Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Patterson at Humboldt


This time 22 years ago, Dr. Bob Patterson flew to Berlin for a Fulbright scholarship at Humboldt University of Berlin.  During his six-month sabbatical in Berlin, Dr. Patterson formed life-long friendships and academic partnerships that he still cherishes today.  

This past summer Dr. Patterson completed his yearly journey back to Humboldt University, where he indulged the questions and curiosities of Crop Physiology graduate students who wanted American insight. Who better to lecture than Dr. Patterson?

Teaching in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at NC State, Dr. Patterson was asked to lecture on topics concerning United States agricultural research and perspective. We interviewed Dr. Patterson to get a better look into what his recent visit was all about.

“When I went to Humboldt this time they wanted me to talk about United States agriculture and why we’re doing the research that we’re doing. I gave a series of lectures on what we’re doing in plant breeding and genetics. I tried to go into some other areas but I was careful about those areas because I wanted to stay in my field. Since my background is physiology and biochemistry, so I tried to provide a physiological basis for why we are doing some of the plant breeding and genetics and management research that we’re doing in America.”

But their curiosity didn’t stop there. Dr. Patterson continued to explain that these graduate students had an appetite to learn about what steps the U.S. is taking in the direction of sustainability.

“The Germans don’t like the word sustainability,” Dr. Patterson explained with immense humor. “They have a tremendous word that translates to sustainability, but means something else. It translates to ‘into perpetuity.’ Not sustainable.”

(Professor Ellmer and Dr. Patterson in front of research plots at Dahlem at the Albrecht Daniel Thaer Institute)


Knowing full about their interests, the educator complimented their tastes and formed his lectures accordingly. He continued, saying, “They want to know what steps we’re taking to protect our soil, to provide an environment that allows a crop to achieve as fully as possible or come as close as it can to its genetic potential.”

Dr. Patterson didn’t to go to Germany only to talk about research and lecture. He went for the students, their questions, and to be inspired by them and learn from them in kind. Our professor mentioned some research he had done in the past with soybeans and drought tolerance. This subject in particular sparked an interest in an Egyptian student studying at Humboldt. Dr. Patterson explained to us that she wanted to learn more about the protocol revolving around that particular area of study. The two of them–Patterson and this student–have been keeping in contact even after he left the university.

Another highlight from this particular visit has bubbled into plans for a student from Humboldt to potentially come to study here at NC State. Dr. Patterson expressed a wish for students here at NCSU to take similar initiative and look for chances to go abroad to study.


(Dr. Patterson biking in Berlin with his students. Dr. Patterson loves taking his student groups on the Fat Bike Tours in Berlin)


“The opportunities that anyone has to go into a different part of the world are incredible and one of the sad parts is that I am not able–none of us are as able–to encourage our students and our college to have a global experience. We are trying so hard to help our students realize that they are going to get to know themselves a lot better, get to understand our world, how it’s unfolding and why…”

While in Berlin in 1995, Dr. Patterson became friends with Dr. Klaus-Peter Goetz. Since their meeting, Dr. Goetz has since came to NC State three times to conduct plant physiology research in our campus Phytotron. Dr. Patterson explained their relationship is reciprocal. Our professor also expressed how his Fulbright in Berlin fulfilled its purpose which was to give him a fresh approach to looking at his work. Since 1996, Dr. Patterson has been a strong proponent for the Fulbright program for students and faculty.

Between his many invitations to lecture in Germany to his tour of lectures across Europe, Dr. Patterson expressed how humbled and how much he’s learned from his exposure to other ways of living and thought. He says, “The opportunity to go to all of these places and academic environments has made all the difference. It’s empowered me to see the world differently and be a far better teacher.”

We’re looking forward to what Dr. Patterson will be doing next, and we wish him all the best as this year continues!


(For all of the students that have travelled through Germany, they know how important this scene is to Dr. Patterson… rapeseed and windmills together in one picture!)



Article originally appeared on CALS International Programs website

Article by Katie Dungan

Intern, CALS International Programs

Communications Student, Appalachian State University