New Chair Unites Two Colleges on the International Stage

Wolf icons on the Talley Student Union elevator glass wall.

A generous gift from three-time NC State alumnus and former chair of the Board of Trustees Dr. James “Jim” W. Owens will advance cross-college collaboration and the university’s international reputation.

The James W. Owens Distinguished Chair in International Economics will be held jointly between the Poole College of Management and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – the first named, endowed chair-level position at the latter. The gift also creates a partnership between the university and the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution devoted to studying international economic policy.

The chair is expected to strengthen NC State’s existing expertise in areas such as international agri-food trade while developing research around subjects that may include the economics of global energy markets, international mineral commodities trade and the economics of exports and global logistics. 

Leaders at both colleges are confident this collaboration will enhance not only their programs, but the university’s overall ability to develop innovative solutions to global challenges. 

“Most problems are complex,” said Frank Buckless, Stephen P. Zelnak Jr. Dean of Poole College of Management. “We have people with deep knowledge in their areas, but to solve today’s problems, we need to think about it from different perspectives. By collaborating across campus, we get those perspectives together, and we can come up with bigger, better solutions.”

“There is real value in Jim’s passion in bringing our two colleges together as partners. I’m hoping this is contagious,” said Richard Linton, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 

Both he and Buckless are excited about the way the chair immediately fits into their colleges’ overall strategic vision. 

Buckless cited NC State’s success in entrepreneurship as an example of how collaborating across campus can create opportunities that benefit the entire university, and he believes that the Owens chair can do the same for international economics and trade. 

“We’re trying to be excellent in student impact and in research impact,” he said. “The way we drive that excellence is through industry engagement and interdisciplinary academic engagement. We’re trying to find partnerships that elevate us, and this chair is allowing us to do that in the international economics space.” 

The chair also strengthens the economic component of the work being done in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, from plant sciences to food manufacturing. 

“This helps the college be better, helps the university be better and also helps us be more relevant to the state of North Carolina. Being able to have an economic answer about a difference we can make is important,” Linton said. 

The partnership with PIIE – the university’s first time collaborating with the institute, which has established working relationships with places such as Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology – will help raise NC State’s global profile as a thought leader and resource for policymakers. The Owens Distinguished Chair will be eligible to hold a senior fellowship at PIIE, and NC State graduate students and faculty affiliated with the program in international economics and trade will be invited to attend PIIE’s annual summer conference for its partner universities. 

Owens’ long-standing interest in seeing NC State grow in the field of international economics helped spur this extraordinary commitment. As the chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc., he built a distinguished career as a corporate economist that spanned four decades and previously served on the board of PIIE. He completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in textile technology and a doctorate in economics, all at NC State. 

Jim and Kathrine Owens with Trent Ragland and Chancellor Woodson
Former North Carolina State University Foundation Board Chair Trent Ragland and Chancellor Randy Woodson with Jim and Kathrine Owens at the 2017 Menscer Cup celebration. Owens was recognized for his longtime service to and support of NC State.

The chair builds on Owens’ previous investments in Poole College of Management’s faculty. The James W. Owens/Caterpillar Faculty Fellowship Endowment supports faculty whose research focuses on international economics or finance, and the Owens Distinguished Professorship of Supply Chain Management is held by Dr. Sebastian Heese.

Though he has an established record of philanthropy at Poole College of Management, Owens’ doctorate predates the college’s formal creation, which is particularly meaningful for Buckless: “To have someone like Jim, who has been very successful and believes in our vision and mission so much so he’s willing to invest in us for perpetuity even though he’s not a graduate of the college, sends an impressive and impactful signal to the rest of the world that we’re doing great things.”

Additionally, Owens and his wife Kathrine have supported numerous students through the need-based Nellie Maude Matthews Owens Scholarship, the James W. and Kathrine M. Owens Caldwell Scholarship and, most recently, the James and Kathrine Owens Shelton Leadership Program Endowment.  

“Over the years, Jim has been visionary in how he understands NC State’s position as a leader in our state, our nation and beyond. We are so grateful to have a partner who sees new ways to assert our university’s increasing relevance in a changing world,” said Chancellor Randy Woodson. “The Owens Distinguished Chair in International Economics is an incredible example of how the success of our Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign is fueled by dedicated supporters who see an opportunity for our growth and invest in that opportunity.”

The chair is among nearly 90 endowed faculty positions established over the course of the Campaign. A search is underway for the inaugural incumbent, and Linton and Buckless anticipate the position making an immediate impact. 

“I’m thankful for Frank Buckless, Provost Warwick Arden and Jim Owens,” Linton said. “We collaborated and worked hard to make this the right position. That only works if there’s full support from the top about doing things across college lines. And I really appreciate that NC State thinks and does in that way.”