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6/25/14 - University growing international opportunities

Mississippi State is playing a vital role in the global effort to end poverty and hunger, and that role is growing, the university's chief research officer said.

David Shaw, MSU's vice president for research and economic development, visited Italy earlier this month to represent the land-grant institution at an expert consultation hosted by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The forum explored creating stronger ties between the FAO and major research institutions, such as Mississippi State, to leverage mutually beneficial partnerships to tackle both international and local-level challenges, he explained.

"We have a very productive relationship with our FAO colleagues, and they understand the unlimited potential of university-led research and development," Shaw said.

"It was gratifying when Mississippi State was cited as a model for effective partnerships," he added.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum, right, and the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization Deputy Director General Daniel Gustafson signed a memorandum of understanding in early January that expands a 2010 agreement for collaborations addressing aquatic animal health, disease prevention and emergency diagnostics. PHOTO: Indro Soesilo | FAO

Earlier this year, MSU President Mark E. Keenum and FAO Deputy Director General Daniel Gustafson signed a memorandum of understanding expanding the 2010 foundation for collaborations focusing most immediately on aquatic animal health, disease prevention and emergency diagnostics, and FAO recognition of MSU as a Center for Knowledge for Aquatic Health.

Keenum, who has made global food security a priority during his tenure at MSU, noted that by the year 2050, the world's population will increase from 7 billion to 9 billion.

"If food production does not increase significantly, the number of people living in poverty will increase greatly," he said.

The state's flagship research university has widely recognized strengths in fields that support many FAO goals, including nutrition, food product development, food safety and weather risk assessment, among others. MSU is currently in discussions with FAO about assistance for assessing the impact of the organization's outreach programs.

The agreement between MSU and FAO in 2010 centered on food safety and nutrition. Other areas addressed in the original agreement include agriculture, poverty issues relating to children, and environmental sustainability.

In Rome, Shaw and counterparts from the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East discussed the FAO's strategic objectives and academia's impact on meeting food security and development challenges.

"We had very productive conversations about value-added collaboration, and I anticipate this meeting will lead to new opportunities for our faculty, as well as our student researchers," he said.

In addition to the FAO summit, Shaw and Jim West, dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Design at Mississippi State, discussed ways of integrating architecture and planning with increased food production in urban environments with Gustafson.

According to West, there is a growing recognition of the importance of urban agriculture as a means of increasing food production, as well as the growing importance of local food production and processing to a local culture and economy.

"The architectural and planning component is of interest to us because as cities grow -- and they will grow exponentially in the relatively near future -- if they are to be sustainable, cities must address the difficult issues of water, food and culturally defined quality of life issues in a holistic manner," he explained.

West cited the laws and regulations that currently limit food production in an urban environment, the new technologies that facilitate growing and harvesting smaller parcels of land, and better ways of managing storm-water runoff as examples.

Architecture and planning, along with other diverse scientific disciplines, are the keys to designing the urban ecosystem necessary to successfully address these and similar issues, he said.

West and Shaw also visited with Mississippi State art majors at the University of Arkansas Rome Center, where MSU offers a study abroad program for students.

"We are working to develop a longer-term agreement with Arkansas that would provide an annual study abroad experience for a larger group of students coming from the CAAD and other colleges on campus," West said.

Housed in a 500-year-old building in the ancient yet modern city, the program offers courses in architecture, art, interior design, humanities, fashion design, historic preservation and business. While there, MSU students receive credit hours for their coursework, visit museums and historic sites, and interact with peers and instructors from around the U.S. and the world.

"The possibilities are expansive and the benefit to students as an integral part of their education cannot be exaggerated. I believe that immersing our students into another culture and another way of looking at and thinking about art, architecture and design will provide them with a new and invaluable vantage point," West said.

"Rome is a very important part of our international outreach efforts in many areas," Shaw added.

West echoed that assessment.

"The opportunities are limitless and intellectually demanding. I think MSU is on the cusp of some very exciting work in Rome," he said.

For additional information about international initiatives and study abroad at Mississippi State, visit

Jim Laird | Public Affairs

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