Kelly Chege, a doctoral candidate in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, has been selected as a member of the inaugural class of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Next Generation Global Leaders Network.
The year-long program is designed to engage a diverse group of almost 100 young professionals from 33 states in leadership, skills training and mentorship to support their engagement with global development and diplomacy in their communities. The class was chosen through a rigorous application process.
Chege is pursuing dual degrees in biorenewable systems within the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering as well as international agriculture and development, which he said enables him to be transdisciplinary in his studies. “It’s opened my eyes to all the possibilities of what I could do and what needs to happen in this world,” he said. “The Next Gen Global Leaders Network will be a stepping stone to connect with more globally minded people, as well as round out my skills in international agricultural development.”
Deanna Behring, assistant dean and director of international programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences, said she is pleased for Chege’s opportunity to grow with Next Gen.
“He’s one of our first engineering students to pursue a dual degree in international agriculture and development, and it’s testimony to his technical capabilities as well as his breadth of understanding and commitment to social engagement for global development,” she said. “Kelly will shine in this new role — he possesses excellent organizational skills, is adept at professional speaking and has a very engaging and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Chege applied to Next Gen to learn more about the workings of international relations and diplomacy related to agriculture. He would like to embark on a career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service as an agricultural ambassador.
He also is looking forward to educational sessions and interactions with experts in the field of diplomacy and development. “Gaining that direct connection and also the practical, tacit learning instead of just reading about theories is another benefit,” he said.
A first-generation Kenyan American, Chege was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He earned his undergraduate degree in marketing and international business at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He earned a master’s degree in agriculture and environmental systems from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, which is a historically Black land-grant university.
“I knew nothing about the land-grant university system until I attended North Carolina A&T,” Chege said. “I was introduced to international trade, agricultural development and the opportunities, as well as the work that needed to be done in the domestic and international sectors.”
After his year as a member of the Next Generation Global Leaders Network, Chege hopes to work in diplomacy or for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Being part of Next Gen will give him insight into trends and the focus of research and funding if he decides to take that route. “That would allow me to jump back into research and better understand how I can help,” he said.
In the meantime, Chege is looking at USDA internships and grants to prepare for the next stage of his career.
“I’m looking forward to connecting with other people in the same field who are trying to go down the same path,” Chege said. “I’ve learned that anything with a global impact is done by a team of people who all are moving in the same direction, so building my network through Next Gen is going to help me to help the world for years to come.”