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Faculty Focus: Cisneros on CALS’ International Impact

Jose Cisneros
Jose Cisneros brings a strong background to his role as CALS' international programs director.

Visit CALS International Programs online, and you’ll get an idea of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ presence around the globe. You’ll see our students visiting the Czech Republic, our researchers working in farm fields in Peru and Kenya, and delegations of scientists and agriculturists from all over the world visiting our college.

“CALS’ international presence is impressive and very diverse. We are talking about training, we are talking about students, we are talking about research, we are talking about development,” says Jose Cisneros, CALS’ international programs director. “The impact of these efforts is huge and reaches many countries in every continent.”

Cisneros has a strong background in international agriculture, having held related jobs at two universities (Michigan State and University of Missouri) before moving to North Carolina in 2013. Cisneros was born in Peru, spent part of his childhood in California, and went back to Peru where he lived during his youth. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Peru before returning to the United States to pursue graduate degrees at Michigan State University.

How is the college engaged internationally?

The college has four types of international engagement: One is research, with faculty leading a breadth of research programs in different regions. To mention a few, we have faculty engaged in solving problems of nutrition in Eastern Africa, irrigation and water quality in Egypt, and sustainable agriculture in Central America.

Another international effort is development, where our faculty members use their expertise to enhance the economic standing of poor rural communities around the world. For example, we have CALS faculty working on marketing and food safety programs in Ghana and food security and rural development programs in Haiti.

The third type of international engagement occurs through training and workshops offered to constituents from different countries − for example, Extension agents from Jamaica, government officers from Kenya and farmers from Moldova – and our CALS Global Academy is positioning us to become a center of excellence in international training.

Finally, we have CALS faculty leading study abroad programs. Currently we offer seven study abroad programs tailored to meet our students’ needs.

One of CALS’ strategic goals is to expand our international presence and program activity. Why is that important?

There are numerous reasons why it is important for CALS to expand international engagement. I will mention just some of them.

For faculty and staff, it is about leveraging their expertise and resources. When you collaborate with scientists in other research institutions. you get access to different sets of expertise and experiences, new material, equipment and funding sources; all of this creates an environment of innovation.

Another reason to expand our international engagement is that it’s the right thing to do. Our faculty and staff have the expertise, technology and knowledge to help solve the grand challenges of nutrition, food security and wellbeing; we should be doing that. And we are. We are making a huge impact.

And this is very important for our students too. We live in a globalized world; there’s a flow of products and information in both directions, in and out of the country. We have to prepare our students to be competitive, to understand external competition and external opportunities.

Finally, expanding our international engagement can help our stakeholders find new market opportunities through our extensive global network. The more global awareness we bring to the state, the better our producers understand market opportunities.

What is the college doing to expand our international presence and activities?

We have developed what I believe is the most comprehensive database of faculty international activities among all land-grant universities. The database contains key information of our faculty engaged internationally, such as their areas of expertise, countries of experience, languages they speak, the projects they are engaged in, their partners throughout the world, and funding agencies. Since this database is public and open to the world, we are helping our faculty to increase their opportunities for international collaboration.

We also started an initiative called the CALS Global Academy, where we bring international professionals to be trained in our campus and throughout the state. These are government officials, farmers and academics professionals. When they come for training, our faculty and students have the opportunity to interact with them and learn about agriculture, science and culture in their countries.

CALS has more than 60 ongoing international projects. How are these projects making a difference?

I believe our college has a huge impact around the world. For example, we have Linda Hanley-Bowdoin, Trino Ascencio-Ibañez, George Kennedy, and Ignazio Carbone working on a cassava mosaic disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Lingjuan Wang-Li is working on air quality in swine production facilities in China and Mohamed Youssef on agricultural drainage in Egypt. Craig Yencho, Zhao-Bang Zeng, Bode Olukolu and Lina Quesada are working on genomic tools for sweet potato improvement, another staple food in sub-Saharan Africa. We have David Jordan working on aflatoxin mitigation on peanuts in Ghana, Jean Ristaino developing a disease diagnostics and an early warning system for Phytopthora infestans for smallholder farmers in East Africa, and Miguel Castillo working on alternative pasture systems in the Peruvian Amazon to mitigate the effect of climate change. And these are just a few.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I think we are in a new era for international programs for CALS. Our faculty are enthusiastic about international work. We are trying to take a more holistic approach to international work: It’s about helping other countries, but it’s also about opening opportunities for our farmers, students, faculty and staff. It’s about opening new markets for our farmers. It’s about making our students more prepared for a global world and more competitive for jobs. It’s about having our faculty and staff exposed to different ways to conduct research and outreach, and leverage resources. There is great research happening right now in our labs and around the world. By helping to develop international collaboration, we are making more powerful research that can help to solve our grand challenges.