Members of the D-Lab Humphrey Fellowship seminar pose for a group picture in a classroom with green walls.
In the UC Davis D-Lab seminar, UC Davis students and Humphrey Fellows have an opportunity to connect and collaborate to develop real solutions for real-world issues.

Course Fosters Global Innovation Through Collaboration

UC Davis’ D-Lab seminar brings together undergraduates, graduate students and Humphrey Fellows to advance sustainable international development

Imagine being inspired to make your home country the next up-and-coming destination for world-class sustainable transportation. Do you start with trains? Automobiles? Buses? How about bicycles?  

For Ilaisa Naca, a 2023-24 Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow from Fiji, it was almost too perfect that he ended up in Davis, Calif., the “Bicycle Capital of the United States.” 

“We do not have cycling infrastructure in Fiji, nor do we have cycling culture,” explained Naca. "Since arriving in Davis in August 2023, I made up my mind that if there is one thing I have to take back home, it has to be the idea of enhancing cycling infrastructure."

Five Humphrey Fellows are dressed for cold weather and stopped with their bikes on a small footbridge. They smile at the camera.
2023-24 Humphrey Fellows Kara Roopsingh (Trinidad and Tobago), Ilaisa Naca (Fiji), Baigalmaa Chinbat (Mongolia), Pilar Lillo (Chile) and Rosani Matos Silva (Brasil) enjoying a bike ride in Davis.

Naca is prepared to make that desire into a tangible reality thanks to a distinctive three-unit course open to both UC Davis undergraduate and graduate students. ABT 289A: Sustainable Development Project Seminar, known colloquially as the “D-Lab Humphrey Fellows,” is organized by the UC Davis D-Lab, which was launched In 2009 alongside the Program for International Energy Technologies to accelerate the development and commercialization of low-cost, clean, and efficient energy technologies and solutions across the globe. Professor Kurt Kornbluth and Alice Dien, a Ph.D. student and graduate student researcher, teach the course. 

Education Beyond the Classroom 

The D-Lab course continues to give students a variety of opportunities to gain real-world experience championing global sustainability in partnership with Humphrey Fellows, who are mid-career professionals from countries with developing and emerging economies. Fellows come from 12 countries and have numerous interests and areas of expertise, ranging from agriculture and rural development to renewable energy and environmental education. 

For Rikiya Hatano, an undergraduate student majoring in international agricultural development, the Winter 2024 D-Lab course was an important first experience contributing to a professional project. Working in partnership with Daphna Tish-Feigenboim, a Humphrey Fellow from Israel, and Madison Kindberg, a UC Davis graduate student, his team created a policy brief about food security in Israel.  

“It was my first time working on a project with a professional and a graduate student,” he shared. "As an undergraduate and international student, I felt that both of my team members were more knowledgeable than me, so at the beginning, I thought about how I could contribute to the project. I learned the importance of constant communication and the importance of flexibility." 

Humphrey Fellow Daphna Tish-Feigenboim, undergraduate student Rikiya Hatano and graduate student Madison Kindberg stand in front of a classroom with green walls and present to the class.
Humphrey Fellow Daphna Tish-Feigenboim (center), undergraduate student Rikiya Hatano (left) and graduate student Madison Kindberg (right) give their final D-Lab presentation on food security in Israel.

“The Humphrey Fellows bring their global perspectives to our campus and community, and their opinions and experiences often resonate with our local Davis community in far-reaching ways,” explained Karen Beardsley, Director of Global Professional Programs at UC Davis Global Affairs. “Not only do the Fellows attend classes and professional seminars, but they also gain personal friendships with local families and campus mentors throughout their academic year living in our community. They touch the lives of those of all ages, races, religions, and cultures.”  

For Tish-Feigenboim, who has been working in the public sector in Israel for more than a decade, having the opportunity to collaborate with these students was also an invaluable experience.  

“The diverse background that my teammates brought to the team, from the worlds of international relations, animal health, and sustainability, along with my background in public policy, allowed us to think about solutions in a broad and interdisciplinary manner,” she said. 

A Framework for Progress 

The D-Lab course uses the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework developed by the United Nations to help students and Fellows easily identify the impact of their work. 

For example, Tish-Feigenboim’s project primarily addresses SDG 2: Zero Hunger, SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being, and SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. Though, she pointed out that the project goes beyond just a handful of impacts: “There are additional SDGs that are involved and affected, such as SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and SDG 13: Climate Action. This illustrates how everything is interconnected — human health and the environment.” 

Bagher Yousefi, a 2023-24 Humphrey Fellow from Iran, also found the framework helpful for thinking about how to scale his project. 

“D-Lab helped me expand my mind and discover several new avenues in my studies,” said Yousefi. “Additionally, I wasn't aware that my research aligns with many of the SDGs. Through D-Lab, I learned how to expand my study economically, and they supported me very well in this endeavor. For example, Professor Kurt Kornbluth encouraged me to consider how I could address the energy aspect of my project.” 

Yousefi, undergraduate student Keller Kramer and graduate student Delbert Truong present in front of a projector screen. Also pictured is a tomato plant Yousefi grew using seawater at UC Davis.
Humphrey Fellow Bagher Yousefi (center), undergraduate student Keller Kramer (left) and graduate student Delbert Truong (right) present their final project to the rest of the Winter 2024 D-Lab seminar. Also pictured is a tomato plant Yousefi grew using seawater at UC Davis.

Yousefi’s project focuses on water management and agriculture, and aligns with SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG 13: Climate Action, and SDG 15: Life on Land. He is fine-tuning a system where seawater and other unconventional water sources can be used for agricultural irrigation worldwide. Although that may sound expensive, it is a cost-effective system that is environmentally friendly and highly flexible for use in both small and large communities. 

D-Lab has helped Yousefi broaden the impact of his project even further by helping him identify new goals to match his work. “If implemented in remote areas, [my project] can also contribute to SDG 1: No Poverty,” he explained. “Additionally, unlike most desalination plants that produce saltier wastewater than the ocean, this system produces no sewage, making it very beneficial for SDG 14: Life Below Water.” 

Bringing Change Back Home and Beyond 

Student and Fellow participants have a lot to gain from this course. 

Tish-Feigenboim pointed to the breadth of her and her students’ research as powerful both practically and emotionally: 

During the work on the project, we were exposed to the challenges, as well as the solutions, of various countries around the world in the context of food security…there was comfort and hope in understanding that many of them are common to many places. From this commonality and similarity, it is possible to learn about successes and adopt them with the necessary adjustments for my country. 

For Yousefi, the course structure also provided first-hand pedagogical insights. “I have been teaching at the university for 10 years,” he said, “and throughout that time, I have always endeavored to engage my students in practical projects. However, D-Lab showed me how I can enhance my teaching by integrating experiences, teaching methods and practical actions.” 

This unique project-based course highlights the importance of fostering connections across borders.  

UC Davis’ commitment to the Humphrey Fellowship Program as well as numerous other global education opportunities allow this kind of interaction to happen at the professional and personal levels, which is key to enhanced global understanding, tolerance, curiosity and engagement,” said Beardsley. 

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