The International Agriculture Fund

The International Agriculture Fund focuses on providing opportunities for students to solve international problems.

By Adam McLain

The International Agricultural Fund is a fund that helps students who have an interest in international agriculture. A generous donor created the fund to give more students opportunities to focus on international issues. The following three recipients—Austin Ulmer, Ben Hawkins, and Alex Carroll—have all benefited greatly from this fund, each using it to supplement their tuition payments, and they are very grateful for the people that have donated to the College of Life Sciences.

The International Agricultural Fund is a fund that helps students who have an interest in international agriculture

Austin Ulmer: Knowing “Where to Give”

Growing up on a farm in California, Austin Ulmer, 25, always had an affinity for soil and agriculture. His farming upbringing would ultimately lead him to achieve a bachelor’s degree in environmental science ('13) from BYU, pursue a master’s degree in environmental science (graduating August 2015), and then apply to graduate programs around the United States.

Living on a farm and studying environmental science has given Ulmer the ability to see both sides of problems that affect agriculture nationally and internationally. Because of his relationships with farmers, Ulmer knows the type of people who spend their entire lives producing food for people. In his university studies, Ulmer has learned what humans do can sometimes negatively affect the environment, even if that negative effect is unintentional. Ulmer said that he now knows “where to give,” meaning he can now comprehend when to apply the things in his studies and when to apply his knowledge of practical farming.

To explain this concept, he gave an example of everyone quitting farming and gathering food from the earth instead. This tactic would be unfeasible because humans couldn’t gather enough food to feed everyone. However, humans can’t only farm. There has to be a balance between the two: a balance that Ulmer has learned and will utilize in his future endeavors and studies.

Knowing where to compromise has become a key idea in Ulmer’s life. His current research gives back to people in South America. Working with archaeologists in Belize and Guatemala, Ulmer has helped farmers discover where ancient civilizations planted crops in the jungles to feed thousands, if not millions, of people. These former civilizations were able to use the jungle to their advantage, and Ulmer is using this rediscovered knowledge to benefit the current residents.

This international experience, Ulmer feels, helped him receive funding from the International Agricultural Fund during his undergraduate years. When he got married, Ulmer had to take a full-time night job, while being a full-time student, in order to make ends meet. He said he would “work from ten at night until six in the morning, go home, sleep three hours, then go to classes.” He did this for nine straight months. “Getting a scholarship made my life a lot easier,” Ulmer said, the gratitude showing in the smile on his face.

Ben Hawkins: Mentored Along the Way

Ben Hawkins, 26 (BS '14), wouldn’t be where he is today without the personal care and mentoring from the faculty in the Plant and Wildlife Sciences department. Hawkins feels that everything he has done so far—from getting scholarships and getting experience to getting into law school—is because of the mentoring from a specific faculty member in the department.

Hawkins entered Dr. Richard Terry’s PWS 150: Environmental Science class not really caring about school or investing himself in it. He enjoyed the environmental science class, though, and began investing himself more in his studies, even declaring his major as environmental science. After class one day, Terry took him aside and offered him a job. Terry continued to advise and mentor Hawkins during his undergrad career, working with Hawkins on agricultural projects in the Yucatán Peninsula.

“I credit [Dr. Terry] with a lot . . . because . . . he took me aside after class. That’s the other reason I stayed in environmental science, too. I felt like I belonged there because Dr. Terry [and the other professors] were very friendly,” Hawkins said of his experience as an undergrad.

Hawkins is grateful for his scholarships. Thanks to them, he made it through BYU and will be graduating from the University of Arizona law school with no debt. He believes this will then help him give back to the world. Instead of having  to take on a job that pays a lot of money in order to pay back loans, he said he would be able to work “any job that comes across the table,” and one that he would be able to “make the best difference” in. Hawkins said he would ultimately like to “work for a firm or a corporation dealing with environmental law,” leaving his career options open as he finishes his J.D.

Alex Carroll: Helping Internationally

Alex Carroll (BS '13) served his mission in Boston, Massachusetts—Haitian Creole speaking. After Carroll returned from his mission, a magnitude 7 earthquake struck the island of Haiti, affecting an estimated three million people. Dr. Warner Woodworth, a former professor at BYU, reacted to this catastrophe by forming Sustain Haiti, a nongovernmental organization that aids the people of Haiti in developing agriculture and community health, caring for orphans, creating enterprise and business, and learning English. In need of people that spoke Haitian Creole, Woodworth sought out and found Carroll through campus advertising.

Helping in Haiti with nonprofit agricultural environment projects gave Carroll the desire to serve internationally, leading him to minor in international development and French so he could have a broader skill set. Carroll would love to have a job that has social impact, being able to reduce poverty and make people’s lives better.

Carroll recognizes that not a lot of the students in the Plant and Wildlife Sciences department are involved in and interested in international agriculture. Carroll said that he would love to give back to the university by encouraging “students who are wanting to go into that field and [giving] them ideas and even [talking] to them” about it.