By the time Marria Peduto completes her bachelor’s degree in summer 2023, she will have visited at least six – if not seven – of the world’s continents during her college career. Peduto describes herself as “situated at the nexus of food, climate, and people.” In addition to majoring in International Studies and East Asian Languages and Cultures through the Hamilton Lugar School (HLS), Peduto has crafted a major in Sustainable Food & Marine Systems through the Indiana University (IU) College of Arts and Sciences Individualized Major Program with Dr. Olga Kalentzidou. While earning her degree, Peduto has developed professional proficiency in Chinese and Indonesian, founded a food project, developed a language app, conducted her own zooarchaeology research, served as a global consultant, and more.
A native of Indianapolis, Peduto had her first study abroad experience the summer between high school and college when she received a National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) award which allowed her to go to Chengdu, China to study Mandarin Chinese in an immersive language environment, learn about the American national security apparatus, and experience life in a foreign country.
The NSLI-Y program solidified Peduto’s interest in International Studies and East Asian Languages and Cultures, even if the timing posed a bit of a challenge. She says, “It’s kind of a funny story – because my flights were cancelled on my way back from China, I arrived in the U.S. then had to start school at IU the very next morning. It was a 12-hour time difference, and it was a lot to manage.”
Peduto was up to the task, however. She was fortunate to live in the HLS Living Learning Center (LLC), among peers who valued traveling abroad and understood the jetlag and reverse culture shock she was experiencing. She says, “That definitely helped. I had built-in friends, and they understood me being relatively quiet for the first few days.”
During her first year at IU, Peduto says she was very structured and had an excel spreadsheet mapping out her five-year plan. Thanks to IU’s strong language resources, Peduto was able to study Chinese through the Chinese Flagship Program, as well as the summer Language Workshop. She worked as a graphic designer for the Language Flagship program and even found space in her schedule to study abroad in France through the Hutton Honors college her first year.
In her second year at IU, Peduto started volunteering in the Campus Kitchen, an organization focused on addressing student food insecurity and reducing food waste on campus. As a kitchen lead, she helped prepare and serve more than 60 meals per week. In addition, she volunteered weekly at the Indiana University organic Campus Farm.
Unfortunately, the arrival of a global coronavirus pandemic put a wrench in Peduto’s five-year plan. She says, “I was one week away from leaving for Indonesia for the Hutton study abroad program, I already had my flight to Taiwan for the summer, and I had booked my flights to go to Kenya for an internship. I had to cancel all three of those flights – it was heartbreaking.”
Despite the restrictions of the pandemic lockdowns, Peduto made the most of her time. She learned that 35% of college students experience food insecurity, and the pandemic was exacerbating the issue. This inspired her to found Food (Security) for Thought, an initiative to provide globally inspired food boxes focused on locally sourced food. Each box was paired with recipes from an underrepresented food culture which could be prepared with the ingredients included.
In the spring of 2021, Peduto and the rest of the Food [Security] for Thought team also organized a four-day food symposium with 355 viewers from eight countries which addressed issues such as Black food justice, Conflict Cuisine, and food security. It also included chef demos from traditionally underrepresented culinary backgrounds. During the project, they distributed over 450 food boxes to students on the IU Bloomington campus, as well as donating boxes to local community organizations.
Peduto gained experience in grant writing to secure funding for the program that was a collaboration with the IU Campus Kitchen, supported by the Hamilton Lugar School, and funded by about $30,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of State’s Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund, Hutton Honors College Funding Board, and the IU Funding Board.
Then, from November 2020 through June 2021, Peduto completed a remote internship with the Foreign Agricultural Service in Taiwan which combined her interests in food systems and graphic design. During the internship, she researched Taiwanese and American agricultural imports and exports, and developed marketing reports based on her findings.
Once world travel resumed, Peduto took a year off from classes to spend a year in Dubai, United Arab Emirates as one of 75 Americans selected to represent the U.S. as a youth ambassador to Expo 2020. Expos, also known as World Fairs, are one of the oldest and largest global events, and take place every five years.
Peduto says, “I worked for the U.S. Department of State Expo Unit which is responsible for U.S. participation in international exhibitions. IU allowed me to pause my scholarships and work for a year, and then come back to finish my studies. So, I’m a bit of a non-traditional student in that sense of just having gap year in the middle of my studies. But that was really amazing, and I still was representing Indiana.”
After her year at the Expo, Peduto went to Honolulu, Hawaii to intern at the Language Flagship Technology Innovation Center from April through June 2022. This allowed her to combine her interests in language, food, and design to develop a Chinese “Cooking Connections” app which included 550 food and culinary terms, and 80 recipes.
