Food Systems For Nutrition Innovation Lab

The Feed the Future Food Systems for Nutrition Innovation Lab[1] (FSN-IL) and the 1890 Universities Foundation are pleased to announce that six current students have been selected to lead a first Minority Serving Institution (MSI) Student Working Group focusing on raising awareness of, and engagement with, innovative processes to improve food systems for healthy diets. The students are: Kyla Thurston, Tuskegee University, Anjula Sagam, Tennessee State University, Mariam Yakubu, Alabama A&M University, Ivan Solomon, Tuskegee University, Divine Boka, Tennessee State University, and Yazmine Thomas, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

This MSI Student Working Group provides a unique opportunity for graduate students from 1890 institutions who are interested in a career in food systems. As part of FSN-IL’s commitment to nurturing broader perspectives, creativity, and institutional change, the students will have an opportunity to support the growth and professional development of historically underrepresented groups in the sphere of US support for international development. These are students who share a passion about food systems transformation to achieve improved nutrition and health outcomes in the US and globally.

This working group will focus on student enrichment in leadership, research, careers, and institutional collaboration.

“The point of this group is to identify the needs of 1890 universities relating to leadership and career-building opportunities in the global food systems space, identify gaps in skills or information needed for a career in this area, plan workshops and/or webinars, identify research opportunities, and create networks for collaboration between the 1890 institutions,” says Dr. Lynne Ausman, Professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, who plays an integral role in FSN-IL’s work with MSIs and the 1890 Universities Foundation.

While this is a student-led group, they will be supported by Dr. Judith Boateng, Associate Professor of Food/Nutrition Toxicology at Alabama A&M University, serving as an advisor.

“I am pleased to be a part of the Feed the Future Food Systems for Nutrition Innovation Lab (FSN-IL) team; this a great honor. This year’s cohort for the MSI working group is comprised of dedicated and hardworking graduate students from diverse backgrounds. I am excited to serve as their advisor, and I look forward to providing them with the guidance and support needed to make them successful”, says Dr. Boateng.

To learn more about the students and faculty advisor, please read their bios below.


Kyla Thurston, Tuskegee University

Kyla G. Thurston is a first-year PhD candidate in Integrative Public Policy & Development at Tuskegee University. She holds a BA in Political Science with a minor in Public Policy and Administration from Tougaloo College with honors. Kyla’s research focuses on improving diet quality and nutrient density through the “Food is Medicine” initiative. She brings valuable research experience from her role as a Research Fellow for Congressman Bennie G. Thompson’s Delta Leadership Development Program, where she worked on projects related to addressing food insecurity in the Mississippi Delta whilst improving small business development, social entrepreneurship, and economic justice. Kyla’s commitment to community-oriented initiatives and social justice drives her advocacy and research efforts. Ultimately, her goal is to address food insecurity and improve access to nutritious food across the globe

Anjula Sagam, Tennessee State University

Anjula Sagam is a Master’s graduate research assistant in the Department of Food and Animal Sciences, within the vibrant College of Agriculture at Tennessee State University. Her research journey takes her deep into the connections between our diets, the gut microbiome, and human health. Her research specifically seeks to understand how our food choices can modify the gut microbiome and how these changes affect our well-being, particularly in relation to obesity within African American communities. The goal of Anjula’s research is to develop new strategies for preventing and treating obesity in underrepresented communities.

Mariam Yakubu, Alabama A&M University

Mariam Yakubu holds a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana and a master’s degree in Food Science and Technology from the Institut Supérieur d’Agriculture (ISA) in Lille, France. For her masters’ theses, she joined Ghent University in Ghent, Belgium on an Erasmus scholarship, where she worked with a team to study the effect of lipid peroxidation on food storage and the bioavailability of lipid peroxidation product-malondialdehyde and its adducts. Mariam is currently in the department of Food and Animal Sciences, pursuing a PhD in Food Science (food toxicology and food biochemistry concentration). With her research work, she hopes to increase health promoting properties and decrease antinutritive factors of beans using non-thermal processing

Ivan Solomon, Tuskegee University

Ivan Solomon is originally from Wilmington, North Carolina. He earned a B.A. from Pomona College in international relations and Middle Eastern studies, served as a Fulbright English professor in Rabat, Morocco, and most recently worked for three years at an education non-profit. Now, Ivan is enrolled at Tuskegee University as a Pickering Fellow. Upon graduation, he will leverage his experience working with rural communities and activities like the FSN-IL in his career as a U.S. diplomat. He is excited about the opportunity to diversify his areas of expertise and better understand issues like food security and agricultural innovation.

Divine Boka, Tennessee State University

Divine Boka is a graduate research assistant and a master’s student in Food and Animal Science at Tennessee State University. Her current research focuses on investigating the Effects and Mechanisms of Phytochemicals from food in combating Anti-estrogen Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer. Specifically, Divine’s work involves studying these effects and mechanisms in both mice and human cells, with a keen focus on samples sourced from African American and Caucasian American women. Her research is at the forefront of addressing cancer disparities and advancing our understanding of nutrition-based cancer prevention and treatments. Through this cancer research, Divine hopes to pave the way for innovative therapeutic approaches.

Yazmine Thomas, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Yazmine Thomas is a PhD student at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. She specializes in Food Science with a research emphasis on product development. She has always been passionate about the science behind food, which led her to receive her Master’s degree in Food Chemistry and Biotechnology. Yazmine has been involved in numerous food science and biotechnology projects and has even traveled to destinations such as Accra Ghana, to present research. She is also an active member of the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Science Program (MANRRS). She enjoys sharing her knowledge with younger students interested in the STEM field. In her free time, Yazmine likes to do hot yoga.

Dr. Judith Boateng, Associate Professor of Food/Nutrition Toxicology, Alabama A&M University

Dr. Judith Boateng joined the AAMU food science faculty in 2011. Prior to her faculty appointment, Dr. Boateng received her training as a postdoctoral research associate in the Food Science Department at AAMU, where she received both her MS degree in Food Biotechnology and Ph.D. degree in Nutrition Biochemistry, Carcinogenesis/Toxicology.  She has published over 40 peer-reviewed and refereed publications and book chapters, and over 80 scientific presentations on the areas of Food Science, Food Toxicology and Chemoprevention and Food Microbiology at different national and international scientific meetings. Dr. Boateng’s research focuses on molecular and biochemical mechanisms of chemoprevention and toxicity of bioactive food components, mainly flavonoids, herbal medicines and supplements and their safety. Her current research interest in nutrigenomics investigates the role of bioactive components on epigenetics and gene regulation. Dr. Boateng currently serves at the editorial boards of the Journal of Obesity and Nutritional Disorders and Madridge Journal of Food Technology.

Disclaimer: This blog post is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Feed the Future initiative. The contents are the responsibility of the Food Systems for Nutrition Innovation Lab and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

[1]The Food Systems for Nutrition Innovation Lab (FSN-IL) is funded by USAID under the Feed the Future initiative. FSN-IL promotes food system innovations, novel technologies, and best practices to support improved diet quality, nutrition, and resilience. Our goal is to identify, test and help scale up promising nutrition-sensitive food system solutions while strengthening human and institutional capacity in our host countries and around the world.