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Learning from Tortillas
Hands-on Experience Gives Students Insight into Food Production in Low-income Nations
 
Most of us have eaten tortillas, but do we know how to make one using traditional methods? On April 11, the UTIA International Student Ambassadors and three interns from Zamorano University, Honduras, visited the East Tennessee State University (ETSU) College of Public Health to take part in the college’s Tortilla Experience. Hosted by associate professor Mike Stoots and Dean Randy Wykoff of ETSU’s College of Public Health, CASNR students teamed with ETSU students to simulate the traditional methods of making a corn tortilla. They started from seed (and using a bit of time-lapse). From clearing and tilling the ground, to planting seeds, to building fences, to making bricks for the oven, to grinding the kernels, and finally, frying the tortillas, the exercise engaged the students in about four hours of physically intensive activities and problem solving. Faculty at ETSU developed the Tortilla Experience to demonstrate the time and effort involved in food production in low-income countries.
 
After the student teams finished, Stoots told them, “You produced about ninety calories [with this tortilla]. You spent about 500 to 600 calories.” The “learning-by-doing” aspect, undergraduate Megan Wright, who is a senior Animal Science major, noted, made the experience “more rewarding and definitely added to the teamwork…[we were] not just talking, but getting something done within a time limit.” Savannah Blackman, a junior in Wildlife and Fisheries, commented, “I’ve never had this type of experience before…it would be useful for other UT students and also faculty and staff.”
 
This activity was part of a developing partnership between ETSU’s College of Public Health and UTIA focusing on student learning in the areas of global public health and agricultural production. Located just one-and-a-half hours from Knoxville on ETSU’s Valleybrook campus, the College of Public Health hosts a variety of real-life learning activities that it groups and labels Project EARTH. As ETSU readies its public health students to engage in low- and middle-income communities around the world, UTIA International Programs also sees the value that this and other simulations have in preparing CASNR students to engage with communities here in the United States and internationally. —Emily Urban
 
 
Students learn fence building to protect their planted corn.
From left, Mario Bermudez Gonzalez and Juan Carlos Ramos Tanchez of Zamorano University
and CASNR students Savannah Blackman and Megan Wright.