The 1984-1985 famine in Ethiopia has had a lasting impact on Noelle Johnson. After reading about the famine, she was determined to go to Africa to help. Today, she works with Catholic Relief Services to improve food security and sustainable agriculture in Africa. There, she applies what she learned earning a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences from the UW-Madison and a master’s in international agricultural development from the University of California-Davis.
As a high-schooler in Rockton, Ill., Johnson dreamt of joining the Peace Corps. She came to the UW-Madison planning to major in a science. In her sophomore year she picked nutritional sciences. She was impressed by the department’s course on world hunger and malnutrition, and liked that the major offered an international studies option. She spent the summer after her junior year working on reforestation and community sanitation projects in Mali. After graduating in 1995, she joined the Peace Corps, which assigned her to Burkina Faso. As a community health and nutrition education extension specialist, she studied the nutritional content of locally produced foods and advised women on pre-natal and post-natal diets and on feeding their newborns. Johnson also worked on an organic farm in Virginia before returning to graduate school in 1998.
She says her UW-Madison education, which had included coursework in agronomy and political science, provided a sound foundation for graduate school in the international agricultural development program at UC-Davis. Johnson specialized in nutrition in that program and received her master?s in 2001.
She then returned to Burkina Faso with Catholic Relief Services whose goal is to achieve food security through education, micro-finance, agriculture, general assistance and emergency response. In Burkina Faso, Johnson worked on environmental conservation and natural resource management. “I think my background in nutrition and agriculture will help me to better understand the human and community issues involved in environmental work,” she says.
More recently, Johnson has been assigned to Rwanda. She plans to continue working in developing countries, where she can contribute to family planning programs, and home gardening and sustainable agriculture efforts.