Focus On Faculty

Maria Navarro

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I earned an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Engineering from the Polytechnical University of Catalunya (Spain) and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Education from Texas A&M University.
My current responsibilities are teaching, outreach and research in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. I am also a core faculty member in the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute and the African Studies Institute.

What are your favorite courses and why?

My two favorite courses are ALDR 3820, Reflections on Fighting Hunger, and ALDR 4710/6710, International Agricultural Development. In the first, students analyze causes of worldwide hunger, toward the synthesis and evaluation of proposed solutions at both local and global scales. The second is similar, but we primarily focus on case studies from rural areas where the sustainability of agriculture is a key ingredient of a solution.

What interests you about your field?

The wide array of opportunities it offers. I had always wanted to work in development, but did not know how until I discovered the world of agricultural development. I have worked in many places, including several countries in Europe, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Western Asia. Through agricultural development I have been able to evolve, refining my niche as I learn and grow. I have worked in small, grass-roots community development projects and national/international initiatives. I have had the opportunity to get my hands dirty and work in the field to study and address specific agriculture puzzles, participate in think tanks to propose solutions to poverty, coordinate capacity building programs, and participate in needs assessment and evaluation efforts. Now, I am able to focus my contribution to the world of agricultural development through research and the education of others, both students at UGA and agriculture professionals all over the world. And there are still many unexplored opportunities.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

The successes of my students. Specifically, receiving messages from alumni letting me know how much my teaching or mentorship meant to them is very rewarding. On a more professional level, I was particularly touched and humbled by one of the first awards I received at UGA– the 2007 President’s Fulfilling the Dream Award, given to individuals who have made significant contributions to improve justice, human rights and/or race relations, in line with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideology. I have focused a big part of my work on hunger and poverty issues because I consider it important, and the award re-energized me professionally with new awareness that I was not alone, and that UGA also recognizes the importance of this type of effort.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching?

I would say it goes both ways. My scholarship is focused on teaching and learning methodologies, and on lessons learned from development programs. That helps me to improve my own teaching and gives me plenty of case studies and personal stories for my courses. In turn, my teaching also inspires my research, and helps me to stay grounded and maintain an open-ended, multidisciplinary perspective.

Describe your ideal student.

There are many ideal students, but with some differences at various levels of professional development. I enjoy working with undergraduate students who are committed to make a difference, but are still searching for their niche, and are hungry for an interdisciplinary and broad education that will help them find their path. To me, it is a gift to be able to help them explore disciplines and see how their passion develops.  “Ideal” graduate students have chosen a discipline and have a better understanding of how to reach their goals. With them, I enjoy the intellectual challenge that comes with facilitating in-depth disciplinary study and research.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

Wherever and whenever I can interact with people. I thrive on collaborative work and brainstorming endeavors that challenge and energize me intellectually, professionally and personally. Most formats work for me: For example, I have enjoyed participating in three Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) at UGA, the “Lilly Teaching Fellows,” “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning FLC,” and the “Costa Rica FLC,” the last of which I organized with funds from the USDA Challenge Grant program. I also enjoy meeting with individual colleagues to discuss on-going research and outreach efforts, explore opportunities for collaboration, or simply exchange ideas. I like to visit with undergraduates who come to my office searching for answers, and see them leave with even more questions, but happy and excited about new ideas for consideration. I enjoy discussions in my classes, and my group meetings in which my graduate students and I evaluate teaching, research and outreach projects, or simply help each other in verbalizing and searching for solutions to a variety of challenges. And, finally, though it might be dangerous to admit it, I sometimes enjoy advisory committee work, especially when it entails exploration and evaluation of ideas.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

…spend time with my family–sons David (7) and Paul (10) and husband Andrew.

Favorite book/movie?

Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It is the first chapter book I remember reading in a “foreign language” (for me, that’s any language other than Catalan or Spanish). I was in elementary school, and I enjoyed it as a wonderful children’s book. Since then, I have read it a score of times, and every time I read it I discover new reasons to keep it at the top of my favorite book list, a list of great books for adults.

Proudest moment at UGA?

When my son (then 7 years old) took the initiative to introduce me to a large group of UGA students during a Hunger Banquet:  “This is my mom, and she works to eliminate hunger and poverty in Georgia and around the world.
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