As an ISP Scholar, Susan Ogwal is appointed with the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, Juliana Stratton. Her work is significant in amplifying the voices that are most challenged by food insecurities around our state.. Susan shared some thoughts with me about the ISP program, and her work so far.
Why did you apply for the Illini Science Policy Program?
I applied to the ISP Program because I was interested in policy work.
Tell us a bit about what you hope to accomplish as a result of being a 2022 Scholar.
I hope to learn more about the policy field and its connection to education, and the communities we serve. Often times, even in our various expertise, we don’t always get to travel to learn about, explore and really hear what many Illinois residents are saying. So, through this work, I hope to discover what really challenges the residents and how I can help be part of the solution. I also hope to learn more about various, diverse communities.
Tell us a bit about the project you are working on for your host agency.
Alongside our Policy Director, Bobby Mannis, I am part of the Agriculture Equity & Food Insecurity team. We are assisting Lt. Governor Stratton in launching the Agricultural Equity & Food insecurity initiative. Our strategy aims to advance and expand education, career pathways, diversity in leadership, funding, and health as it relates to these two topics. In doing so, you will find us traveling around the state to visit local communities and organizations, hosting listening sessions, and connecting state legislators to make state resources more accessible to the people who need them most.
Tell us a bit about the project you are working with your Extension Mentor?
With the leadership of my Extension Mentor, Anne Silvis, I developed a Poverty Simulation Workshop Action Plan guide. In addition, we are carrying out a case study regarding the use of the Action Plan guide this Spring.
What makes the work you are doing as an ISP Scholar meaningful to you?,
The work I do for the Lt. Governor is very meaningful to me in a couple of ways. First, to work for someone, in the 2nd highest governmental office, who looks like me, is an honor. This is a rare occasion and I don’t take this experience lightly. I get to witness first-hand her love for IL residents and her passion to see vulnerable communities lifted up. Second, the collaborative environment work affords me the space of being with members that value and support each other while providing for innovative and new ideas. The work with Illinois Extension is meaningful to me as I get to grow in organizational development and systems. Seeing the tremendous outreach efforts by Extension for local communities, I cannot emphasize enough, how critical it is for universities and educational institutions to care about their surrounding residents.
What is one thing that you have learned since becoming an ISP Scholar that has made an impression on your transition from graduate student to career individual?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is to know and appreciate my worth. Sometimes as grad students, we absorb such a humility about ourselves that when companies or organizations see the dynamic contributions we have, we still shy away. This transition has taught me to stand up and be proud of who I am and what I have to give. There is a world of opportunity waiting for us to say yes!
Why is/are the issue(s) important to the communities with which you are working?
The issues are important because they hit at the heart of what many households have gone through. Especially in these last few years, having access to good, nutritionally dense and culturally relevant food is critical for everyday living. Along with that, more career and education pathways open doors for many people to afford a better life for themselves and their family.
Who is impacted by the issue(s) you are working on?
There is a range of the people who are impacted by our work. From persons living in rural areas, low-income and urban neighborhoods, single family households, women, children, to those who are homeless, as well as socially disadvantaged groups - all these are groups are impacted. Most recently, there is also an increase of those who don’t meet SNAP benefit qualifications due to “just above income”.
What is the most unexpected thing about this program so far?
The most unexpected thing for me is how long the pandemic has impacted the program and our lives. Although remote and hybrid work has kept us safe, there are moments I miss the face-to-face aspect of being around my co-workers or meeting up with my fellow ISP colleagues.
If you could do one thing through this program and think “Wow, I did that,” what would you like it to be?
I want to inspire people to see themselves beyond traditional graduate education and take a chance at the avenue of policy work. That is, to be able to reach back and help someone take a similar moment, try the ISP program, and as a result, their life is enriched for the better.
The Illini Science Policy Program is supported by University of Illinois Extension through the Illinois' Office of the Provost Investment for Growth program, participating host offices, the University of Illinois Office of Government Relations, and PepsiCo.