By Aimee Nielson

Together with the World Food Prize Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture selected a University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Food and Environment student as one of 29 USDA Wallace-Carver Fellows.

As part of the program, Fabian Leon, UK junior majoring in agricultural and medical biotechnology, was stationed at the USDA Agricultural Research Service station in Ames, Iowa, over the summer. He had the opportunity to collaborate with world-renowned scientists and policymakers during the paid internship.

“The Wallace-Carver Fellows program provides the opportunity for some of the most highly motivated young college students in America to have hands-on experiences working with leading USDA research scientists and to be inspired to pursue careers and future leadership positions in food and agricultural science,” said Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation and former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia.

Leon is a Nicholasville native, however his family’s farm is located in Mexico near La Piedad, Michoacán. While he didn’t grow up on the farm, he said he has an inborn fondness for agriculture. He became familiar with the World Food Prize Foundation while he was in high school by participating in the foundation’s Global Youth Institute. Because of that, Leon was able to apply for two internship programs, and he was selected as a Borlaug-Ruan intern in 2015. He spent the following summer in Lima, Peru, where he researched sweet potato viruses.

“Through the World Food Prize, I have been able to work alongside the scientists and policymakers at the USDA who steer American agriculture,” Leon said. “I have also been able to do my part in advancing the National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment’s research programs by doing the day-to-day lab and field research.”

During his tenure as secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack and Quinn created the Wallace-Carver Fellowship to inspire the next generation of American scientific, agricultural and humanitarian leaders. Over the past six years, 185 students have gone through the program.

The fellowship culminates in a week-long, high-level leadership symposium at the USDA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., hosted by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. During the week, the fellows will participate in a series of high-level briefings, tours and discussions around Washington, D.C., with key government officials as well as congressional and humanitarian leaders engaged in the fight against hunger.

Leon will return to UK this fall for his junior year. He is already looking forward to the future and plans to pursue a doctorate in plant and soil sciences and continue to work as a researcher.

“I want to help solve the issues our population faces with food security,” he said.