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Virginia Tech Student’s Work in Kenya Fueled Passion for Big Data in Agriculture

09 February 2023 - Applied econometrics allows governments, financial institutions, and businesses to determine production requirements, project future needs, and align themselves with emerging trends.

It just so happens to be Laura Miranyi’s passion.
“I want to meaningfully contribute to the research and development of international food and health economics,” said Miranyi, a master’s student in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. “I am interested in big data in agriculture and want to use predictive analytics to forecast and help mitigate unexpected yield losses and price spikes.”

Because Miranyi’s education is in statistics, one might wonder how she developed such a passion for agriculture.

It all began because of a project.

When Miranyi was a student at Egerton University in Kenya, she worked on a project known as Transforming African Universities to Meaningfully Contribute to Africa’s Growth and Development, or TagDev. The project is implemented by both Egerton University in Kenya and Gulu University in Uganda.

Using her background in statistics, Miranyi seized the opportunity to help train student agricultural entrepreneurs, leaders, and innovators on recordkeeping and basic data analyzes to predict and understand market trends for agricultural commodities. During this project, she realized that a lot of data was missing in agriculture and discovered her passion for agriculture that incorporates data.

After graduating from Egerton University in 2019, Miranyi worked at the Kisumu National Polytechnic’s Institute for Textile Technology. In Kenya, there is a shortage of technical and vocational education and training skills, known as TVET. In particular, there is a need for specialized workers in transportation, energy, and manufacturing, including agro-processing and information and communications technologies.

Kisumu National Polytechnic’s Institute for Textile Technology specializes in textile technology and is one of 15 centers identified as a TVET Center of Excellence. Each center specializes in specific sectors and occupations with niche programs and is sponsored by the World Bank’s East Africa Skills for Transformation and Regional Integration Project.

At the institute, Miranyi performed data collecting and analysis for stakeholders on critical statistics to map out the development and transformation of regional integration with industry partnerships.

“I collected data that highlighted the skills gap, particularly in Kenya, and the increasing demand for technical education, especially among high school graduates without access to universities,” Miranyi said. “To enhance access to technical training, I advocated for affirmative action to support special needs groups, particularly girls with risks of early marriage, youths from needy backgrounds, and minority tribes, among others.”

There is a real gender gap in opportunities to access education. Miranyi also collected and analyzed project data such as student enrollments in the program, with a key focus on female enrollment, the number of industry partnerships developed, and the number of market-driven curricula developed. This information was then disseminated to the government, World Bank, and project stakeholders for accountability, transparency, participatory leadership, effective policy making, and implementation.

“While my role was collecting and performing data analysis, it was also about impacting people’s lives
These are students who finish high school and cannot go on to college. The project trains students with the skill sets to be employable and make a good living,” Miranyi said. “I was so honored to be part of this.”

Today, Miranyi is pursuing her master’s degree at Virginia Tech. She learned about the program because the CALS Global office had a partnership with Egerton University, where she was a student. Miranyi got to see the agricultural research that was being conducted and wanted to pursue that field and an advanced degree at Virginia Tech.

Miranyi’s parents are thrilled she is a Hokie. “They are champions for education,” said Miranyi.

Her advice to students who are thinking about furthering their education is simple: “Be prepared mentally and physically for graduate school and have a research interest.”

Next, Miranyi plans to pursue her Ph.D. in applied economics, and yes, at Virginia Tech.

After she obtains her Ph.D., she wants to work in international development to promote research and development in food and health economics.

“I want to give back to my community by establishing a center that will impact young people and increase access to education.”


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