Open Menu

Recognizing HQP Scholars

Cultivating Business, Innovation, & Leadership in Agri-food Research, December 3, 2020

The Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance and Food from Thought will host an event on December 3, 2020, from 12:30 PM to 2:00 PM to recognize Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP) scholarship recipients. The event will celebrate and highlight the achievements of the 2019/20 HQP scholars, provide an opportunity for the scholars to present their industry-partner project work, and network with key partners that recognize the HQP Scholarship Program’s role in supporting the development of tomorrow’s agri-food leaders and innovators. The 2020/21 HQP scholars will also be announced at the event.

Registration is available here.

Stories from our 2019 HQP Scholars

What impact does the HQP program have on scholars and their future careers? Hear directly from some of the 2019 HQP program scholars in the videos and testimonials below.

Emily Duncan

Anna Welboren

Emily Sousa

Name: Emily C. Sousa

Age: 24

Program of study: Rural Planning and Development (M.Sc.)

Where are you from: Oxford County, Ontario

How did you learn about the HQP program?

I learned about the opportunity when I was an undergraduate student working as a research assistant to graduate students enrolled in the HQP program. I heard about their experiences participating in multidisciplinary projects and collaborating with graduate researchers from other departments, which piqued my interest. These anecdotes signaled that there was a place for me in the diverse area of agri-food to participate and contribute to the program while also taking advantage of prospects available to further my professional and personal development.

Why were you interested in participating in the program?

I was interested in participating in the program because I recognized that it is a valuable and unique opportunity to gain specialized practical work experience as a graduate student. The opportunity to participate in the program, specifically the innovation and entrepreneurship in agri-food systems course, and the opportunity to partner with the City of Guelph, allowed me to gain the necessary experience to sustain a career as a rural planner while contributing to the development of the dynamic agri-food sector of Ontario. The HQP program is an excellent opportunity to collaborate with many stakeholders in agri-food to provide cutting-edge solutions to sustaining Ontario’s rapidly evolving agricultural industry. In addition to conducting research and gaining practical workplace experience, the opportunity to be a part of the HQP program has provided avenues for mobilizing student research and knowledge on the ground through networking events.

What aspect of the program do you think had the most impact on you?

The collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the program and community-engaged scholarship had the most significant impact on me. I partnered with the City of Guelph and other community stakeholders, including Wellington County, 10C, Innovation Guelph, and Solid Waste Resources Guelph. Through this aspect of the program, I recognize the value and possibilities of collaborating and leveraging a diversity of specialized skill sets when we break out of our disciplinary silos. I found myself simultaneously learning and developing skills outside of my comfort zone while also contributing to creating innovative opportunities to advance the economic, social, and scientific well-being of our food systems and agri-food industry.

How did the program challenge you/help to prepare you for your future career?

I worked on a community project called the Guelph-Wellington Smart Cities’ Our Food Future, which enabled me to develop project management, program and plan evaluation, and stakeholder engagement abilities. My work with Smart Cities stakeholders in identifying indicators for circular practices in the agri-food value chain helped me recognize gaps in my skill set, such as technical evaluation skills. It inspired me to learn and improve this skill set through additional training opportunities. I now have policy, plan, and program evaluation skills that will be valuable to many professional practice settings.

What are you most proud of in regards to your time in the program?

I am most proud of the industry contacts I made during my time in the program. We had several guest lectures and seminars hosted by industry contacts, such as representatives from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association. In these sessions, we had the chance to network with these contacts and learn how we could collaborate with them in the future as researchers or professionals.

What advice would you give the next cohort of the HQP program?

I would advise the next cohort of HQP students to seize every opportunity that comes their way, to keep an open mind, and take on unfamiliar experiences to develop new skill sets. Remember and recognize that we are only getting started as leaders in agri-food. As high achievers, it is easy to feel overconfident in our abilities as professional researchers and forget that we are students here to use this opportunity to grow and learn. Take advantage of what comes your way to try something new and perhaps open a new door for personal and professional growth.

Chloe Alexander

I am a PhD candidate in the department of Geography, Environment, and Geomatics at the University of Guelph. In my research, I will evaluate the various strategies that governments and businesses use to reduce food waste in the industrial food sector (food manufacturing and processing) and institutional food sector (hospitals, nursing homes, schools). My research will involve analyzing government (federal, provincial, and municipal) regulations on food waste and understanding the specific policies and procedures businesses use to reduce waste. I hope to identify barriers and possible food waste reduction opportunities to help firms and governments tackle this issue.

