College Profile
Perspectives On Line: The Magazine of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

NC State University

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"I am passionate about trying
to find a way to make life easier
for people who are worried about putting food on the table for their children."






















































Before heading for Peru, longtime 4-H member Caitlin Boon (center) spent some time with a group of Wake County 4-H'ers. (Photo by Sheri D. Thomas)







College Profile: Family ties, a scholar's work ethic and 4-H roots prepare Caitlin Boon to represent the best of what N.C. State has to offer. --- By Terri Leith
photo of Caitlin Boon (Photo by Sheri D. Thomas)

ornate letter It’s early March — just three months after Caitlin Boon received bachelor’s degrees in poultry science and food science at N.C. State’s December 2002 commencement exercises. There she was featured on stage as student speaker. Today, she’s sending e-mail from the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru.

“Hi! I just wanted to let you know that things are going well at CIP,” Boon writes. “I am now working on a project with the yacon syrup CIP is helping farmers in Oxapampa make. I am attempting to make candy from this syrup without any added sugar. It may sound easy enough, but the types of sugars within the syrup make creating a stable candy a challenge.”

Boon began working in February as a three-month volunteer in Lima, Peru, at the CIP, a research installation that seeks to deliver sustainable solutions to world hunger, poverty and degradation of natural resources.

It’s a perfect fit for Boon for more reasons than one. Yes, she can pursue her interest in international agricultural policy issues and solving world hunger, as well as continue what has become a habit of volunteer service in both local and international settings.

However, there’s one more thing that stamps “Meant to Be” on the CIP: The center was founded 30 years ago through an agreement between the Peruvian government and N.C. State University.

And the university has almost always been somehow intertwined with her life — from Boon’s lifelong (and national award-winning) 4-H activities to her student years as a Caldwell Fellow and member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Gamma Sigma Delta honor societies and the N.C. State Scholars program.

As she told her fellow graduates in December, “N.C. State was reaching out, nurturing and supporting me, even before I became a student.”

Maybe it was the Wolfpack baby bottle Boon favored as an infant. Or maybe the 1983 NCAA Basketball Championship T-shirt her three uncles, all graduates of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, gave to their 3-year-old niece, Caitlin. Or the fact that her grandfather, a dairy farmer who put seven children through college, once said, “There’s nowhere I’d send my kids but N.C. State. That’s where they get the best treatment in school and the best jobs when they come out.”

Wherever it began, by the time she was 10 years old, Boon’s matriculation decision was already made. “I was attending 4-H Congress here at N.C. State that summer,” she recalls. “And as we drove through campus, I pointed to places and told my mom, ‘That’s where I’ll live when I’m here. And that’s where I’ll go to class when I’m here.’ Not if, but when.”

Between that 4-H Congress when she staked her claim to the university and the commencement where she stood in its spotlight, much has happened to bring Caitlin Boon to the point where she defines her future in terms of a passion: “I am passionate about trying to find a way to make life easier for people who are worried about putting food on the table for their children.”

If she had her college choice made at age 10, by the time Boon was a teenager, she not only had her major nailed but had a pretty good idea of what her career might be.

This was thanks in part to a visit to her aunt, N.C. State food science alumna Georgette McAuley, who took Boon on a tour of the food company where McAuley works in research and development. There Boon sampled products and also got an early taste of the many parameters of food production — such as product safety and design, market research, dealing with suppliers — that she would later learn more about through her internships with companies such as Kraft and General Mills. And she got a glimpse of food’s structural properties that she later would put to the test in the Food Science Department’s rheology lab, where as research assistant she focused on the textural characteristics of food.

The 4-H program, where she did food presentations, enhanced that early interest in food science, she says.

“Dr. Gary Davis of the N.C. State Poultry Science Department led me on national trips to do egg cookery presentations. He was an influence, as was Dr. Lynn Turner of Food Science. They were project leaders for the 4-H Food Quality and Food Safety Symposium that I attended during my high school years. Gary got me into poultry judging, and I realized that poultry science would work well with the food science idea I’d had for so long.”

Looking now from the perspective of having earned her two degrees, Boon says, “Poultry science has taught me about food from farm to table, and food science has taken me in-depth to the science of safety and how things interact on the chemical and microbiological level, so I’ve been given a nice view of the entire food industry in a way.”

Noting other ways 4-H helped launch her to where she is today, Boon says, “From the academic side, 4-H taught me how to keep records and to do public speaking,” adding that the nurturing and confidence building she received as a child also paid dividends in preparing her to come to N.C. State. “It’s such a great thing that a 4-H’er who is 10 years old can interact with N.C. State faculty members. By the time you’re a college freshman, you’re comfortable with professors.

“Also, it gave me the experience of working with a variety of people who valued my ideas, no matter how old I was. I learned the concept of teamwork at a young age.”

Perhaps her favorite 4-H memory, she says, is the night she was tapped into Honor Club, because doing the “tapping” in the candlelight ceremony were her mother and seven other family members — Honor Clubbers all.

Boon particularly recalls how, as state 4-H vice president, she met N.C. Secretary of State (and former
4-H’er) Elaine Marshall and other state leaders. “That played a big role in my interest in policy,” says Boon.

Policy issues with food production and safety regulation on both a national and an international level are something she wants to get a handle on.

“If I go the policy route of doing USDA or FDA types of work,” Boon says, “I look forward to the real-life experiences of figuring out how the wording on one single piece of legislation could mean so much to people who have to meet a regulation, or how changing one word could mean products being just as safe, but much easier to produce.”

Her international perspective is already well developed from her experiences in humanitarian missions to Mexico and Cuba, her studies as a Caldwell Fellow in England at Oxford University and her attendance at the International Youth Leadership Conference. Even her 1998 high school diploma from North Mecklenburg High School is from its International Baccalaureate program.

All these experiences — academic, 4-H and volunteer — she says, will come in handy in her CIP work.

“This came about because I wanted to do something similar to Peace Corps, but in a time frame that would allow me to pursue my Ph.D.,” Boon says. “I e-mailed the Potato Center and asked if they needed volunteers, and they said, ‘Come on down!’”

In terms of what she’ll gain from the experience, Boon says, “I want to get an idea what working in a center like this would be like, what educational paths I need to go down for advanced degrees. I want to learn about the process of funding such a center, and I want to experience working with people on the farm and learning their approach to the problems they face. And I hope to improve my Spanish.”

Meanwhile, she already is putting into practice what she preached at commencement: “Now as we leave this institution, we must begin nurturing humanity with the knowledge and skills we have gained.”

The skill and knowledge she shares come from years hallmarked with honors and accomplishments: such as winning statewide 4-H oral presentation events on nine separate occasions; such as maintaining a 4.0 GPA in her double majors of food science and poultry science. Even with her demanding laboratory work, participation on a nationally second-place college bowl team, internships and intensive academic routine, she found time to tutor second-through-fifth graders from low-income homes as part of the YMCA’s after-school program. And she still works with 4-H as a volunteer and event speaker.

When you ask her secret of time-management, the answer comes from left field — something you’d think would be a schedule breaker, not maker.

“I owe a lot to the fact that I was a competitive figure skater all through school,” she answers. “I had to get up and practice between 4 and 6 a.m., so now between 4:30 and 8 a.m. I get a lot of work done.”

So, chances are if it was between 4:30 and 8 a.m. Peru time that she tackled the yacon syrup project she mentioned in her e-mail, the solution to the challenge is long since a done deal.


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