Masters candidate Mindy Spyker receives Borlaug Fellowship for research in Tanzania

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“My practice is ­­research and program development,” said USF College of Public Health student Mindy Spyker. “My passion is for strong families and full bellies.”

Spyker’s passion is reflected in her recent U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security graduate research grant for next year.

Mindy Spyker

Mindy Spyker

According to the organization’s website, Borlaug research grants are awarded competitively by the United States Agency for International Development to students who demonstrate a strong scientific foundation and leadership potential as a part of the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative called, “Feed the Future.” With this grant, Spyker says she hopes to identify the linkages between women’s empowerment in agricultural activities and child health and nutrition by researching food security and gender empowerment in Tanzania.

Originally from Tallahassee, Fla., Spyker said she inherited a spirit of concern and compassion from her mother and her mother’s work through the Women, Infants and Children program, commonly known as WIC.

She said, “If having a love of public health is even a little bit inheritable, then I am here because of my mother.”

Spyker received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Emory University and then came to USF for her Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in global health.

Spyker entered the USF COPH program with many goals and said she has been grateful for the flexibility of the program. She credits the program for allowing her to conduct research with faculty, represent COPH at regional conferences and work in the university.

On top of that, she plans to be able to complete all of her required coursework in just three semesters.

“I have found in this program the freedom to make decisions, the wisdom and support of faculty, and academic opportunities much grander than the ones I came looking to find,” she said.

She said she originally came into public health with only a vague interest in global maternal and child health but was inspired and challenged by Dr. William Sappenfield, who taught her first class in maternal and child health and who, she said, “demonstrated the true heart and character of USF.” Sappenfield runs the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies, and specializes in maternal and infant health.

Her main interests have since changed, but her passion hasn’t wavered. Now, she has particular interests in both gender equality and inequality and household nutrition, particularly sociopolitical causes of malnutrition.

“I feel very lucky to be able to combine these two interests in my Borlaug research grant next year,” she said.

Spyker says that USF’s Dr. Jennifer Marshall, who specializes in child health and development and community based research, encouraged her to develop her own project and to apply for the Borlaug Fellows grant. Spyker first met Marshall in late fall of 2014, when Spyker got involved with Marshall’s research on community sustainability.

“Her support and belief in me has made this possible,” she said.

While Spyker said she’s not sure what her next step is, she has had a long-term dream of working with USAID or the World Health Organization. Whatever it may be, Spyker said she is waiting to see what the future holds.

“It usually has a good way of working out and offering good surprises for those who are willing to search, apply and go for it,” she said.


Story by AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley, College of Public Health