VERMILLION, S.D. -- When Zach Crago first arrived on the campus of The University of South Dakota, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the public sector. However, he wasn’t quite sure what path to take but as the graduating senior progressed as a college student his goals became crystal clear – he wants to make a difference.
A recipient of a 2009 grant from the Fulbright Program – the flagship international education exchange program sponsored by the United States government, it’s clear that Crago will be making difference on more than one continent. Having been presented with a Fulbright Research Grant that will enable him to conduct econometric research, the Sioux Falls, S.D., native will assess the impact of recent land reform policies on food security in Venezuela.
"I will be working under the guidance of an economic research institution at La Universidad de los Andes, Merida," said Crago, who will graduate in May with a double major in economics and political science. "I hope to analyze to what extent land reform (in Venezuela) has promoted the increased production and availability of agricultural goods."
Sponsored by the United States Department of State, the Fulbright Program was established in 1946 to increase a mutual understanding between people of the United States and other countries, through the exchange of persons, knowledge and skills. The Fulbright Program also provides funding for students, scholars and professionals to undertake graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and teaching in elementary, and secondary schools.
Crago was a finance major when he enrolled at USD hoping to go to work for an investing arm of a nonprofit organization and manage its finances. His goals, however, changed during a study abroad opportunity to Chile where he studied economic development. Not only did a love for economics evolve from the trip but his preparation for it showed Crago's overall commitment and passion to be successful.
"Zach taught himself the first semester of Spanish in order to have the necessary language background to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country," said Susan Hackemer, associate director of the honors program and coordinator of competitive scholarships at USD.
Crago is used to overcoming communication barriers in his life. Growing up in Sioux Falls, Zach was raised by deaf parents. Seeing the challenges his parents faced left an impression on him to seek help for those who were marginalized by society or what he believed were social inequities. Now completing his last year at Oregon State University in Corvallis on the National Student Exchange program, Crago is participating in a Spanish immersion program with a thematic focus on education as he prepares for research in Venezuela. It also doesn't hurt that he’s helping out in the community at the same time.
"I'm grateful to lend my abilities to help establish a new nonprofit organization called Casa Latinos Unidos, which seeks to promote the well-being of the Latino community in Benton County (Ore.)," he added.
Unafraid to take on leadership roles as well as to expand his knowledge beyond his studies, Crago will spend the summer as an intern with Teaching for Change in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit organization that promotes the development of critical engagement among teachers, parents and students through the classroom. Last summer, he completed an internship at the Economic Research Service at the USDA and he continues to work on his thesis, which details the impact of agricultural subsidies on farmland values in South Dakota.
"When I first arrived at USD, I didn't envision anything like this," admitted Crago, the son of Patricia Kuglitsh, who lives in Sioux Falls and Michael Crago of Tucson, Ariz.
"In high school, I decided early on that I wanted to go to a good business school close to home and that was USD," said the graduate of Roosevelt High School. "But the school became more than that. It’s really a case where you have professors who want you to succeed if you're willing to take the first step."
Even though he's not on the USD campus where he was a member of USD's Political Economy Club, past president of Coyote Capital Management or Armonia, an environmental service group that he founded at USD, he's looking forward to the day when he can come home.
"Even I must admit," he stated, "I am most looking forward to the month of August when I return home to the big skies of South Dakota."
Only after he makes a difference along the way.
A photo of Crago is available for download at www.usd.edu/urelations/images/Zach_Crago.jpg.