NC State’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences is home to more than 350 students pursuing two-year, four-year and graduate degrees in agricultural and environmental sciences. Our mission is to connect them to opportunities and careers that solve growing challenges.
This summer, Evelyn McAdam, a junior in agroecology and sustainable food systems, received a unique research fellowship that funded her work in Amanda Cardoso’s Crop Physiology Laboratory, where she investigated flood response in hemp fiber.
Learn how this environmental and fashion student transitioned from fashion design to design research and the big career goals she has set to improve company sustainability.
Hi Evelyn, where are you from?
I’m from Barrington, Rhode Island.
What led you to NC State?
I originally came to NC State because I was interested in textiles and sustainability. I was debating between agriculture and fashion design. I experimented with sustainable fashion in high school, making a skirt out of reused fabric, but never wore it again.
I have always been interested in community service and reducing food waste. In an entrepreneurship class in high school, my group developed a bill that would encourage local restaurants and bakeries to donate unused food.
I realized that I was not going to be the next Parisian runway designer. So, for me, I saw greater opportunities in sustainable agriculture than in fashion. Permaculture is a niche field, but it still offers many paths that allow me to be creative. I met with advisors from the Crop and Soil Science Department, and felt like I was a good fit for a large school with a small family feel.
How did you become interested in agroecology?
I was that kid who was always catching bugs and exploring the environment.
In high school, I attended Maine Coast Seminary for part of my junior year. It is an immersive program of living study and work that integrates every aspect of life on Earth. I learned about weaving, milking cows, fertilizing, harvesting and storing rainwater, and integrating solar energy on the farm. I found that being sustainable was actually fairly simple if You have the resources to implement these practices.
My interests in sustainability started mostly around the environment, but have become more about human health. I see that when you help people through nutrition and food security, you help the Earth. We can build the environment while building people.
Are you involved in any student groups?
I am a member of the Agricultural Engineering Club, the Agroecology Club, and Sigma Alpha, an agricultural sorority.
As a would-be fashion designer, how did you end up working at a vegan lab?
I began working with Dr. Cardoso as an undergraduate laboratory assistant. I helped clean and prepare the input data.
Since we all have to complete an internship in crop and soil science, I was already looking for opportunities, and Dr. Cardoso partnered with me on the American Society of Plant Biologists fellowship opportunity. Most fellowships require you to move forward with your degree plan, but this fellowship was tailored to my age.
Dr. Cardoso gave me some ideas and then gave me the reins to design and conduct my research. Sometimes, students implement part of a larger project already underway in the lab. But I had to be a part of this from day one and knew top to bottom what it was all about.
I chose to work with hemp fiber because it is an up-and-coming, sustainable crop that can be used in many ways: paper, fiber and textiles, so it was a perfect fit.
Tell us about your research.
My project was testing the flood response of three types of hemp fibres. In the greenhouse, she planted 72 plants, soaked them for three days and let them rest for another 10 days. I noticed their response over the next month. I measured dissolved oxygen, number of leaves, stomatal length, and overall mortality rate.
Of the three cultivars I tested, the Dongma variety survived best in terms of its visual grade and lower mortality rate (62%). Others had a mortality rate of up to 100%. It really showed how one hurricane can wipe out an entire crop.
I presented my findings at the NC State Undergraduate Research Symposium, and I plan to present them at the annual meeting of the Society of Plant Biologists in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 2024.
Beyond the data, what did you learn from this experience?
I had little experience in the laboratory, but this put me on the front lines of experimentation. I never realized how long the research took. I didn’t know we needed so many plants for the experiment, but they all had to be the same height. Everything had to fit the scientific method.
I’ve seen how hard work can be – in the end, I spent three hours in a 100 degree greenhouse counting leaves! It expanded my idea of what research looks like. I have friends who are in pre-med and environmental biology – all of their work is done in the microscope lab. But this was different, and it was based on greenhouses. I was responsible for keeping the plants alive.
Did this experience change your academic path?
I enjoyed the practical element of the research, but I am a people person. The seminar was fun because I presented it to friends and colleagues, and I love public speaking.
I hope to continue my graduate studies. I enjoy learning new things and broadening my perspective. My goal is to get as broad a perspective as possible on many aspects of farming.
What is your professional goal?
I want to have an impact. To do this, you have to go where the power is. I’m interested in politics, maybe something to do with environmental health or the corporate sector.
I would like to be a sustainability manager for a large food and beverage company. These large companies have the largest footprint, which puts me at the forefront of waste treatment.
What advice do you have for a student considering a research opportunity?
Take a chance. Even if the work is only slightly related to your interests, it can help you narrow things down. Summer is the perfect opportunity to try new things without a long-term commitment. You will meet new people, explore life and learn more about who you are as a person.
This may be the least stable or familiar option, but take the leap and discover the rest along the way!
What did you learn while at NC State?
- There are endless opportunities.
- The importance of links.
There are 30 thousand people on campus. I meet maybe ten people I know every day – people interested in all sorts of things: fashion, textiles, carbon sequestration, pre-law. I think it’s possible for either of our paths to cross professionally. I can communicate and work with them again because we met here in NC State.
Visualize yourself in crop and soil science.
If you’re looking for an academic path that leads to an impactful career, consider crop and soil science. Our students learn from expert professors and experience hands-on adventures every day.
Learn more about our website Student degree pathsincluding a deep dive into our website agricultural engineering, Soil science And the lawn Programs. Then join us in a Guided Email Tour Our Crop and Soil Sciences Department.
Connecting students to fruitful careers is just part of how to grow the future.
(Tags for translation)NC Crop and Soil Science