Graduate Spotlight: Kelly Davidson, Ph.D., 2017

A first-generation college student from a farm family, she was inspired to study international agriculture economics early in life

By Nana Adu

In December 2017, Kelly Davidson, a first-generation college student, fulfilled a long-held dream when she earned a Ph.D. in food and resource economics from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Davidson grew up with her two sisters on a grain and cattle farm in Nevada, Ohio, an experience she says sparked her passion for global agriculture research and development. She was involved in all the workings of her family farm: from baling hay and feeding cattle to cleaning barns and driving a tractor. She also showed hogs and calves at the county fair and was a rare high schooler to earn a degree from the Future Farmers of America.

“My interest in international agriculture began quite early in life,” Davidson wrote in response to a questionnaire. “Having grown up on a farm, I have a deep passion for agriculture. I remember raising funds for development in Haiti as a young child, and I have never lost that desire to help people.”

As a senior in high school, her family moved to Stamping Ground, Kentucky, a small town near Lexington, home of the University of Kentucky. She attended UK and graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s in agricultural economics and foreign language–international economics, with a minor in French, and in 2009 she earned a master’s in agricultural economics.

International experience

As an undergrad, her international work took hold and she gained extensive experience overseas. She studied in France and conducted international field work in the Republic of Georgia, where she collaborated on a project on higher education in agriculture. She also served as a short-term consultant for the Work Bank Commodity Risk Management Group and a research associate at GlobalAgRisk, an international agriculture insurance consulting firm.

“The desire to specifically work in developing countries was inspired partially by great mentors,” she says, and “by my desire to stand in solidarity with the most marginalized people in the world.”

In 2009, she moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, to work as a fisheries economist for the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, a unit of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In 2011, she returned to the mainland and lectured in agribusiness at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and in 2013 began her doctoral studies in food and resource economics at the University of Florida.

At UF, Davidson says she was inspired by the work of her adviser, Dr. Jaclyn Kropp, an assistant associate professor in the Food and Resource Economics Department, which is part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Work in Bangladesh

Her dissertation work led her to Bangladesh, where she conducted a field experiment to investigate the effectiveness of communications and economic strategies on combating malnutrition. Her dissertation was titled “Behavioral Economics, Nutrition Education, and Access to Markets: Experimental Evidence and a Theoretical Framework for Improving Dietary Diversity.” The research was conducted with the support of Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services (INGENAES), a USAID Feed the Future initiative.

As the first from her family to graduate college, Davidson says she has felt supported in her international fieldwork and interdisciplinary research in agriculture and nutrition by the faculty associated with IFAS Global. Along with her adviser, she praised her other mentors, Drs. Sandra Russo and Kathy Colverson.

“Working with Bengali students and faculty created a unique opportunity to engage in capacity-building and mentoring through research,” Davidson says. “Most importantly, this partnership facilitated my understanding of the social context and the challenges facing the rural areas of Bangladesh.”

Since she graduated, Davidson has been teaching an online course at the UF’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences titled “Selling Strategically,” as she pursues work in agricultural economics. 

“I understand from a first-person point of view the challenges -- such as market access and climate change – that agricultural producers face in developing countries,” she says. “The experience has affirmed my commitment to conducting policy-relevant research on food choice and promoting evidence-based program evaluation. I’m excited to see what the future holds for a positon where I can apply these skills!”


Learn more about Kelly Davidson's work in Bangladesh, where she led a team of master's students on novel behavioral and experimental economics projects.