Studying abroad has been a goal for Tiana Clevenger since she was in high school. The opportunity finally presented itself in 2022 when the University of Idaho senior spent the fall semester studying at Universidad ORT in Motevideo, Uruguay.
Originally from Park City, Utah, Clevenger chose to study in Uruguay for the opportunity to immerse herself in a Spanish speaking culture and complete her language minor, while also taking credits towards her degree in horticulture and urban agriculture.
“The more I learned about it, the more I realized what an incredible hidden gem it is,” she said.
Clevenger took a global food challenge course and a viticulture field study in Uruguay to meet her degree requirements, along with courses in entrepreneurship and Spanish. The hands-on learning opportunities were a highlight of the experience.
“I liked how the program was focused on getting out of the classroom and experiencing the culture firsthand,” she said.
The James K. Rathmell, Jr. Memorial Scholarship from the American Floral Endowment helped relieve some of the financial burden for Clevenger to study abroad. College of Agricultural and Life Sciences emeritus professor Bob Tripepi alerted Clevenger to the scholarship opportunity.
“I was determined to make study abroad happen any way I could,” she said. “Without scholarships I would’ve had to take out loans, which no one wants to do. I’m happy that the applications worked out, it took a lot of stress off the whole experience for sure.”
Clevenger opted for a homestay experience rather than a dorm or apartment while studying in Uruguay. This gave her the opportunity to experience the Uruguayan culture on a deeper level.
“I stayed with an amazing host mother that didn’t speak much English, which was helpful for me when it came to speaking Spanish on a daily basis,” she said.
Once she was immersed in the culture, Clevenger noticed that her host mother and other locals seemed to have a more direct relationship with farmers and where their food comes from — something she is interested in emulating in her future career.
Connecting to Nature
Clevenger’s interest in plants began at an early age and she knew she wanted a career that allowed her to be connected with nature. She originally decided to study biology and design at Western Washington University because of her interest in biomimicry — learning from and imitating nature’s processes to create more sustainable designs and products.
A course about food justice and using food as a mechanism for social change inspired her to make a change of her own.
“I started learning more about permaculture and all these amazing forms of farming that help people and the planet,” Clevenger said. “I hope to use my degree to make food systems that are more sustainable and regenerative.”
Once she decided to focus on food systems, the decision to transfer to U of I was an easy one. Her parents are both alumni, her sister, Ari, was already on campus studying finance, and U of I had the exact program that she wanted to study.
“I transferred to U of I because they are well known for agricultural science,” she said. “However, I still hope to incorporate principles of biomimicry into my field.”
Clevenger will graduate in December 2023 and hopes to gain experience growing different crops, experimenting with hydroponics, permaculture farming, medicinal plants and landscape design. Ultimately, Clevenger hopes to one day start a farm to table business, working directly with restaurants to produce the ingredients they want.
“That would give me the freedom to grow many different things and not be confined to one crop for the rest of my life,” she said.
Clevenger’s education at U of I, as well as on-campus employment opportunities learning about tissue culture techniques in the Seed Potato Germplasm Program and nursery production and management in the Franklin H. Pitkin Forest Nursery, has prepared her to explore that dream in the future.
“The classes at U of I are very diverse and do a good job giving students a general plant education which can take you wherever you want to go in the industry,” she said. “Being taught by people that have experience is incredibly valuable. They hold so much knowledge and wisdom that you can only get when you spend a lot of time working with plants.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos provided by Tiana Clevenger
Published in February 2023