During a summer in Uganda as a Miller Center Global Social Benefit Fellow, Griffin Garner ’20 saw firsthand the extreme threat climate change poses to smallholder coffee farmers. Working with NUCAFE, a social enterprise that teams up with smallholder Ugandan coffee farmers, he learned that helping farmers survive and grow requires widespread sharing of best practices such as mulching, shade, or water conservation. That means finding creative ways to provide training, especially for women farmers who represent more than half of the farming labor force there.
“I’m trying to figure the best way to really reach farmers, and get them to incorporate these best practices,” said Garner, who will be pursuing both goals as a Fulbright Scholar. Garner said he first got interested in coffee farming issues as a research assistant studying Nicaraguan coffee farmers, alongside environmental studies and sciences professor Chris Bacon. That work took Garner to Washington, D.C., where he helped present his team’s research to 8,000 attendees at an American Association of Geographers’ conference.
“I’ve always been drawn to international work and development,” said Garner, an environmental sciences major who also has traveled abroad in Bolivia, Panama, and Indonesia through SCU’s Global Fellows and other programs. “I’m the kind of person who really likes to be pushed out of my comfort zone and be in an environment where I’m learning about a culture,” he said.
Garner has pursued that passion through SCU programs, and on his own. In the summer after his first year at SCU, he went to Panama with an organization called Give and Surf, working on educational outreach to indigenous communities. Through SCU’s Global Fellows program, he worked on an organic farm and a food store in Bolivia. After his sophomore year, he took a year off to pursue his passion for marine biology by working at the Bimini Biological Field Station, or “Shark Lab,” in the Bahamas—studying and working with sharks. In Garner’s role as an assistant manager, he had the opportunity to help facilitate research on various shark species around the island. The work also included helping National Geographic and Discovery Channel film several episodes of Shark Week.
“My foremost passions are global sustainable development and ocean conservation,” said Garner, who hopes to pursue a career at the intersection of those two fields after completing his Fulbright program.
Though he loves travel, Garner said some of his most formative experiences happened nearby in San Jose, when he took a Spanish class that was also an experiential learning for social justice (ELSJ) course requiring him to “embed” himself with a San Jose family of undocumented and low-income family members. He loved it so much he took two more ELSJ courses that kept him working with the family. “I’m still in touch with them today, and it was a huge part of my Santa Clara experience,” he said.
Garner is from Greens Farms, Connecticut. His dad Jerrett owns a small custom golf shop and his mom Shelly is a property manager and caregiver to Garner’s grandmother.
"Griffin is an engaged, diplomatic, and collaborative individual with a strong command of relevant social science theories and methods," said his adviser, professor Bacon. "He has both a deep sense of empathy and the solid technical skills needed for success."