2017 RIFA Fellows Conference

Gathering RIFA alumni and current 2017 Fellows together for insights into international development practices.

Participants from the 2017 RIFA Conference pose for a group photo.
Participants from the 2017 RIFA Conference pose for a group photo.

Participants from the 2017 RIFA Conference pose for a group photo.

Participants from the 2017 RIFA Conference pose for a group photo.

In early April, 41 University of California graduate students spent the day preparing for their international projects at the 3rd annual Research and Innovation Fellowship for Agriculture (RIFA) conference at UC Davis. RIFA fellows from UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis mingled with Global Development Fellows (GDF) from UC Berkeley and enjoyed a discussion panel, poster presentations, technical break out groups and networking with alumni fellows. The RIFA program, funded by GFI and USAID, offers early-career professionals enrolled in agricultural and development-oriented graduate programs at the University of California the opportunity to plan and implement two to six-month-long international projects. RIFA connects motivated students with unique skill sets to project opportunities that have been developed in collaboration with UC faculty or staff. By working with faculty and UC programs to identify in-country hosts, we aim to offer projects that integrate RIFA into the UC landscape and build long-lasting relationships that enhance the UC’s global impact.

The conference encouraged students to begin thinking deeply about their project goals, methods of research and the logistical difficulties they will face abroad. Fellows will be working across the world: seven in Central America, ten in South America, eight in East Africa, three in West Africa, one in South Africa, seven in Southeast Asia, and five in South Asia. Most fellows will be conducting biophysical or social research, while others will be engaged in capacity building, data analysis, monitoring and evaluation, or technical trainings. This year’s fellows are diverse in their experience and programs of study, which include international development, environmental engineering, geography, data science, environmental studies, plant pathology and more. Many of the fellows will depart this summer and return for school in the fall, while some will remain abroad until the end of the year.

The alumni fellows who attended the conference presented their research posters, sat on an informational panel and gave advice and insight to new fellows. During the poster presentations, Leah Puro spoke about her project in rural Vietnam that evaluated the effectiveness of grass strip hedgerows in cassava fields in reducing soil erosion and increasing yields. Presenter Elizabeth Hohenberger shared her conclusions from her RIFA project in Zambia, in which she evaluated the effects of a USAID Feed the Future program on women’s participation in household decision-making. For the informational panel, alumni fellows from UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley spoke about their experiences, as well as answered questions about getting medical help abroad, working with in-country partners and defining the scope of a project.

The conference’s keynote speaker Joanna Regulska, the Vice Provost and Associate Chancellor of UC Davis Global Affairs, asked students to return to their campuses with stories of their work and their adventures, not only to spread awareness of the valuable contributions they have made, but also to strengthen and reinforce their relationships with their global partners. We look forward to sharing these exceptional students’ experiences and impacts across the globe, as they apply their skills to major development challenges and proudly represent the University of California abroad.


Profile written by Kate Wilkins.