Gaining global experience to tackle hunger

Stefany Naranjo using a tool to dig in garden dirt.From a young age, Stefany Naranjo knew she wanted to play an active part in the fight against hunger.

This past summer, she tackled that lofty goal through an internship in the U.S. Virgin Islands with Iowa State University’s EARTH Program.

Naranjo is a senior in global resource systems and agricultural and life sciences education at Iowa State with an option in agriculture communications.

Her internship included creating and maintaining community gardens and helping churches feed the hungry. She was also involved in a long-term National Park Service project to restore shoreline plants impacted by hurricanes. Along with helping propagate mandrakes and other hardy native species that help shelter the island’s human and wildlife inhabitants, she created lesson plans to teach island youth about the plants and their benefits.

She first became aware of serious problems with food insecurity when she was in high school in Belmond, Iowa. She started a community food drive, then she had the chance to attend the Iowa Youth Institute and later served as a group leader for the World Food Prize.

These experiences “laid the foundation for my career going forward,” says Naranjo.

Ultimately, she sees herself working in underserved communities through urban agriculture, addressing issues such as food deserts.

Naranjo was recently selected to receive an Agricultural Communications Leadership Scholarship at Iowa State, which made it possible to accept the internship on St. John’s Island. The scholarship, established by Sorrel Brown, the first woman field agronomist hired by Iowa State University Extension, provides funding so students can “choose an internship based on the quality of the experience, not the size of the paycheck.”

“This scholarship was created for outstanding, service-oriented students like Naranjo,” says Howard Tyler, assistant dean for student services in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“It has been a true joy to watch Stefany develop during her time at Iowa State,” Tyler says. “She entered our college as a first-generation transfer student in fall 2019, and despite the pandemic, the shift to remote learning and family financial challenges, she has thrived and continued to excel academically. Stefany has overcome every obstacle life has thrown at her, and is always an amazingly positive person.”

Naranjo loved her time on the island and the chance to directly impact people’s lives.

“Being there made me even more appreciative of how well things work in the United States and our easy access to basic necessities,” she says. “I’m so grateful for the Sorrel Brown scholarship and other donors and ISU faculty and staff who support students in so many ways. I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Connect. Engage. Share.

Learn more about the EARTH Program in the U.S. Virgin Islands on the program’s website. Find out how you can support students like Stefany Naranjo by connecting with Bobbi Smith, CALS senior director of development, at