Over the last sixteen years, the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development has hosted the Collaborative Masters program. Students from twelve countries in East and Southern Africa participate in this annual program, where they are exposed to specialized fields in the four areas: agribusiness management, agricultural and rural development, agricultural policy analysis, and environmental and natural resource management. In 2020, Martha Cheptoek Cheruk from Makerere University in Uganda received the award for top student for the CMAAE program. Here is what she had to say about the program and the award.
Q: Can you tell me about yourself and your studies?
I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree of Science in Agriculture, specializing in Agricultural Economics from Makerere University in 2019. I then worked on a food security research project for a while before starting my masters. While I was in the field, I interacted with my supervisors, who were professionals in academia and they inspired me to join the masters program, along with advice from my family. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship with AERC to do the Collaborative Masters in Agricultural and Applied Economics. Through this program, I specialized in Agricultural Policy Analysis with the hope to be part of the policy making processes in the future within Uganda and beyond.
Q: How did you decide to study agricultural economics?
During my undergraduate degree, I had to choose from five options in my final year and Agricultural Economics was the only one that dealt closely with global issues like food security, poverty, climate change, gender equality and sustainable development among others. I wanted to be a part of this global movement. More so, I was already engaged in various innovations which really got me interested in the economic side of agriculture. Besides that, I did better in those classes and I wanted to harness that advantage.
Can you tell me more about the CMAAE program and how you got involved in it?
The Collaborative Masters class is the third semester of the Collaborative Masters of Science in Agricultural and Applied Economics (CMAAE) course of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), which I am doing. It is carried out yearly at the Shared Facility of Specialization and Electives (SFSE), hosted by the University of Pretoria, with students from the different partner universities in Africa.
Q: What was your experience in the program?
The Shared Facility was a very interesting and remarkable experience for me. I enjoyed the way lecturers were open with the students which was very inspiring and provided me with the opportunity to discover what I was capable of and what I needed to do to excel. The intensity alone, and the distinguished training was beneficial, not only academically, but also improved my professional, technical, social and leadership skills. I would highly recommend others to join this program and field as it exposes you to a diverse group of people, cultures and opportunities that would very much benefit your career.
Q: What was your favourite aspect of the program?
My favourite aspect was the real time exposure and interaction with world class professionals and situations during study times. I enjoyed the Food Security and Nutrition Policy classes with Professor Sheryl Hendriks from the University of Pretoria the most. In these classes, I got to learn a lot from experts from several international organizations who came in during the classes to mentor us, and tackled real-time life problems during assignments and tests/exams.
Q: What was your most valuable experience/lesson from the program?
The program taught me how to be very self-driven because it was virtual and no lecturers were there to remind me to read, or do assignments, I had to do this on my own and before the deadlines in order to excel. This was a very valuable experience for me and I will carry on with this lesson throughout my career.
Q: You won the award for the best student last year. When did you find out you were going to win this award? How did this achievement make you feel?
I found out that I was the best student in the facility around February this year, when results were released from AERC to our department at Makerere University. When I called the head of department, he told me the unbelievable news. I was so happy and excited since this had been my dream even before I entered the facility. In a nutshell, it was a dream come true! So, knowing that dreams can actually come true with the will, hard work and diligence has only encouraged me to work much harder towards achieving all my goals.
Q: How will this program help you in your future career?
This program actually served as a stepping-stone to my career in the field of research. I believe it has and is still directing my professional path given the insights, knowledge, skills and motivation I got at the shared facility. I also made connections with other students from other countries whom I would like to work with in future either by doing collaborative research or getting help. Currently I am working on my master’s thesis on gender impacts of maize biotic stresses in Uganda. Once I have completed my masters, I would like to enroll in a PhD program in an agricultural economics related field to continue my journey in research.
We would like to wish Martha a huge congratulations for this fantastic achievement!