Alumni Profile Dr. Robert Mwanga
Please describe your current job position:
I am a sweetpotato breeder for Sub-Saharan Africa
(East and Central Africa, sub-region), working for the
International Potato Center (CIP), based in Kampala, Uganda
What is the most interesting thing about your job?
It is a challenging job. People expect me to find instant solutions to major problems such as devastating pests like weevils, serious diseases such as sweetpotato virus disease, turning white-fleshed to orange-fleshed (nutritious) sweetpotato that combines all desirable characteristics to help solve problems of under-nutrition, vitamin A deficiency, and poverty. These wide ranging challenges keep me busy with varied partners ranging from farmers to development partners, universities and advanced international laboratories.
How well did the Department of Horticultural Science at NCSU prepare you for your current position?
I had the liberty to take a wide range of advanced courses (e.g. genetics, statistics, breeding, biotechnology, virology) within the department and from different departments combining both practical and theory. NCSU is a school to be proud of. When you get out into practice, you then realize the kind of valuable tools you have to compete very well.
What other horticultural-related jobs did you have prior to your current position?
I headed the National Sweetpotato Prgram (NSP) of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) in Uganda 2001-2009. The NSP was very successful. Basically what led to the success of the NSP was writing successful proposals and efficiently implanting the awarded grants.
What made the Department of Horticultural Science at NCSU unique?
A combination of things made the Depart unique: the freedom of the graduate students to select courses of their choice, the range of excellent experienced professors, the very high standard expected of students for any course they take, the interaction of students among themselves and with their professors during official and unofficial hours, and even in their homes, encouraging students to give presentations and to compete at International conferences (I attended several of them) and the freedom to obtain necessary skills from other institutions while enrolled at NCSU. I had to do some of my molecular marker and genetic mapping work at the International Potato Center, Lima, Peru, while doing my PhD program. It is simply amazing; the friendship of my graduate committee did not stop when I left NCSU. About a decade later, the friendship is strong and continues!!
What would you say are the strengths of the Department of Horticultural Science at NCSU?
One of the strengths is the ability of the graduate committees being able to help the students to select relevant courses and preparing the students to compete in their future careers. There are excellent courses whose combination give a solid foundation to a student developing a career—e.g. statistics, plant breeding, virology, biotechnology; it all depends on how determined, articulate and willing the student is willing to develop the foundation of the career with the help of the professors. Excellent professors, excellent courses, the graduate students can exploit them to their future benefit.
If you received degrees from other departments/universities, how did the experiences differ from the one you had in the Department of Horticultural Science at NCSU?
At NCSU, the competition was very high, there were lots of opportunities for learning new things, the professors had scenarios of both developed world and developing worlds, and the combination of laboratory and field work was very good. The graduate committee was always available to help and if they could not solve a problem they directed you to the appropriate professor. This availability of immense expertise really helps to develop the potential of the student.
What words of wisdom/advice would you give students thinking about attending the Department of Horticultural Sciences at NCSU? Do you want a good career?