AgEcon alumni share memories of their time at Purdue during panel discussion

By Kami Goodwin

Each spring, the department of agricultural economics welcomes back distinguished alumni, celebrates a years’ worth of accomplishments, and discusses the future of the department. The day begins with a graduate student poster competition and culminates with the James C. Snyder Memorial Lecture, the Department of Agricultural Economics’ signature event at Purdue University. 

During the morning session, the department also gathers to honor a special set of individuals who have demonstrated a strong connection to the department and have made outstanding contributions in their fields. The aptly named Apex Award represents the convergence of accomplishment in the lives of the honorees. 

This year, six were inducted as APEX award winners: Whitney Peake, Natasha Cox, Josh Merrill, Dayton Lambert, Barbara Fecso, and Brian Tabor. This year, the winners participated in a panel discussion lead by Associate Department Head/Professor of Agricultural Economics, Joan Fulton, covering a wide-range of topics. Here are a few highlighted segments from the session:

What were some key takeaways from your time at Purdue? 

Brian Tabor: the courses were rigorous but they had a practical purpose. I learned how important communication is, don't just give a report, make your communication intentional.

Dayton Lambert: Confidence.

Whitney Peake: how to take something complex and make it where everyone can understand. It has helped me showcase and explain applied research throughout my career.

Natasha Cox: That it is ok to question the why and to be insightfully but respectfully disruptive.

Barbara Fecso: What I learned in the policy realm at Purdue absolutely prepared me for my position at the USDA. What I studied is exactly what I do today.

Josh Merrill: Take risk. There is fantastic leadership in the department that will encourage you to do things differently. Work across departments to achieve your goals.

How did Purdue prepare you for adversity in the workplace and give you the resilience to succeed?

Natasha Cox: In my field, there is a gender gap, as I have been the only non-administrative female in my company. Purdue provided me with that confidence to be a strong leader.

Whitney Peake: Before I came to Purdue, I had never touched math so I'd say grit and perseverance are 2/3rds of the battle. I learned to stick with it. People will help you. You don't have all the answers but you have to ask questions.

Brian Tabor: I was intimidated by quantitative classes. The collegiality of students, we helped each other and played to each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Barbara Fecso: I learned time management and focus. That’s what got me to where I am today.

Dayton Lambert: The breadth of quantitative methods I learned, you can really take them anywhere.

Josh Merrill: The open door policy of the faculty, they actually care about you. It gave me the confidence to walk into anyone’s office CEO or otherwise and have those open conversations.

How can Purdue react to disruptions that you're seeing in the industry?

Natasha Cox: many of the centers are already reacting; the Center for Commercial Agriculture is changing the way producers think. Purdue is becoming an epicenter for influence.

Josh Merrill: I've noticed that consumers are not turning to universities and colleges for information. We need to influence consumers so that that their decisions are not influenced by those who do not have the research.

Barbara Fecso: Reacting to shutdowns and furloughs. Understanding the problems associated with these types of events on the workers as well as the farmers that rely on the USDA programs (loans, program benefits)

Whitney Peake: communicating how the university adds value to the general public. Explaining why it's meaningful and why it matters, defending what we (researchers) do.

Brian Tabor: focus on ag's role in health and educating people on the underlying cost. Shaping public policy in this realm.


Joan Fulton
Apex Panel Moderator

Whitney Peake
2019 APEX inductee

Natasha Cox
2019 APEX inductee

Josh Merrill
2019 APEX inductee

Barbara Fecso
2019 APEX inductee

Brian Tabor
2019 APEX inductee

Dayton Lambert 2019 APEX inductee

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