By Amber Friedrichsen
Passion. That is the word Sofia Fernandez would use to describe her affinity for helping people in need. This fire for putting others first has resulted in her being selected for the spring 2023 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Council Distinguished Service Award.
Growing up in Quincy, Illinois, Fernandez, a graduating senior in global resource systems and agricultural studies, frequently volunteered in her community. It wasn’t until she discovered the global resource systems major at Iowa State University after her first semester of college as a biology student that she realized she could incorporate similar service values into her education.
“Global resource systems fits me so well,” Fernandez said. “A big part of the major is serving others and creating sustainable systems with the world’s limited resources.”
She explored several subjects before declaring agricultural studies as her focus area because of its all-encompassing curriculum. Instead of delving into specific aspects of agriculture, Fernandez likes learning how each moving part makes up the bigger picture of production.
Shortly after she switched majors, Fernandez was accepted to the Iowa State University—Uganda Program (ISU-UP) in Kampala, Uganda. Her study abroad experience was delayed two years due to COVID-19, but she finally got to travel to the east African country in the summer of 2022. There, she worked in primary school classrooms and school gardens to teach children about agriculture and help them plant, manage and harvest crops used to make school lunches.
While in Uganda, Fernandez also completed the international internship that is required of global resource systems students. In between service learning activities, she met with members of Food and Nutrition Security Support Groups created by ISU-UP. This program provides education and resources to local small-holder farmers to improve their food production practices and benefit their livelihoods overall. The majority of the participants are female, with only about 3% of participants being male.
“My goal was to gather research and come up with solutions to show them that it is important for both parents of a family to be involved in the support groups, not only for their own sake, but for their children’s sake,” Fernandez said. “It was surreal to engage with these people and create relationships with them, knowing they were trusting me.”
Another experience Fernandez anticipated since freshman year was taking AGEDS 450: Farm Management and Operation at the Ag 450 Farm. She enrolled in the course this spring and joined the farm’s Customs and Swine Committee. Fernandez was also elected president of the class shortly after the start of the semester.
As president, she organizes business meetings and guides discussions about farming endeavors. Marketing grain and preparing for planting season are the main orders of business this time of year, and Fernandez believes encouraging input from her peers on these topics is the best way to ensure the class is inclusive and productive.
“It’s really important to provide other students with this information so we can all be a part of making decisions together,” Fernandez said.
In addition to her service at the Ag 450 Farm and overseas, Fernandez has raised money for local and state organizations as a member of her sorority. These include the Lutheran Services of Iowa and the Special Olympics of Iowa.
Catherine Swoboda, associate teaching professor in global resource systems, said Fernandez’s generous spirit is a testament to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ mission to enhance the quality of life of people in Iowa and around the world.
“Throughout her time in college, Sofia’s character and work ethic have shined across her academic and personal activities,” Swoboda said. “Her commitment to service reflects her passion for agriculture and helping others.”
This passion will not be put out upon graduation. Fernandez will return to Iowa State in the fall to pursue a graduate degree with a focus in agricultural outreach and extension. As a part of this program, she will travel back and forth to Uganda to continue her work at ISU-UP, which is exactly where she wants to be.
“I was offered this opportunity and I couldn’t pass it up because I feel like my time is not finished here at Iowa State,” Fernandez said. “I feel like this is the perfect next step for me.”