‘I am in a unique position’: Assistant Director of CALS International Programs Highlights Her Work With NC State

WRITTEN BY: Olivia Rogers (Ogrogers@ncsu.edu)

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Tucker has been working for CALS International Programs since October 2017. As Assistant Director, she helps expand the international reach of CALS through several programs. She leads the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Borlaug Fellowship Program and the USDA-FAS Scientific Exchanges Program. She is also in charge of Research Pack Abroad. In the past, Tucker has researched seaweed and humate exogenous application effects on turfgrass drought tolerance. For her doctorate, she applied this at a water planning level to further investigate alternative water sources including rooftop rainwater harvesting, water conservation and desalinization as alternative water sources to meet landscape irrigation demands. Tucker enjoys learning and providing opportunities for research in various CALS programs because of her own background in agriculture and research.


 What led you to work in this field?

 As an undergraduate, I worked with an emeritus professor who introduced me to the world of research, and I was hooked. I have a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Clemson University and a Master of Science in crop and soil environmental science with a focus on water conservation and stress tolerance on irrigated turfgrass surfaces. I also have a doctorate in environmental design and planning from Virginia Tech. I researched how alternative water sources can meet irrigation water demands for my doctorate. While completing my doctorate, I worked for a rainwater harvesting company. After graduating, I went into the sustainability field and worked as a campus sustainability director at a community college in central Illinois. From there, I moved to France with my husband and two small children. Upon returning to the U.S. we landed in the Triangle where I started working for CALS International Programs.


What is unique about your position?

Our office works with all of CALS, and I work with the USDA-FAS-sponsored international scholars. I am in a unique position where I can hear and learn about a wide array of research that is happening all throughout CALS and around the globe.


How is your work important to you and NC State?

In helping internationalize the college, I provide opportunities for hosting visiting scholars who can share their experiences, knowledge, culture and varying viewpoints. Being in higher education, I support education in all forms. The more exposure we have to educating ourselves, the more enriched our lives will be. The same applies to when CALS students travel internationally for Research Pack Abroad. They are exposed to cultures that are different from their own. They learn to communicate with an international scientific community which helps them to grow professionally and personally.

Visiting Research Pack Abroad student, Cormac Holland, and Universidad de Cuenca partnering faculty and staff in Ecuador.

How is your work affecting global outreach?

Both the Borlaug Fellowship Program and the Scientific Exchanges Program (SEP) address food security and economic growth in low to middle-income countries with the SEP focusing more on international trade. The programs allow researchers to address topics that are of interest to their home country. This has a significant impact on bilateral relations with the U.S. in addition to their home country. The fellows are interacting with researchers at NC State along with graduate students, extension agents and farmers. When researchers come to NC State they are exposed to a department and college full of resources that extend beyond their research laboratory. Through these programs, the mentors complete a reciprocal visit to the fellow’s home institution which further extends the research collaboration, global reach and NC State brand. Additionally, through Research Pack Abroad, students are traveling to international research institutions to engage in ongoing research projects where they are learning to operate in an international environment. Most of the students have undergraduate research experience at NC State and bring their knowledge with them to share and learn.


In terms of successes, which accomplishments are you most proud of?

Our USDA-FAS-sponsored international scholar program has grown significantly over the years.   Since 2017, I have had the pleasure of working with 11 Borlaug Fellows and five Scientific Exchange Programs Fellows. We will be hosting another nine fellows on campus this fall with our biggest grant to date. I’m proud to have grown this program to where it is today and to represent NC State when I’m in Washington, DC meeting with USDA-FAS. I know the fellows will be exposed to the best research, researchers and facilities. Together we will all be able to address global challenges.

Tucker at the 2022 World Food Prize with Borlaug Fellows and Borlaug mentor, Dilip Panthee.

What is the best or most fulfilling part of your job?

 Working in the international science field allows me to be inquisitive. I continue to learn and provide learning opportunities for students. I enjoy hearing about the wide array of research that is happening within CALS and across the globe when working with visiting scientists, and I enjoy learning about cultures and providing exciting opportunities.