A Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recent graduate in plant pathology, physiology, and weed science recently received a Fulbright U.S. student grant to study agricultural processes and food safety in Bangladesh.

Kathryn Fiedler, a May 2014 graduate and current postdoctoral student in California, is one of three Virginia Tech students who received the prestigious study grant. The two others are current doctoral students from the College of Natural Resources and Environment. Lindsey Rich is studying fish and wildlife conservation, as is Erin Poor, who is also studying geospatial environmental analysis.

Fiedler conducted her dissertation research at the Eastern Shore Agricultural and Research Extension Center under Steve Rideout, the center’s director.

“Kate never passes on an opportunity to learn, whether it be on the topic of her research, plant pathology or agriculture in general,” Rideout said. “She has garnered praise and support from fellow graduate students and members of our research team.”

At the center, Fiedler worked on large commercial farms with one of the largest tomato producers in the country. She had access to sophisticated equipment and a budget to manage any problem.

But her resources in Bangladesh will be much less abundant. Fiedler will be researching farming systems in a locale where very few international humanitarian organizations operate.

“The Fulbright program is allowing me to conduct research in an environment that has very little in the way of resources, but it could result in an enormous impact,” said Fiedler. “I'll need to be creative with my research methodology and embrace cultural practices common in Bangladesh.”

While her access to farming and financial inputs will be limited, Anton Baudoin, an associate professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, and one of Fiedler’s recommenders for the scholarship, sees a nice dovetail from her tomato research at Virginia Tech to food safety systems in Bangladesh.

“The Fulbright Bangladesh proposal fits very nicely with her expertise,” said Baudoin. “Kate's Ph.D. research project had a very practical bent. She worked on a postharvest tomato disease that causes episodic, very damaging outbreaks that are both hard to predict and difficult to control.”

Fiedler will begin her research in January 2015 in the province of Mymensingh. On a daily basis Fiedler will be visiting farms to see day-to-day practices of local producers, talk to growers, and see the produce at the markets. She will also help with classes at Bangladesh Agricultural University.

“I don’t want to be ethnocentric in my world view of food systems,” she said. “I want to see what is happening in other parts of the world in agriculture.”



Written by Amy Loeffler.
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