By Whitney Baxter
Three College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students spent their summer interning in Kosovo, putting into practice the skills they are learning in their classes and enhancing their understanding of other cultures.
Ashley Hipnar, senior in environmental science, interned with the Kosovo Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation; Natalie Young, senior in global resource systems, interned with the Kosovo Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development; and Jayna Misra, senior in environmental science and global resource systems, interned with Kosovo’s parliament, the Kosovo General Assembly.
Hipnar and Young’s internships were the second time that their respective departments hosted Iowa State University students, while Misra was the first Iowa State student to intern with the country’s parliament.
The internships were made possible by Curt Youngs, Morrill Professor of animal science and M.E. Ensminger Endowed Chair of International Animal Agriculture at Iowa State, due to connections he has made through his more than 12 years of livestock development and education work in Kosovo.
He said such opportunities offer numerous benefits.
“Students become immersed in a new culture where they are exposed to different customs, alternative viewpoints, a foreign language, new landscapes and perhaps a new religion,” Youngs said. “It gives them greater cultural awareness and global understanding.”
Promoting STEM among women
During her internship, Hipnar focused on a project to promote STEM among Kosovo women.
A challenge facing Kosovo is that once people become educated in STEM fields, they leave the country to work elsewhere.
Hipnar used her experiences in Iowa State science, technology, engineering and math-related organizations, including the Program for Women in Science and Engineering, to write about the importance of STEM programs. She also researched the biggest barriers Kosovo women face when entering STEM fields and identified potential solutions to overcome those barriers. These efforts will encourage more STEM-educated individuals to remain in Kosovo to live and work.
“The goal for the project was to bring my experiences as a woman in STEM to help build up that system,” Hipnar said.
Through the experience, Hipnar improved her ability to connect with people, especially since she was working with individuals who did not come from STEM backgrounds.
“No matter what you’re studying, you grow so much as a person and as an intern because every day is different,” Hipnar said. “I learned to become more open-minded because of this experience.”
Gaining a sense of future direction
Young worked for political advisors, assisting with an annual review of the forestry sector, attending meetings about new agricultural laws, and expanding her skills in explaining technical topics to the general public.
She said many of the core competencies required of Iowa State students majoring in global resource systems applied to her internship, including the ability to make cross-cultural connections.
For Young, it was inspiring to see how the country continues to rebuild after the war and declaring its independence.
“It was a very unique experience,” Young said. “I built a lot of great connections and had the opportunity to travel and see different parts of the country.”
Those places included several cultural sites and an Albanian music festival.
Young walked away from the internship with a better idea of what she wanted to do with her major.
“Having a diverse set of projects and experiences helped me identify the sort of work and area of study I’m interested in,” Young said.
Using connections to help others
Misra facilitated opportunities between Kosovo and non-governmental organizations during her time with Kosovo’s parliament.
One of the projects involved providing a school with access to clean water and showing the role safe water plays in students’ academic achievement.
Misra used her knowledge and connections gained at Iowa State to provide input on issues regarding drought, water and the environment. She often reached out to Iowa State faculty members she knew, asking if they could assist someone in Kosovo with an issue or provide their expertise.
“I wanted to be sure I connected people in Kosovo with the right people so projects can continue even after my internship ended,” Misra said.
One of her favorite parts about her time in Kosovo was meeting many different people. On her walks to work in the mornings, she would often chat with the various shop owners and learn about their lives.
“It was by far one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in terms of professional and personal growth,” Misra said.
Youngs hopes to continue offering these internship opportunities to Iowa State students. He is in the process of working with all three agencies to formalize internship programs for future students.
“Kosovo is the most pro-U.S. country in the world, and there are many similarities between Iowans and Kosovars,” Youngs said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the Iowa-Kosovo bond will remain strong and the internship opportunities for Iowa State undergraduate students will thrive.”