Mar. 6, 2014
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Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award 2014

Carla N. Yerkes, BS '82, MS '85, PhD '95

"Having a career that you love will make you a success, not one that provides money without joy or satisfaction."

Carla Yerkes

(Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

Carla Yerkes joined Dow AgroSciences after earning the last of her three Purdue degrees in 1995.

This article is the last in a series highlighting the 2014 recipients of the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award. The award honors mid-career alumni who have a record of outstanding accomplishments, have made significant contributions to their profession or society, and have exhibited high potential for professional growth.

The 11 honorees are John Becherer, Lynda M. Ciuffetti, Johann (Joe) R. Garwood, Anetra L. Harbor, Carl C. Kincaid, Donald J. Leopold, Maurício Antônio Lopes, Nicholas L. Rozzi, S. Richard Tolman, Geoffrey C. Waldbieser and Carla N. Yerkes. They will receive their awards Friday, March 7, during a public reception and convocation in the Purdue Memorial Union North Ballroom.

Carla Yerkes, BS ’82, MS ’85, PhD ’95, is a group leader of Input Traits Biology, Discovery Research, for Dow AgroSciences in Indianapolis. She was appointed to her present position in January 2012. She started her career as a research biologist specializing in weed management, Discovery Research, in 1995.

“Carla Yerkes’ ability to contribute analytical depth across the broad scientific enterprise of Dow AgroSciences is remarkable,” said her nominator, Robert Joly, professor and head of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue.

Yerkes has generously given her time and expertise to current Purdue students by leading workshops, participating in STEM conferences, and contributing each spring to the HORT 110 (Survey of Horticulture) course.

“The power of her presentation as a role model, especially for young women, cannot be overstated,” Joly said. “She speaks directly to students in a way that gives them a sense of the possibilities that could await them, in areas they have not yet imagined.”

Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? Steve Weller of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture had the most marked influence on my professional career. Before meeting Dr. Weller and joining his research group, I really didn’t grasp the significance of basic research and its real-life applications. Dr. Weller gave me the perfect balance of direction and freedom, which prepared me well for the research world.

Outside of Purdue, my grandfather taught me to love agriculture. My dad taught me the value of hard work.

What part of your visit back to campus in March are you most looking forward to? I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and acquaintances, and making new ones. I’m also looking forward to showing my family how the campus has changed. Each time I visit, I’m amazed at the progress. I’m also amazed how some things never change. It’s comforting to know that some Purdue landmarks will always be there — at least in my lifetime! I look forward to seeing those as well.

Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? Although I had a scholarship for another institution, I chose Purdue for its agricultural excellence. I had long been interested in many aspects of agriculture, and I felt the Purdue School of Agriculture (now the College of Agriculture) would be a great fit for what interested me.

Where was your favorite place on campus to study? Unfortunately, my favorite place to study was not the most effective place. I enjoyed studying in the student lounge, but I studied best alone in my dorm room.

What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? I miss the excitement of being on campus and the enthusiasm of students. It seems a regular day at Purdue always had some element of excitement.

Were you a good student when you were at Purdue? I was a good student in high school and in college. I think I did well in classes during my freshman year because I feared failure. I came from a small high school and was intimidated by the breadth of education with which students from larger high schools were equipped. I did well in subsequent years and in graduate school because I loved what I was learning.

What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? What made it so difficult for you? I had to work very hard in physical chemistry. It was a five-credit course that was required for my graduate program. It was hard to study enough to make a good grade and still maintain my research schedule.

What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Who gave you the advice? Whether the results prove or disprove the hypothesis being tested, a well-designed and executed experiment is successful. This message (paraphrased) was conveyed to me by Dr. Weller during one of our first meetings as graduate student and major professor.

What is the best advice you have ever given? To whom did you give the advice? Having a career that you love will make you a success, not one that provides money without joy or satisfaction. That was my advice to my niece, Sara, when she told me she wanted to change her major.

Read about other 2014 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award winners.

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