Desire to improve food safety leads Afghan student to WSU

Closeup of Barakatullah Mohammadi holding a test tube in a lab.
Barakatullah Mohammadi

As a teen growing up in Afghanistan, Barakatullah Mohammadi watched as residents of his home village, including many children, got sick during a surge of foodborne illnesses. 

To combat the surge, a local doctor recruited Mohammadi and other youths to educate their friends and neighbors about the importance of hygiene and correct food handling practices.

“We visited homes to teach people how to properly wash their hands and food and why it’s important,” said Mohammadi, a doctoral student in Washington State University’s School of Food Science. “Afterward, the number of problems decreased. It opened my eyes to the importance of food safety and its direct impact on lives.”

That experience eventually led Mohammadi to study food science at WSU, where he has now received a prestigious Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) Fellowship. Mohammadi is one of 30 graduate students from across the U.S. to receive the fellowship, a three-year professional development and training program for doctoral students studying food and agriculture sciences.

The FFAR Fellows Program fosters communications, public speaking, and project and team management skills. The fellowship cultivates supportive relationships between graduate students and industry, government, and nonprofit stakeholders to help prepare students for a successful transition to the workforce.

“I’m proud to work with Barakatullah and excited to see where his graduate studies and this fellowship take him,” said Stephanie Smith, a WSU Food Science assistant professor and Mohammadi’s advisor. “His dedication to food safety is impressive, as is the work he’s done to get to this point. This fellowship will help him meet his educational and career goals to advance food safety knowledge and best practices.”

After high school and the outbreak in his village, Mohammadi entered university in Afghanistan. After two years of general agriculture education, he decided to study food science through a new department at his school. He graduated in the country’s first cohort of food science students.

Mohammadi was then chosen as a Fulbright Scholar, picking WSU from four options. He completed his master’s degree in the spring and immediately went to work on a PhD.

“It is very hard to get a student visa from my country to the U.S.,” Mohammadi said. “The Fulbright Scholarship was a dream come true.”

Global events have conspired to alter the final goal of that dream, which was to go home and become a professor at an Afghan university. Now unable to safely return, Mohammadi will seek a position in the U.S. food science industry upon earning his doctorate. He also hopes to someday work for a government agency, helping give back to the industry and country that completed his education.

“I need private industry experience,” Mohammadi said. “But my long-term goal is to help with policymaking, to make lives better for as many people as possible.”

Learn more about Mohammadi’s experiences and goals on his FFAR Fellows profile.

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