When Caitlin Lowe came to N.C. State University four years ago, she never imagined the places she’d go or how those travels would influence her future.
But now, with her head full of brains and her shoes full of feet, as Dr. Seuss would put it, the new alumna is off to graduate school with the determination to make a difference when it comes to agricultural policy and international development.
A native of rural Liberty, Lowe started her undergraduate studies in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with an eye toward becoming a plant geneticist working for a major U.S. agricultural company.
As a freshman, she traveled extensively as state FFA president, getting to see the variety of North Carolina agriculture. And in coming years, thanks in part to travel stipends offered through the N.C. State Caldwell Fellows program she was part of, she had the chance to help build a house in the Dominican Republic, to study plant biology in China, to visit farms and agribusinesses in Europe and to experience subsistence agriculture in Zambia.
Her globe-trotting experiences, plus her coursework in agricultural economics and agricultural business, led her to refocus her studies. She became interested in agricultural and trade policy, particularly in international development.
In May, she graduated from N.C. State with honors and with majors in plant biology and agricultural business management, as well as a minor in economics. This fall, she plans to begin work toward a master’s in agricultural economics at Kansas State University.
Lowe isn’t yet sure what career path she will take, but she said, “my interest within agricultural economics is in regards to a developing country’s market structure and its ability to withstand commodity price shocks, its willingness to open itself up to free trade, and its agricultural and trade policy both domestically and abroad — as well as biotechnology adoption. I also have a strong interest in analyzing the impact that food aid and development work have on economic growth.”
Lowe first experienced the developing world when she traveled on a spring break trip to the Dominican Republic.
The experience made a profound impression on her.
“Before I went to the Dominican Republic, I always focused on the differences among people. But I came to appreciate the things I had in common with the people I met,” she recalled. “Yes, we are different, but we are all people and we have so many things that actually draw us together.”
When she went back to the Dominican Republic the following year, she saw the difference the home she’d helped construct made for a family. And she continued to build upon the friendships she had made the previous year.
She found her next overseas experience equally rewarding. With others in the Plant Biology Department, she traveled to China for three weeks to study that country’s flora. There, she was paired with a Chinese student whom she’s still in touch with.
“We not only had the opportunity to learn about the native plants and to work in the lab, we also had the chance to learn about the culture,” she said.
Lowe also got a chance to get off the beaten tourist track when she spent a month in Zambia during the summer following her junior year. There, she worked at an agricultural center sponsored by the government and the United Methodist Church.
It was her first up-close look at subsistence agriculture and at the problems faced by farmers in developing countries.
“I’d seen agriculture in the United States and in the Dominican Republic and China, but I had never been on a working farm in a developing country for an extended period of time,” she said. “It gave me new perspectives. I actually was able to see the challenges in the developing world’s agricultural systems that I’d learned about in classrooms on campus. I saw it, and I could understand and relate.”
Said Lowe, “I had the opportunity to experience things that I never imagined I would, and I was pushed outside my comfort zone.
“These experiences humbled me and allowed me to learn things I’d never expected. They were eye-opening and life-changing, and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
— Dee Shore