In August 2022, Peduto received a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State to study in Indonesian in Malang, Indonesia. Then in the fall of 2022, Peduto managed to fit in global consulting, research, and travel.
Peduto participated in the HLS Global Consultants program where she was part of the Hijabi Mentorship Program team. This project allowed her to share expertise she had gained from prior grant writing experience.
Meanwhile, through her sustainability Food & Marine Systems major, Peduto found out there was a researcher at IU who studies Chinese fish in the Chinese diaspora in the U.S., and what the bones that they find there tell us about the international seafood trade between the U.S. and China. Peduto says, “Because of my language background and fisheries background, I got hired in the William R. Adams Zooarchaeology Laboratory where I am now doing my own research alongside Dr. Ryan Kennedy.” In fact, it is this research that provides the opportunity for her to visit her seventh continent – she has already been accepted to present a research poster at the International Zooarchaeological Conference in Cairns, Australia in August of 2023, she just needs to secure funding to make that trip possible.
In addition, Peduto was a student representative to the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Agreement, called COP 27, in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt in the fall of 2022. The trip was sponsored by HLS and Tobias Center for Innovation in International Development under the leadership of Professor Jessica O’Reilly. the Peduto says she was “thrilled to engage with climate focused professionals from around the world about my research concerning anthropogenic stressors on coral reef fisheries in Southeast Asia.”
A few days after she returned from Egypt, Peduto led an alternative break trip to Greece, talking about sustainable agriculture. She says, “It was incredibly rewarding, because it was mostly Kelley School of Business students. I was able to take my perspective from HLS and art classes and lend that to students in another school who are focusing on very different topics.”
In January 2023, Peduto set off on a trip which connected with her majors and was supported by a Hutton Honors College Creativity Activity Grant. She first spent a few weeks in Argentina and Brazil to work on a food project, then continued to Antarctica. She says, “It’s part of an independent study called techniques for global storytelling. And it’s about food and climate – I’m looking at these connections and these different angles for telling stories related to both areas using photojournalism. “
This spring, Peduto is in Taipei, Taiwan, participating in IU’s Taiwan Huayu Bilingual Exchanges of Selected Talent (BEST) Program at National Taiwan University. She says, “As someone who has done the IU summer language workshop twice, I can confidently say the BEST program is very similar to that – it’s three hours of intensive language study, five days a week.”
Thanks to her strong language preparation, Peduto was placed in the highest Chinese class. She says, “This is my first Chinese class outside of IU, so there is a mix of new content, and some content we’ve already had. At IU, I was writing papers on economic policy or environmental justice. Here, on the other hand, I’m learning more colloquial language, or everyday life things like discussing different movie genres.
In addition, living in Taipei is giving Peduto the opportunity to gain practical experience with things like ordering bubble tea, or learning the vocabulary for using a ‘super shopper savers card’ to get a discount.
Reflecting on her college career, Peduto is happy she chose IU and HLS. She says, “Truly, the international opportunities are something that I will forever be grateful for. I say that as someone who has been able to study abroad, who has been able to work abroad, who has been able to lead trips abroad for IU students – the ways that it has both expanded myself as a person, and my Insights, but also from a professional development and student development standpoint.”
Peduto says in addition to meeting many wonderful people, “I have been able to do so many things outside of just the classroom – but it is all rooted in the classroom experience. That’s something that I touch on in the Food for Thought Project – it was very hyper localized, but it was influenced by all these different discussions that I’ve had in my classes in my coursework that bring in these global elements to a Bloomington based project. It is a really a reflection of my overall career at IU.”
As for her next steps, Peduto has received a Fulbright grant for a project in Buleleng, Bali, Indonesia, where she will focus on reef restoration and small-scale fishing communities. In the longer term, she is considering consulting in the public or private sector, working in diplomacy, or pursuing research. She is particularly interested in ecosystem restoration as it relates to food varying ecosystems.
When she reflects on how her initial five-year plan for college compares to reality, Peduto realizes her future career might go in a direction she has not yet imagined. She says, “If you had told first-year Marria that she could present original research at a zooarchaeology conference in Australia, she would have said, ‘What’s zooarchaeology?’” No matter what the future holds, she knows that her broad education and experience, and her own sense of adventure will serve her well.
Peduto’s success at IU has been built in collaboration with many university departments, programs, and professorships, and she shares a deep gratitude with all those who have supported her development.
The Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies (HLS) was established in 2015 and is housed within the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences (COAS). The school is #1 in the U.S. for its number of Area Studies Centers recognized by the U.S. Department of Education Title VI program. Through HLS and COAS, Indiana University is #1 in the country for number of foreign languages taught (80) and number of U.S. Department of Defense Language Flagship Programs (3).