The Gift of Perspective
Emeritus Professor Tom Wentworth ensures new research abroad opportunities for students and faculty.
It’s the mid-1970s, and Ph.D. candidate Tom Wentworth steps off the plane into Costa Rica for a two-month course. It is the first time the plant ecology student has ever been out of the United States, and he is awestruck.
“It was just such a great eye opener,” says Wentworth, now an NC State Emeritus Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology. “It changed my life in so many ways. It opened my eyes to the potential for international travel, cooperation, learning, cultural immersion — everything.”
This is the kind of experience Tom and his wife, Linda Rudd, are now giving to NC State students and professors through a gift to the Research Pack Abroad Program. The gift will fund student and faculty travel to ensure that the opportunity for students to work in labs abroad is a dream they can realize.
Wentworth’s trip abroad as a student in the 70s would not be his last. After earning his degree, he joined NC State as a faculty member in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. In the 80s and 90s, he facilitated student study trips abroad with the Organization for Tropical Studies. In the odd years between 2013 and 2019, he co-taught a one-month study abroad course in botany at Zhejiang University in China with Professor Jenny Xiang. In the even years, he helped host large groups of students from Zhejiang University at NC State.
“My experiences with the Joint Courses with Zhejiang University really strengthened my love of study abroad,” said Wentworth. “Contacts I made during the courses evolved into research participation. I hosted a Chinese visiting scholar in my lab, Jenny hosted Chinese visiting scholars and doctoral students, and she led the process to create and strengthen agreements among NC State University, Zhejiang University, and other partner universities to get NC State faculty and their students actively engaged in study and research abroad.”
Wentworth’s passion is deeply rooted in the belief that travel, study and research abroad opportunities afford students invaluable perspectives. After his retirement, Wentworth began thinking about how he could give back to NC State, and an idea sprang from the memory of that very first study trip he took to Costa Rica as a Ph.D. candidate.
After speaking with the International Programs Office, he and Rudd, an NC State alumna, settled on supporting the Research Pack Abroad Program Travel Fund.
“The Research Pack Abroad Program is different from traditional study abroad programs because it places students from NC State in the laboratory of a researcher in another country,” says Wentworth. “They are mentored in that researcher’s lab. It is a totally immersive experience for them — working in the lab, living on their own in another culture.”
Research Pack Abroad provides undergraduate students with international research experience — working side-by-side with scientists and immersed in another culture. The program connects students with a host international research institution, where they conduct research for at least two months during the summer. Partner institutions to date include Instituto de Productos Lácteos de Asturias in Villaviciosa, Spain; the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru; and Universitat Politecnica de Valencia in Valencia, Spain.
While in residence, students gain in-depth knowledge of laboratory procedures and/or field research protocols at their host institution. They also develop skill sets for maneuvering through complex situations and increase their capability to solve problems. Perhaps most importantly, they acquire a new perspective on the native culture and critically incorporate that into their own values, beliefs and goals.
The opportunities for international collaboration are vital as NC State and other institutions work to address global challenges in agriculture and beyond. Wentworth is hopeful that encouraging this program will help foster new connections that lead to solutions.
“We chose to make this gift because we believe that the future will be one of increasing global connectivity and that both faculty and students at NC State University will benefit personally and professionally from enhanced opportunities for research abroad,” he says. “We hope that this gift will promote such international connections by providing faculty opportunities for travel abroad to establish research partnerships with foreign colleagues, and that students will then travel to conduct research through such partnerships.”