Second in a series highlighting this year’s recipients of the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award. The series will continue each Monday, Wednesday and Friday leading up to March 2, when the honorees will receive their awards during a 3:30 p.m. convocation in the Purdue Memorial Union North Ballroom.
Kevin J. Cavanaugh, MS ’90, PhD ’93, of Atlanta, Ind., is director of research at Beck’s Hybrids Inc. He is a past president of both the National Council of Commercial Plant Breeders (2003–04) and the Indiana Seed Trade Association (2002–03). As a member of the Beck’s leadership team, Cavanaugh helped the Indiana-based company become the largest independent, family-owned retail seed company in the United States.
• Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? Two professors highly impacted my professional career: John Axtell and Bob Nielsen. John Axtell had a deep influence on me by teaching me how to work with everyone involved in a project/program to get the most out of each individual. Many times it isn’t the top-ranking person on a project that can make the largest difference. By getting everyone involved and working as a team, everyone can accomplish more. Bob Nielsen influenced Sonny Beck, my employer, to interview me for a research position at Beck’s Hybrids. I’m not sure if Bob saw something in me he thought could help Beck’s, but that encouragement gave me the opportunity to work for a great company for 18 years.
• What part of your visit back to campus in March are you most looking forward to? What I enjoy most is visiting with the faculty and learning about the latest issues they are facing. It invigorates me to see and learn the latest technologies and innovations from the faculty. It challenges me in my role at Beck’s to continue to innovate and learn.
• Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? Because of its strength in plant breeding and the fact that it was based in the eastern Corn Belt. I am an Ohio native and went to Iowa State for my B.S., so this was a great way to continue my education and get closer to my family.
• Where was your favorite place on campus to study? When I really needed to accomplish something and get the studying done that I needed, the library in Lilly Hall was the best place for me.
• Were you a good student at Purdue? My grades could have used some improvement, but I always felt that I grasped the concepts well in class. Also, I always attended class, which I felt gave me a great advantage.
• What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? Biochemistry 562 and 563 were the toughest classes for me. It took a great deal of memorization and was based on previous chemistry/microbiology courses. I’ve worked hard to block these classes from my mind.
• What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? I miss the interaction with the students and faculty. The faculty was always very open to help with whatever you needed, and my fellow students were great to help out, hang out with and play intramural sports with. I also had an opportunity to teach an introductory soils class while at Purdue. Being a plant breeding major, that was a bit of a stretch for me. However, learning how to communicate with others to get your point across was very valuable to me and very enjoyable.
• What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Never be afraid to try new things. At a campus setting, there are numerous opportunities to explore many interests you may have. Keep exploring and learning was great advice.
• What is the best advice you have ever given? Seize the opportunity, do your best and don’t sit still. I really enjoy being active in community activities and work-related organizations. I have a difficult time not getting involved in worthy causes and then not giving them full effort to make a difference.
Read about other 2012 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award winners.