Recent CALS graduate Patricia Paskov wasted no time discovering UW’s vast array of undergraduate opportunities when she started college in 2011. Seven months into her freshman year, she participated in a service-learning spring break in south Texas that opened her eyes to problems of food insecurity here in the U.S. As a senior, Paskov conducted a self-directed research project on how women’s empowerment affects household food security in rural areas of Mexico’s central valley.
“I had never thought about how food was grown or what it was like to not have it,” she says. “Learning that farmers themselves are the people most affected by food insecurity made no sense to me.”
For that project, Paskov spent three weeks last winter break surveying 100 rural households in Oaxaca to parse the factors that enable families – especially female-headed ones – to keep enough food on the table. Many low-income, rural families practice subsistence agriculture, but they also have lost their men to the fields of California’s central valley.
The women whose families fare the best are the ones who have assets like land, livestock and access to credit, but they also participate in production, and hold leadership roles in their communities and decision-making power within their households, Paskov found. “This is what we mean by women’s empowerment.”
After her service-learning trip to Texas her freshman year, Paskov pursued her interest in food systems, spending the following summer working on organic farms in California. “Those farmers are passionate about food and sustainable agriculture, but I found myself more drawn to policy questions,” she says, an interest that led her to the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics during her sophomore year.
The following spring, during a semester abroad in Lima, Peru, Paskov interned with an organization launching a food security observatory. During yet another study abroad semester in Bangkok, “I was involved in a rural policy competition and presented a sustainable agricultural policy proposal for Thai rice farmers. My team and I won first place.”
These international experiences, coupled with her AAE courses, have fired Paskov’s desire to work on the ground in international development and food security before applying to graduate programs. “I’d like to eventually work for the FAO or a similar organization,” says Paskov. Paskov cites the rich undergraduate offerings in development and environmental economics in AAE, along with her research work with Jennifer Alix-Garcia, as key factors that helped shape her goals.
She graduated in May 2015 with a double major in AAE and Latin American studies, as well as AAE’s new Development Certificate. Paskov recently accepted a Research Associate position with Innovations for Poverty Action in Peru. She’ll lead field work in Cuzco and Arequipa to evaluate the impact of two programs, one to decrease school drop-out rates and a second to increase local decision-making in extractive industries.
Alix-Garcia says, “Patricia represents everything that we hope our undergraduates will be: smart, thoughtful, driven by social justice, and possessed of boundless energy. I have no doubt she will make a positive difference in the world.”