11 Land O'Lakes Emerging Leaders in a group photo in Africa

Unique yearlong internship and development program gives students an ‘experience of a lifetime’

When CSE students Rachel Anderson and Audrey Sebastian came to the University of Minnesota in fall 2015 as freshmen, they never dreamed that within two years they would be working with one of the nation’s premier agribusiness and food companies to help solve the world’s food security crisis.

They are two of only 11 university students from the Midwest who were chosen to be part of the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge Emerging Leaders for Food Security fellowship. This fellowship is offered to about a dozen students each year from select Land O’Lakes partner universities—the University of Minnesota being one of those partner universities.

“This is an experience of a lifetime,” said Anderson, a mechanical engineering student from Ferryville, Wisc.

Having grown up in a small town, Anderson knows the impact agriculture has on local families. She’s interested in expanding farming to the urban community so more families can understand its impact.

Anderson and Sebastian were chosen last fall as Land O’Lakes fellows. During the 2016-17 academic year, the students were matched with academic mentors who helped them complete assignments and explore critical food security issues during their sophomore year.

From Africa to rural America

During summer 2017, the students have been interning full time at Land O’Lakes, Inc., headquarters working on projects to improve food security and agriculture. They also traveled to key Land O’Lakes locations, including Tanzania, South Africa and rural cooperatives across America learning about the company’s farm-to-fork view of the agriculture industry.

Throughout their time in Africa, the students explored local smallholder farms and met with leaders from Land O’Lakes International Development, exploring issues in agribusiness, artificial insemination, and global supply chains. They developed an awareness for logistics of developmental assistance and have come away with motivation to solve the global food security issue.

“As a Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge Emerging Leader this year, I’ve learned the importance of understanding the intricacies of a problem before trying to help,” Sebastian said. “When we don’t, we may end up doing more harm than good.”

Sebastian is from Eden Prairie, Minn., studying mechanical engineering and sustainable agriculture. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in business and entrepreneurship.

“After visiting a Land O’Lakes International Development project, I saw firsthand an organization that does a good job of understanding farmers’ needs and local realities before stepping in,” Sebastian said. “I learned that our methods for providing development assistance must be well thought out and rooted in a deep understanding of local farmers’ lives.”

Making an impact on the future

In addition to Africa, the emerging leaders went to Washington, D.C., where they met with policymakers from their respective states. They also learned about agricultural policy and how it affects organizations such as the USDA, USAID, and The Chicago Council.

At five rural cooperatives in Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Oregon and Kansas, the students continued their journey to learn first-hand about the realities of farming from farmers and rural cooperative leaders.

Students are presenting their projects at Land O’Lakes at the end of August and will return to campus in the fall, where they will continue to serve as ambassadors for food security and the agriculture industry.

“Engineering wasn’t going to cut it for me if I didn’t find a way to help people,” Anderson said. “When I learned about the opportunity to work for a company that was already working around the world to solve current and future issues in agriculture, I felt compelled to be a part of this mission.”

For more information about how you can get involved, visit the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge Emerging Leaders for Food Security web page.


Companies interested in developing the next generation of leaders, should visit the CSE Corporate Partners web page.