Meet Ilse Huerta Arredondo, Ag Extension and Education Ph.D. Student
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
Researcher, mother and wife, Ilse, is committed to helping the Hispanic/Latinx farmers and making agriculture easier and accessible to everyone.
Ilse Huerta Arredondo is a Ph.D. candidate in Agricultural and Extension Education (AEE) with dual-degree in International Agriculture and Development (INTAD) at Penn State University (PSU). For her dissertation, she's studying the relationship between Hispanic/Latinx farmers, aspiring farmers, and operators in Pennsylvania and Penn State Extension.
"Basically, my project's objective is to provide information that could help improve Extension programming for the Hispanic/Latinx farming group."
Ilse also collaborates in a project related to the labor shortage in the mushroom industry in Pennsylvania, where she helps with data collection (interviews with mushroom workers) and analysis.
Additionally, she is a co-founder and co-chair of a faculty and extension educators' committee that have an interest in providing research, teaching, and outreach for Hispanic/Latinx agriculturalists (farmers, farm-workers and their families). This committee's goal is to create a network that enhances the ability of Hispanics/Latinxs to earn a sustainable livelihood and obtain a high quality of life in the Pennsylvania agriculture industry.
"Agriculture was always part of my life, I just had never considered it for a career. I was convinced that I was going to be a lawyer. But when it was time to go to college, I felt like I was not ready to take that route. Instead, I ended up completing a degree in agronomy."
Ilse grew up surrounded by agricultural land; her family sold agricultural machinery, and her partner was a farmer in Mexico. In her earlier years, she looked for a career path where she could work outdoors and do something good for the community, and so she thought "what better than help in feeding the world!". With all these factors into account, she was suddenly motivated to study agronomy at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico.
She discovered her interest in research as a sophomore student when a plant pathology professor invited her to participate on a summer research program at the University of Guanajuato. Also, during her undergraduate program, she had the opportunity of visiting Penn State as an intern and help with research projects at the Plant Pathology and the Horticulture departments.
"I was very lucky to get there (PSU) and work with awesome professors like Dr. Bill Lamont, Dr. Mike Orzolek and Dr. Beth Gugino. I gained experience with field and laboratory research and decided to attend graduate school."
Ilse went to grad school at PSU and completed her M.S. in Plant Pathology with Dr. Gugino, working on tomato late blight. After graduation, she went back to Mexico where she worked for almost 2 years at the University of Guanajuato as a plant pathology instructor and as an academic outreach coordinator. While working in Mexico, she decided she wanted to go back to school for a Ph.D. program to become a professor and not only teach but do research and collaborate with extension/outreach programs in the future.
Being an international student can be a very challenging experience. Ilse expressed how taking classes in her non-native language and getting familiar with different cultures (including graduate school) was a slow, hard but stimulating process.
" It took me at least one semester to overcome the language and cultural barrier in the classroom, to understand the expectations, to accept that I was as intellectually capable as my classmates and that I deserved to be there. Actually, these are feelings that often come and go during graduate school and are not particular of international students, but they do hit many of us."
Ilse also talks about how being a wife and a mother brings additional responsibilities and priorities. She mentioned how there are some times where being responsible translates into staying awake late at nights to work. She highlights that organization is essential for accomplishing all things, personal and professional, responsibly.
"Looking back, I wouldn't do things differently. I appreciate that my husband is very supportive and that our daughter is, hopefully, learning some important lessons."
During 2017, Ilse was chosen to represent PSU in the World Food Prize where she had the chance to interact with many world agricultural leaders. In this event, Ilse was able to network with leaders especially from Mexico and Latin America since that is where she would like to work in the future. Ilse described this as an empowering experience.
Some of the things that Ilse expressed she wished she knew when she started her journey was the importance or networking and volunteering.
"Never underestimate the power of networking. Participating and volunteering open a lot of doors. Any opportunity is an excellent opportunity to learn, so nothing is a failure."
Outside of work, Ilse expressed she loves playing with her daughter. She also talked about how much she enjoys farming whenever she has time. For instance, she likes to visit the research plots her husband manages and works with him at the farm in Mexico whenever is possible. Also, Ilse enjoys reading and playing volleyball.
In terms of work, Ilse loves teaching, doing outreach work, and conducting research that may have a positive impact on the community. With that being said, she would like to find a job that allows her to do all (or most) of these things previously mentioned. Ilse wishes to run an agricultural program that will have a positive impact on the community, especially the youth and the elder. She also wants to run a small farm in the future and travel to many countries.
"I like to think of my life as a whole, not splitting work and personal life. So, whatever I do for a living must be something that matches with my personal life and lifestyle."
To all the young female students out there, Ilse advised that it's very important to always dream big and be passionate. She advised for people to be committed to themselves first, to their loved ones second and to their other responsibilities third. She also mentioned the importance of being open to receiving and giving help.
"Keep your heart and arms open to help. Providing help not only supports the other person, it makes your spirit bigger, and it can even open unimaginable opportunities for you."
Ilse talked about the importance of highlighting minority women in agricultural sciences, especially in the US (where she currently works). She mentioned how the involvement of women in the agriculture industry in the US is growing not only in in numbers, but also in increased roles and responsibilities; however, that the image of American agriculture is still very traditional and represented by white male farmers. Ilse expressed how, therefore, minority women are challenged in being recognized and supported as part of the agricultural system in the US.
"That is why highlighting our work the way you (WAGS) do helps to provide awareness of our presence and encourage more women to take on these roles. Also, it allows readers to take a peek at our work and identify other important factors of the food system."
Ilse highlights how many women she's surrounded by like her mother, sisters, other women in her family, coworkers and mentors have inspired her and contributed positively to her life. She described how these women have different attributes like a sense of humor, resilience, intelligence, motivation, energy, and empathy that she highly admires. She also mentioned how she has learned so much from her little daughter, who is funny and has a great heart.
"I do not have a single role model, but I recognize that I'm surrounded by powerful females that have improved my life, and I'm grateful for them."
Ilse wished to give a special shout out to the Hispanic/Latinx committee at Penn State. This group is composed entirely by females and several minoritiy persons. "The team was initially composed by Emma Rosenthal, Maria Gorgo-Gourovitch, Tara Baugher, Kathy Sexsmith, Carolee Bull, Elsa Sanchez, Melanie Miller-Foster, Lee Stivers, and myself. We thank that others are joining us."
You can contact Ilse through email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.