CU-Boulder graduation: Senior Mark Arnoldy headed to Nepal to combat malnutrition

May 6, 2010

Mark Arnoldy nearly polished off his meal before realizing it was made with a cashew sauce.

Highly allergic to nuts, his body bucked into anaphylactic shock.

Arnoldy, finished with his junior year at the University of Colorado, was teaching in Nepal at the time. Political unrest in the Himalayan country was amplified by strikes. Motor transportation ceased.

In retrospect, the 2007 episode gave Arnoldy the raw, first-hand experience of what it was like to need live-saving health care but not have access to it. Now, the graduating senior will continue a project he has been working on for more than two years to combat childhood malnutrition in Nepal.

It relies on peanut butter.

"The great twist of irony is the very product that threatened me with death promises life to tens of thousands of Nepali children," Arnoldy said.

CU will confer 5,825 degrees Friday at its university-wide graduation ceremony, which begins at 8:30 a.m. at Folsom Field. Seven students have aced their college careers, earning straight A's and 564 students are graduating with honors.

Arnoldy, among the honors graduates, will earn his bachelor's degree in psychology. While at CU, he has honed his leadership skills through the “President's Leadership Class.”

Shortly after surviving the allergic shock in Nepal, Arnoldy came across research describing how protein-packed peanut butter can address malnutrition in developing countries. Unlike milk powder packs, the packaged nutrients don't rely on the mixture of water, which can pose contamination risks.

Arnoldy also discovered that half a million children in Nepal are malnourished.

He has traveled to Nepal five times to lay the groundwork to produce and distribute the already-developed peanut butter product called NepalNUTrition. The product is monitored by Doctors without Borders and the United Nations Children's Fund to make sure it is nutritious and safe.

Arnoldy also traveled to Haiti to study an organization there that uses peanut butter to combat malnutrition. Master's of Business Administration students at CU have helped him develop a business plan.

Arnoldy spent six months in Nepal last year finding a factory location, evaluating distribution chains and working with local partners and government officials to get his program under way.

It was featured by former President Bill Clinton during the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative University Conference, and last month Arnoldy learned he has secured a Fulbright grant to continue his work in Nepal. He plans to spend the next two years there building the program.

"I'm hoping to build it to such a point that I can leave and it will be run entirely by Nepali staff," Arnoldy said.

Once he completes his Fulbright grant, he plans to return to the United States to pursue an MBA and attend medical school.

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Arnoldy also headed up a campus campaign called "CU Stands With Haiti" that raised more than $100,000 to help the relief efforts.

Peter Simons, the director of CU's Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement, is impressed with Arnoldy's commitment to his humanitarian work.

"He's one of those superstars on campus," Simons said. "For all that he's done, he has so much humility."

Arnoldy secured a prestigious Puksta scholarship, which funds about 20 CU students every year to carry out civic engagement projects. Each year, there are about five to seven Puksta Scholars openings and 100 applications, Simons said.

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