The HQP program has helped me to build confidence and skills in knowledge mobilization and communication. I learned how to communicate complex, scientific information through various mediums (elevator pitch, PowerPoint presentation, policy brief, infographics, and social media) to various stakeholders, including community partners, politicians, and businesses. This experience has encouraged me to get involved in knowledge mobilization activities such as:

  • Conducting webinars to teach high school students about food waste.
  • Producing an Instagram video on food waste & COVID-19.
  • Participating in a Twitter conference to discuss my other research interests.

The HQP Program has been invaluable as I work towards my future career as a food waste consultant to support governments and businesses to reduce food waste in Canada’s agri-food system.


Connor Fullerton

My name is Connor Fullerton and I am studying my Masters in Management at the University of Guelph’s Lang School of Business and Economics. I come from a small, rural area in central Nova Scotia, and nowadays call Guelph home. While in my free time, I love spending time with animals and taking photos in the countryside, my professional interests have always passionately centered on food and how we can improve our food systems in Canada and abroad.

Why were you interested in participating in the program?

I’ve always found food and agriculture to be central parts of my life story, and my research here is a natural extension to that by working with OMAFRA on value chain research. I am investigating Ontario’s wine and beer industry, and while they have been studied in a tourism context, it lacks much investigation from a value chain perspective. Such a perspective could yield valuable insights into the structure of the businesses, their relationships, the role of power between certain businesses, and most importantly how these chains can be improved whether for greater profits, stronger relationships, and ways to better satisfy consumers and critical stakeholders. I hope to expand value chain research further when I enter my PhD in the coming years.

How did you learn about the HQP program?

I learned about the HQP program from the MA (Management) coordinator who encouraged me to check it out when I first applied to Guelph. The multidisciplinary emphasis of the HQP program was appealing, as was the opportunity to mingle and collaborate with other like-minded students in agri-food fields; this richness and diversity is what piqued my interest. Since then, the HQP program has been a huge aid not only financially, but it has also opened doors to grow my professional network with others in policy, government, industry, faculty, and fellow graduate students. Being new to the area, this program played a critical role in kick-starting my career in Ontario! The program has taught me key communication skills – namely how to convey my research to policy makers and the public through a variety of mediums including public speaking, policy briefs, media interviews, social media, and visual formats like infographics and punchy presentations.

What aspect of the program do you think had the most impact on you?

One of the biggest impacts that the program had for me was my perception of research. It helped me better appreciate the value of research, whether it is a part of solving a larger issue like feeding a growing population or targeted at addressing a specific challenge in a community. This exposure reinforced a greater sense of value for my own research on value chains. It has also motivated me to put in my best effort every day because I am more cognizant of how others will benefit from it.

What advice would you give the next cohort of the HQP program?

Mingle with the others in your cohort, get to know them, and get excited. One of the less obvious perks of the program is that the students in it have a lot in common with you – they’re also keeners who want to make a difference! More than a few times, I’ve run into other HQPs on the street, grabbed coffee, and chatted and bounced ideas around, only to come away more excited and filled with inspiration. Especially during COVID, there’s never been a better time to catch up and do an impromptu Zoom call to make a new friend in the program with you!

Fernando Montaño Lopez

I am a M.Sc. student in the School of Environmental Sciences, currently working in the Sustainable Soil Management Lab under the supervision of Dr. Asim Biswas.

Tell us about your project

In my research, I aim to assess the impact of land use change on soil carbon through digital soil mapping in Northern Ontario. My project involves the use of remotely sensed data to track land use patterns, novel soil sampling methods, the disaggregation of traditional soil maps and the creation of a map of soil carbon that will be developed with the aid of machine learning techniques. Finally, with help of CENTURY, a model of soil carbon dynamics, we will be able to quantify and simulate changes of soil carbon stocks under climate change conditions. I hope that my results can help farmers and policy makers to make better decisions on land management practices.

The HQP program has been very rewarding for me as it introduced me to the Canadian agri-food sector. Being from Mexico, I have always been interested in building strategies that aim to improve the agricultural sector in North America. The HQP program has provided me with essential tools to develop myself professionally such as networking, communication skills and decision-making. Of special interest for me is developing technologies that make our sector more dynamic and resilient to economic and environmental changes. To achieve this, we need to bring research findings to the next step, which I believe is policymaking. By combining research and policymaking, companies and public institutions can foster economic growth for the improvement of social conditions. The HQP program has allowed me to better understand the importance of multidisciplinary research innovations in the agri-food sector.