Six HTHS Students Named Borlaug Scholars at NJ Youth Institute

(Secaucus, NJ––May 17, 2020) Six students from the Academy of Environmental Science and Sustainability at HTHS were named Borlaug Scholars after presenting their research findings on global food security issues at the New Jersey Youth Institute World Food Prize held at Rutgers-New Brunswick this past March, announced Dr. Joseph A. Giammarella, Principal at High Tech High School.

The road to being named a Borlaug Scholar for these six students––seniors Fiona Benzhani, Kate Neal, Alfonse Sessa, and Diane Zaragoza, along with juniors Roxolana Hreb and Rimsha Reem––began in November, when they each selected a nation where food security is an issue. Each student then researched the underlying issues leading to food security in this nation and proposed relevant solutions to reducing food insecurity in this part of the world. Over the course of the school year, the students worked with their HTHS instructors, Cathy Yuhas, Shelly Witham, and Dominique Otiepka who helped them conduct research, construct academic papers, and prepare their presentations for the NJ Youth Institute World Food Summit.

The virtual event took place in early March, 2020, and was coordinated by Rutgers-New Brunswich, bringing together students from New Jersey, New York, and Delaware to learn from policy experts in education and food security, including New Jersey’s First Lady Tammy Murphy. Students then shared their own findings with judges and peers. At the conclusion of the presentations and proceedings, the students were officially named Borlaug Scholars.

The six scholars now qualify to participate in the Global Youth Institute held annually in Des Moines, Iowa; they are also eligible for Borlaug-Ruan International Internships and USDA Wallace-Carver Fellowships. Borlaug-Ruan International Internships are eight-week, paid internships that allow students to visit research centers in Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Middle East, to conduct hands-on research on food insecurity. The USDA Wallace-Carver Fellowships allow students to participate in paid research in USDA research lab, agency, or the Washington D.C. headquarters. In addition, the fellows will participate in a week-long leadership experience hosted by the Secretary of Agriculture.

The experience provided these young folks a unique opportunity to network on a professional level with like-minded peers and leading scholars in relevant fields.

HTHS Senior Fiona Bezhani said, "Talking to both the panel experts as well as fellow Borlaug Scholars made for an incredible experience and helped me see the country, it's problems, and potential solutions, which I spent so long researching, in a new light."

This sentiment was echoed by senior Alfonse Sessa who added, "Being able to hear from different experts and leaders on the issue of food insecurity allowed me to gain valuable knowledge, as well as providing me with the opportunity to be a part of something greater than myself for years to come."

You can learn more about the World Food Prize Organization, and even Dr. Borlaug himself, by visiting

Leave a Reply

Scroll to top