Off to Africa - Central graduate leads water project

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2015 Central graduate Shana Hilgerson, far right, is part of a team of Iowa State University spending six weeks in Uganda doing projects ranging from school gardens to water management.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

While her many of classmates at Iowa State University returned home for summer jobs, Shana Hilgerson went a bit farther—8,000 miles farther.

The 2015 Central High School graduate and former Student Body President is spending several weeks in Uganda looking at ways to improve agricultural practices there. The team left from the Cedar Rapids airport on June 2 and returns to the U.S. on July 18.

Shana, daughter of Scott and Suzy Hilgerson, will be working on large projects like planting and maintaining the school gardens that produce food for students during their academic year.

“We’re also taking on individual projects like grain storage, beekeeping, poultry keeping, health and sanitation, composting, nutrition and irrigation,” Shana said. “I’m leading the irrigation project. I’m looking to improve the existing systems and making sure that everything is running and up-to-date.”

The ISU students will also be teaching classes in math, science and agriculture to students in grades 4 through 6. They will be working alongside students from their partner school, Makerere University, located in the Ugandan capitol city of Kampala.

The opportunity to go to Uganda, which Shana discovered while looking at study abroad trips in general, involved a selection process of applications and interviews. Only eight students were selected. Program of study was not a consideration. Shana is pursuing a degree in animal science but that’s not the only program represented by the group.

 “This is not a required class for my program or any other program,” Shana explained. “It exists to give students hands-on learning opportunities in a Third World country, and to assist the people there. Students who apply must be returning (to ISU) for another year because they are required to take another course in the fall to promote the trip, give presentations, and discuss how to improve the project in the coming years.”

In addition to the eight undergraduate students, the group includes five graduate students and eight professors.

Shana credits an experience from her Central days with motivating her to do the sort of work she’s undertaking this summer.

“I became involved in the global food crisis when I participated in the World Food Prize last spring,” she explained. “The World Food Prize is a program where students can get scholarships by researching a country that has issues with food security and writing an essay about the country and possible solutions before discussing it with peers and professionals at a conference. It really made me think about how lucky we are to be living in Iowa with everything we have, and it made me look to the Uganda trip a little harder. I think it’s a great idea and opportunity to get young people involved today with the issues of tomorrow, which is what the professors at Iowa State are doing with this program, and what we are doing when we go to the people of Uganda.”

To raise the $2,000 needed for personal expenses, Shana has worked odd jobs and held a huge garage sale. 

Shana isn’t quite sure how six weeks in Africa will benefit her future career. She’s just hoping the experience will give her a new perspective on world problems and how to address them.

She noted, “I would love to work in the food industry, and share my passion for animals in agriculture with the world as well as contribute to ending hunger.  Whether that be through developing better genetics and nutrition for animals to grow larger or faster, or making animals more available and productive in other regions of the world, or just trying to promote better nutrition within the country. I’ll see where the road takes me!”

Shana has promised with share her experience in a follow-up article with the Register when she returns.

Editor’s note: Do you have an interesting story you’d like to share with Register readers? If so, contact Editor Pam Reinig by email ( of by phone (563-245-1311) weekdays between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

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