The name rang a bell.
“Catherine Elizabeth Dobbins of Maumelle, AR, is a candidate for a PHD Ag Leadership, Educ, & Comm.,” read the email from the University of Georgia.
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Dobbins, I know that name. Dobbins. Not Catherine though, Katie, maybe?
Is she the one from Mount?
Then it was off to quickly consult Google to see what I could find.
And then I found her, Katie Dobbins, co-Valedictorian of the Class of 2013 at Mount St. Mary’s Academy. The daughter of Suzanne and Mark Dobbins of Maumelle.
To be clear, I don’t randomly remember high school graduates from a decade ago with great ease. Dobbins, however, is a little different. One of the things that I tried to explain over the years at the Monitor and Times was that Maumelle was a bit tricky when it came to where school-aged teens went to high school. Dobbins was one of my two examples I used as a student who lived in Maumelle and went to high school in Little Rock.
After graduating from MSM, Dobbins, above, got her undergraduate degree from Hendrix, before departing to the University of Arkansas to get a master’s, along the way she earned a USDA Student Diversity Program participation certificate before finally heading to Athens and the University of Georgia to get her doctorate.
She has since got married and will be Sanders professionally.
Before she graduated, she was hired to be a professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh where she’s the first faculty member in food systems communication at the school’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She’ll also be a N.C. State Extension specialist.
She told the N.C. State news service that, “the biggest goal of mine is that, say, five years down the road, we’re recruiting students because of NC State Agricultural Communications. We’re doing something different and we’re doing something exciting. I see a lot of potential here.”
Sanders was kind enough and took the time to do an interview with ArkansasNewsroom.com. The interview has been lightly edited and formatted for publication
When you graduated from Mount St. Mary’s, did you envision that in a decade you'd have a doctorate and be a college professor? And, if that wasn't it, what did you think?
You know, looking back, I think I always knew my future would have something to do with education. I had so many mentors that were teachers during high school and I always loved learning. However, graduating from MSM, I thought that I would actually become a plant geneticist. Marcella Melandri taught me during my time at MSM and instilled in me a love for biology. During this time, I became very interested in the environment and how plants can be a path to creating a more sustainable planet. When I graduated, I thought I would become a plant geneticist and save the world through food. While genetics didn't end up being my ultimate destination, this was a critical piece of my emerging identity as a science communicator. At the same time, I had just completed my first international exchange to Argentina, and developed a love for travel. Long story short, I don't know that I anticipated ever holding the title "Dr.", but I couldn't have found a better path for me that encompasses the environment, food, science, and travel.
Growing up in Maumelle, the Dobbins family attended Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Marche.
Karnawal, best festival or best festival ever?
Karnawal holds a special place in my heart. I hadn't reflected on it as a kid, but looking back, it's such a fun way to celebrate the Polish heritage of the Marche community. I would always look forward to it throughout the year. I loved that it was a chance for my parents to run the most important part of the festival (the concession stand of course) - I was always excited when I could show them off to my classmates and feel so important because I actually could go inside the concession stand. While you can go to any festival to win a goldfish or small toy, there are very few places you can go that welcome you so heartily with love and a big bowl of sauerkraut. One of my proudest moments from Karnawal is winning a "Jimmy Dean" sausage from the spin boards with my cousin Kim!
Who along your education path has inspired you the most?
There's no way to list every person who has inspired and impacted me, but here are some very special people who I would love to recognize:
Skotti Lombardi — my fifth grade teacher. I will always remember her as the person who first helped me see my passion for writing.
Marcella Melandri — my high school biology teacher. Ms. Melandri first inspired my love for science and biology and showed me how strong women can be amazing scientists! She was also my very first Spanish teacher and was the first to inspire my love of the language.
Kathy Smith — my high school English teacher. Mrs. Smith helped me cultivate a voice for my writing. I credit her for my ability to infuse science writing with a bit of creativity. Thank you Mrs. Smith for showing me how you can be both a fabulous diva and a book enthusiast!
Ruth Pineda — Ms. Pineda was the reason I decided to pursue international experiences in South America and continue studying Spanish throughout college. She helped me believe in myself as someone pursuing this academic interest, and was instrumental for me at 17 traveling abroad for the very first time!
Dr. Joyce Hardin — Dr. Hardin was my advisor and professor at Hendrix College. She helped me cultivate a love for botany and the ability to see the way plants and biology can help us be better stewards of the environment.
Dr. Ann Willyard — Dr. Willyard was my botany professor at Hendrix College and my faculty advisor for research. She was the first person to show me how research is done and gave me an unforgettable experience of conducting field work with her in the Hualapai Mountains in Arizona which is an incredibly beautiful place!
Dr. Leslie Edgar — Dr. Edgar was my master's advisor. She is the reason I am where I am today. My academic career was inspired by her, and I am so lucky she decided to pick my graduate school application out of the pile even though she had never met me before. She is inspirational, now serving as the Dean of the Agricultural Experiment Station at New Mexico State. She is a role model for women in agriculture!
Dr. Casandra Cox — Dr. Cox was also my master's advisor. Dr. Cox is one of the most genuinely kind people and cares deeply about her students' success. Without her commitment to her students and careful revisions (multiple!!) of my writing, I would not have the skills or empathy I need as a communicator and Extension specialist. She models the way for her students in every sense of the word.
Dr. Alexa Lamm — my PhD advisor. I don't even know where to begin. Lex has forged a path for women in our discipline and an innovator of science communication in the agricultural realm. She saw a spark in me and cultivated my skills as a communicator, researcher, and educator, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities she granted me. Thanks for taking a chance on me as your first UGA PhD student.
There are so many more names I could add, but as I look back, I notice this list is full of strong women who have helped make the world a better place for women in their wake. Thank you all for being constant sources of inspiration about what it means to be a strong woman writer, scientist, communicator, and educator.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I'm already running the risk of writing the longest email correspondence ever, so I will stop myself here.