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David Ortega

Doctoral student in agricultural economics

David Ortega

Agricultural development in China has fascinated David Ortega since the first time he conducted research in the country as a new doctoral student at Purdue.

Now on the cusp of receiving his degree in agricultural economics with a specialty in economic development, Ortega has used his multicultural background to wade into the intricacies of farming in China. A native of Venezuela, Ortega has held a visiting scholar position at China Agricultural University. This summer, he will be a visiting scholar at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Next year, Ortega will begin a job as an assistant professor in global agri-foods systems at Michigan State University.

How did you become interested in Chinese agricultural development?

In 2007, when I first started at Purdue, my advisor, H. Holly Wang, approached me with an idea to do research on emerging agricultural markets in China. We traveled to China together that summer. I ended up returning multiple times to collect data, to present at conferences and to teach a short course. In fact, I'm getting ready for my fifth trip this summer.

Those of us developing careers in China like to joke that after our first trip there we caught the "China bug." All joking aside, though, China is a great place to work. In nearly all socio-economic aspects, China presents itself as an outlier. This makes it a fascinating -- and at times challenging -- place to conduct research.

Personally, I think we're entering what some are calling "The Pacific Century," when global issues ranging from economic growth to climate change to human rights will be focused on the Pacific region, with China as the main player. I really see tremendous opportunities in this area.

How has your Venezuelan background informed your work?

Growing up in Venezuela, where I lived until I was 11, gave me a very unique perspective on economic development and agriculture. For example, Venezuela has an abundance of natural resources, but it has struggled to develop. Agriculture is a major source of income for most of the country. I actually grew up visiting my grandparents' farm, which they still run today. My upbringing is a big reason why I enjoy my work, especially because I like learning about new cultures, languages and peoples.

What will you be doing at Michigan State?

Honestly, it's all happened so quickly that it hasn't fully sunk in yet! As a tenure-track assistant professor, I'll continue my work in China. I also plan to expand my research agenda to other parts of the world.

How has your Purdue experience affected your career?

It really helped me land my new job. The agricultural economics department gave me unique opportunities that I could not have envisioned happening elsewhere. I received a world-class education in applied economics and was trained as a researcher and educator. I attended national and international conferences, where I was able to develop and expand my research network. That ultimately put me in contact with my future colleagues at Michigan State.