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Scholars Speak

In his own words: Sirabo Patrobas Wafula

2023 ISPP Scholar Patrobas with Illinois Lieutenant Governor, Juliana Stratton

As an ISPP Scholar, Sirabo Patrobas Wafula is appointed with the Illinois Office of the Lieutenant Governor, Juliana Stratton. His work is significant as he focuses on agricultural equity and food insecurity, and educational equity. Patrobas shared some thoughts with me about the ISP program, and his work so far.

Why did you apply for the Illini Science Policy Program?

I saw the post and it had my name written all over it. My interest in policy and the fact that I had worked in the public space motivated me to apply. This opportunity aligned with my desire to transition out of human rights advocacy into policy review and development. I knew that with my master’s degree in Law and concentration in International and comparative law, I would have opportunities to contribute to or review policies while promoting equal opportunities and have several conversations around inclusion, diversity, and equity; theories and concepts that I am enthusiastic about. It would be a great platform to evaluate the theories and apply the concepts in a different context of work.

Tell us a bit about what you hope to accomplish because of being a 2023 Scholar.

My assignment at the Office of Lieutenant Governor, Julianna Stratton has me involved in two main initiatives. One initiative concerns Agricultural Equity and Food Insecurity, where the hope is to ensure that every household in Illinois has access to culturally relevant healthy and nutrient-dense food. The other initiative addresses Education Diversity by building collaborations and engaging in conversations with BIPOC communities. The focus is to encourage more Black men into the teaching profession. The hope is that this will increase mentorship and career development as well as promote relatable role modeling while increasing the enrollment and completion rates for underprivileged and underrepresented communities.

I am also involved in coordinating and supporting various councils under the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, and I am hoping to encourage or influence more discussion on inclusion, equity, diversity, and equal opportunities and reduce or highlight any bottlenecks to the social and economic development of all Illinoisans, and as they especially relate to the rural, underprivileged and underrepresented.

Tell us a bit about what you are working on for your host agency.

I work within the Legal, Legislative and Policy Team coordinating and supporting the work of the Councils as well as the functioning of their sub-committees. My work also involves working with other unit teams within the office on two initiatives; the Agricultural Equity and Food Initiative as well as the Education diversity initiative where I provided strategic and technical support.

Tell us a bit about what you are working with your Extension Mentor.

Together with Dr. Joseph Malual, we are working to support a budding black entrepreneur to get his urban agricultural initiative up and running. This project has involved strategic planning sessions as well as the development of a roadmap to see this project self-propagating and stable while achieving multifaceted purposes and meeting the needs of the community for which it is being set up.

Dr. Joseph has a rich skill set and is very knowledgeable, it is a privilege to work beside him and hone my skills through the process. It has been a big eye-opener as to how the odds can be against many of such establishments because they lack or are denied access to resources and or information which are major setbacks in the process. I hope to see particular milestones achieved before my ISPP experience ends.

What makes the work you are doing as an ISPP Scholar meaningful to you?

The work I am doing with my host agency as well as with my extension mentor is relatedly people-centric and aimed at making the life or lives of individuals or communities better. It is focused on listening to communities and acting based on solutions proposed by them or in collaboration with them. For me, it is the drive that these efforts will contribute to making change having far-reaching and lasting effects.

What is one thing that you have learned since becoming an ISPP Scholar that has made an impression on your transition from graduate student to career individual?

I had the notion that agriculture was about farmland, soil, animals, and or crops. I have since learned that there are a lot of opportunities in agriculture ranging from technology use and development to education and equity advocacy. Spaces that need to be talked about more and encourage uptake in the agricultural sector. In the words of the LG, “Agriculture connects us all.”

If I might add, there is space at the table for every voice to be heard. Policies should be gotten from the people and fine-tuned in the board room, my new view is that policy is about connecting resources and information with the people who have expressed their needs.

Why is/are the issue(s) important to the communities with which you are working?

It is not enough to provide access to food; it must be culturally relevant because this allows for the various diverse communities to get healthy nutrient-dense food.

It is important that the bottlenecks and barriers between information, resources as well as State and Federal funding be identified, and efforts are deliberately made to break them. In so doing there will be relatively equitable growth across the diverse population of Illinois

Studying the trends and watching the statistics will give you clear answers that there is something that needs to be done. Examples could be land ownership, education enrollment, completion rates, etc..

The collaboration between the University of Illinois Extension and the Office of the Lieutenant Governor allows for the mutual exchange of research findings, identifying areas for partnership, and resourcing other partners around the needs of communities in Illinois.

Who is impacted by the issue(s) you are working on?

Every Illinoisan but especially the rural, underprivileged, and underrepresented.

What is the most unexpected thing about this program so far?

The Farm Progress Show 2022 has been the highlight of my work yet. I was told about the Farm Progress Show, but the experience itself, being in the room with the company and organizations leaders and representatives hearing the conversations, asking the questions, and seeing the nuances in agricultural tech, machinery, and products. The one that stood out for me was the ‘short corn’ that has been designed specifically to withstand the Midwest wind and weather which also allows for easier aerial spraying. Also, to mention that I was to be part of the team which got reduced in number which gave me an opportunity to staff the LG at the Show. That was totally unexpected and a good learning experience for me. Lastly, I did not anticipate the number of hours and miles that I would have to spend on the road, but it has been worth it all!

If you could do one thing through this program and think “Wow, I did that,” what would you like it to be?

Finalizing the strategic documents for both initiatives and seeing them being utilized or implemented

Anything else you would like to share?

I have been privileged to work with my supervisor Dr. O who is a former ISSP scholar and now Director of Policy, who together with Dr. Pianfetti have answered my every question and given me the clarity that I needed on assignments and have been a tremendous support to me in fulfilling my responsibilities as an ISSP Scholar. I also acknowledge Natashee Scott who has been an amazing team leader.

More information about the Illini Science Policy Program is available on our website.Keep reading to learn more about Patrobas' colleagues in the of 2023 ISPP Scholar Class.