity to travel to Des Moines, Iowa and participate in a three day program in October where I learned more about the complex issue of global food insecurity and had the opportunity to hear from and interact with leading scientists, global leaders and Nobel and World Food Prize laureates,” Bhattarai said.

According to a press release from the World Food Prize Foundation, the Elaine Szymoniak award is named after the Iowa State Senator known for her public service and efforts to preserve the World Food Prize Foundation. The award is given to a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern who best exemplifies Szymoniak’s beliefs.  

According to Bhattarai, she plans to continue to work with the World Food Prize Foundation and to help future Global Youth Institutes participants.

“I am just incredibly honored to be one of the recipients of this award and hope to inspire more Connecticut students to think about the issue of food security in our world,” Bhattarai said. “As the global population grows, food security will continue to be a pressing issue, and students today will be the leaders of the future working to provide the world with solutions.”


Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.philipson@uconn.edu.