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Kansas State University

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Graduate students learn how border security, food safety and security, and international relations intersect

By Kristin Hodges


This summer, Ryan Bradburn, a second-year veterinary medicine student at Kansas State University, had the chance to investigate the realities of border security up close and personal.

"That really opened my eyes," he said of his research trip to New Mexico, where he visited a border security station and a cattle crossing. "The very definition of border and food security took on a new meaning for me -- much more than just ensuring that incoming products are free of harmful residues, but also keeping lines of trade open."

Until this summer, Bradburn, Manhattan, evaluated world issues through the academic lens of animal or human health. But K-State's Frontier program broadened his horizons.

Frontier is an interdisciplinary program for the historical study of border security, food security and trade policy. Its mission is to better understand how border security, food safety and security, and international relations intersect. To that end, students are taught to approach these issues from a multiplicity of academic perspectives.

"We started the Frontier program to illustrate how multidisciplinary research can help paint a more complete picture of complex problems," said Justin Kastner, K-State assistant professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology and co-founder of Frontier. When it comes to border security, food safety and trade, fully understanding any one topic requires a working knowledge of several disciplines, he said.

"The world is very complex, and for tomorrow's leaders to develop solutions they need to fully understand the problems. We remind our students that it's no longer enough to think one-dimensionally on an issue," Kastner said. "The Frontier program offers bona fide multidisciplinary educational opportunities for students."

Frontier interns are exposed to a variety of people and ideas. "It's amazing what you can learn by meeting with others in a variety of professions," Kastner said. "I've had the opportunity to compare notes with fellow researchers in political science, government, human medicine, education, public relations, food science, and Web development, just for starters. In today's world, all of these things work together."

Earlier this fall, the Frontier program also began using multimedia to enhance the learning opportunities. With the help of Bradburn and Steve Toburen, the program's Web developer, Frontier launched a new Web site, Student projects and other resources are displayed at the Web site. Some of the more recent projects include student-produced videos and audio commentaries on topics like the role of primary care physicians in pandemic flu planning and the impact of foot-and-mouth disease on trade. Bradburn and his fellow students will also be producing a piece about the summer visit to the border.

As part of the new site, people also can subscribe to audio and video podcasts using iTunes and a RSS feed of the most recent content also is available.

"Podcasting and RSS-feed tools allow us to attract visitors to the Web site while providing our students an electronic means to creatively present their research findings," Kastner said. "Last week one of our students -- Edward Nyambok, a graduate student from Kenya -- published a podcast commentary on the international trade aspects of a Rift Valley fever outbreak in his home country."

The Frontier program was founded by Kastner and Jason Ackleson, an assistant professor at New Mexico State University. The pair met while in graduate school in London.