A University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor of food and bioprocess engineering will be advising policymakers in the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Agency for International Development on a variety of topics related to global food systems, food processing and sanitation for food and drinking water.
Curtis L. Weller was named one of 13 Jefferson Science Fellows for 2011-12. The Jefferson Science Fellowship program was developed to strengthen science and technology capacity and literacy in the State Department. Originally supported by grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, the program is now financed by the State Department and coordinated by the National Academies. The program brings experienced, tenured scientists and engineers from American universities to the State Department or USAID for one year. They are given assignments either at headquarters in Washington, D.C., or at U.S. missions abroad.
Weller, who begins his assignment Aug. 15, researches value-added processing of agricultural commodities and physical properties determination of food and bioproducts. His work includes recovery and use of valuable lipids in grain sorghum and predicting microbial growth in meat products based on time and environmental conditions.
Weller is familiar with cereal processing in the Americas and parts of Africa and with the food processing industries in Europe, South Korea and Tajikistan. He also has worked on integrated energy and animal production facilities, water conservation projects in processing facilities and sanitary retrofit of processing equipment, the State Department pointed out.
The State Department said the UNL scientist's interest in cereal grain research and use, industry experience and familiarity with food and bioproducts would give him an excellent background to address food and water security issues.
Weller said he doesn't know yet his specific assignment, but he's looking forward to the experience.
"I'll benefit by learning and experiencing the mechanisms by which science, technology and engineering are infused into the public policy arena," he said. "Participation in the JSF program will give me additional understanding of the translation of on-campus discoveries into our global society."
Weller said he also hopes to learn more about how policy is set at the federal level "so I may know the appropriate places to interject relevant science-based scenarios."
Specific areas of focus during Weller's Jefferson Science Fellowship may include:
– development and implementation of policies on sustainable global food systems, food processing for the benefit of consumer health, food safety for food security, and agricultural trade;
– enhancement of outreach and communication efforts of public-private partnerships involving US and foreign universities, professional scientific and engineering societies, NGOs and the wider development community, USAID Missions, Offices and Bureaus, CGIAR Centers, and USDA scientists about global research and innovation activities;
– continuing development of the global research strategy for the Feed the Future Initiative; and
– development and implementation of policies on drinking water and sanitation, water resources management, water productivity, and water and conflict.
Jefferson Science Fellows return to their academic careers following their State Department or USAID assignments but remain available to the U.S. government as expert consultants for short-term projects over the following five years. Successful candidates are selected on the basis of their scientific achievements, articulation and communication skills, and their interest in science policy issues.
With the JSF experience, Weller hopes to help mentor junior faculty and administrators about engagement with the State Department and USAID.
"I will share strategies on ways to increase and improve understanding among policymakers of complex, cutting-edge scientific issues and their possible impacts on U.S. foreign policy and international relations with students in undergraduate and graduate seminars," Weller said. "My ideas will also be shared within my professional communities through interactions with their leaders and governing boards. The public will benefit from my participation through meaningful thoughts and actions incorporated into communications regarding new technology and breakthroughs from my research program and collaborations."
Weller received bachelor's and master's degrees in food science and his Ph.D in agricultural engineering, all from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.