Turning problems into possibilities

CATEGORIES: News, Students
Nick Battles in the Netherlands

For Nick Battles, a world of possibilities was revealed less than 60 miles from his suburban Indianola, Iowa, home when he participated in the World Food Prize’s Iowa Youth Institute.

Battles (’21 global resource systems, agriculture and society) was a sophomore in high school at the time. Held at Iowa State University, the event was Battles’ first exposure to agriculture careers, and he immediately knew the university and the majors he had chosen were the right fit for him.

“The degree program’s unique requirements of an international internship, studying a foreign language, choosing a technical area and the interdisciplinary approach were intriguing to me from the get-go,” Battles said.

One opportunity leads to another
Battles’ experiences at the World Food Prize inspired him to apply for and receive a Borlaug-Ruan International Internship, a program that enables outstanding high school students to embark on careers in service, agriculture and global development.

In 2017, after graduating from high school, Battles spent two months in Gurugram, India, working for the S.M. Sehgal Foundation in agricultural development. He interviewed nearly 40 farmers, with the help of an interpreter, to find out how they were using micro-irrigation systems. The experience was a far cry from his familiar Iowa surroundings.

“I saw struggle and hardship and injustice like I had never witnessed before,” Battles said.

Battles returned more determined than ever to tackle the worldwide problems of food insecurity, water scarcity and malnutrition. To better prepare him for these challenges, he added a second major — agriculture and society — an interdisciplinary program that resides in the Department of Sociology. The department is co-administered by the colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Agriculture and society allows me to study economics, political science and sociology in a way that relates to agriculture,” Battles said.

Learning to lead
Battles also is pursuing a minor in learning and leadership sciences. Jan Wiersema, associate teaching professor in agronomy, has taught Battles in two of the minor’s foundational classes.

“Nick seems to see the world in possibilities, not problems,” Wiersema said. “He has a desire to use his knowledge and skills to solve problems and enhance learning and life for others.”

Leading is second nature to Battles.

“I have a particular interest in leadership, so I’m grateful for all the chances CALS provides to seek out and practice those skills,” he said.

From his participation in the Vermeer International Leadership Program, to the Globe Leadership Fellows Program, to the Dean’s Leadership Class, to the multitude of leadership positions he’s held in various service organizations, Battles is grateful to Iowa State for propelling his academic and career goals forward.

“My courses, the meaningful structure of my degrees and active learning communities go far beyond the basics, and with good reason — the world will not settle for mediocrity,” Battles said.

And neither does he. Battles has excelled academically since stepping onto Iowa State’s campus. As a freshman, he earned the Floyd Andre Scholarship for Excellence in Agriculture, and he was recently recognized with a high scholarship award for being in the top 2% of his 2021 CALS class. He’s a regular on the Dean’s List as well as a member of the university honors program.

Empowering others to service
Battles is dedicated to serving others. His long list of service activities includes being a Cyclone Aide and Adviser, a CALS Ambassador and a member of the college’s technology advancement committee. He also serves in UNICEF, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Food at First.

“I’ve always understood that I come from quite a privileged background. With privilege, in my opinion, comes a responsibility to empower others,” he said.

Nicole Nicholson supervised Battles as a Cyclone Aide and adviser.

“Nick is always asking how he can help, and he is always there for people whenever they need him,” Nicholson said. “As a Cyclone Aide adviser this past year, I saw the care and compassion he showed for every student he mentored and, whether he knows it or not, that was inspiring to me.”

Changing the world for the better
Battles studied abroad in Wageningen, Netherlands, this fall thanks to the Louis M. Thompson Study Abroad Scholarship, which helped fund his trip. There, he is learned about irrigation and water management, economics, international policies and sustainability.

“Having the chance to interact with and hear the perspectives of peers from around the world on interests I care deeply about is extraordinary,” he said.

Battles will apply his overseas experience to his career following graduation from Iowa State in 2021, though those plans are not yet firm.

What is certain? Battles will work to make a difference wherever his path leads.

“My degree programs make me so excited for a career in public service,” Battles said. “I think everyone, to some degree, grows up wanting to change the world for the better.”

This story was originally published in STORIES, the alumni magazine for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.