Gabriel Cadena Gómez is native to Bucaramanga, Colombia, a distinguished Purdue Alumnus who has extensive research and education experience in coffee development and plant pathology, and currently serves as President of Universidad Autónoma de Manizales (UAM) in Colombia.
Interview with Dr. Gabriel Cadena: A Distinguished Agriculture Purdue Alumnus
How did you end up pursuing a doctoral degree at Purdue University and working with Dr. Ralph L. Nicholson?
When I was an Agronomic Engineering student at Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia (UPTC) in Tunja, I became really interested in Ecology and Plant Pathology thanks to professor Hernando Patiño who opened the doors for me and gave me the opportunity to work as his lab assistant. He guided me in the scientific research field, and encouraged me to pursue graduate studies. In 1970, I started working at the Health Department of the Colombian Agro Institute (ICA) in Bogotá and I was responsible for the inspection and diagnosis of plant diseases in products for exportation, especially cut flowers. In 1971 the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) invited me to lead a new program that aimed to protect coffee plantations from Coffee Leaf Rust disease, a pathogen found in Brazil in 1970 for the first time. After five years of working on this program, I started a Master Degree at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, on horizontal resistance to Coffee Rust Disease. I was advised by Dr. Pablo Buriticá and I conducted all my research thesis at the Instituto Agronómico de Campinas (IAC), in Sao Paulo, Brazil. When I returned to Colombia, I was nominated to be a researcher in the Plant Pathology Department of the National Coffee Research Center (CENICAFE) in Chinchiná, Caldas. After five years working there, I asked my professor Pablo Buriticá, Purdue Alumnus, for advice. He put me in contact with Dr. Ralph Nicholson at the Botany and Plant Pathology Department at Purdue University. I applied to this program and thanks to Dr. Nicholson and his orientation, I got my Ph.D. degree, working very hard, in just three years. Dr. Nicholson was not only a great professor, but a great friend and thanks to him and his dear wife Heather, we (my wife and two children) enjoyed studying at Purdue and living the American experience.
Gabriel Cadena working at Dr. Ralph Nicholson’s laboratory at Purdue University during his doctoral studies
Can you share a funny anecdote of your time at Purdue University?
The first encounter with the American culture was for us a great surprise. We arrived to West Lafayette on August and the climate was hot and humid. We went to the Lafayette mall to buy some clothes appropriate for the weather conditions. To our surprise, the K-mart store was offering only winter clothes and not many of the shorts and T-shirts that we were looking for. We learned that in the U.S.A you should make decisions in advance to the new season and not when the climate has changed already.
What do you miss the most about Purdue University (or the greater Lafayette area)?
We really miss the cultural activities around Purdue campus, including the Christmas celebration at the Union, and sports activities, such as football and basketball games. But what we miss the most, is the friendly people of Indiana.
We congratulate you for being a recipient of the Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award on 1997! What was this experience like?
First, it was an extraordinary surprise to me. I was affiliated to the Purdue Alumni Association since I came back to Colombia, and I was always in touch with Dr. Nicholson who was aware of my activities as Director of the National Coffee Research Center (CENICAFE). But I had no idea that I had merits to receive any award from Purdue. So, to me, my family, and my colleagues in Colombia, the award was great news. The experience of coming back to West Lafayette and being honored with that award is unforgettable. It is a great honor to be recognized by Purdue and the College of Agriculture, because I know that it has formed great professionals who are working hard around the world representing the quality of the education received at Purdue, and that surely deserved this honor much more than me.
Consuelo de Cadena and Gabriel Cadena at Purdue Ross-Ade Stadium during the First Colombia-Purdue International Collaboration Forum in 2011
How did your time at Purdue influence your career, and particularly, your current role as President of Universidad Autónoma de Manizales (UAM)?
Purdue University is one of the most prestigious universities not only in America, but worldwide. When I was at Purdue, it was not in my plans to become President of a university, but I had the opportunity to be exposed to the principles and core values that Purdue University promotes with faculty, students, alumni, and the society. Purdue’s good example, commitment with excellence in all fields, and especially with scientific research had been very useful to me in dealing with my responsibilities as President of Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.
Universidad Autónoma de Manizales (UAM) was accredited by the Ministry of Education in 2015, and has several partnerships with universities in the American continent. Are you, as UAM President, currently seeking for partnership opportunities with Purdue University?
The UAM received the Certificate of Institutional Accreditation of Quality in 2015, thanks to our academic excellence commitment and the implementation of a Continuous Improvement Plan. In that regards, the UAM has been building relationships with faculty from other universities not only in Manizales and in Colombia, but in other Latin-American countries, Spain and U.S.A.
As President of the UAM, I am looking for the implementation of cooperation agreements, exchange of students and faculty, opportunities of double degree, and research cooperation for our doctoral students with Purdue University. As a Purdue alumnus, it will be a great achievement if we can strengthen the relationships between our universities. Moreover, nothing would make me happier than creating opportunities for other Colombians to have the extraordinary experience of being associated with Purdue University.
There are also many opportunities for Purdue students and faculty to come to Manizales and have academic and cultural experiences in our University. We are in the heart of the Colombian coffee production region which is a territory rich in biodiversity, and variable climate.
¡Muchas gracias, Dr. Cadena!
Purdue faculty at Universidad Autónoma de Manizales in 2014 (Left to right: Jeffrey J Stuart, Entomology profesor; Willie Reed, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine; Gabriel Cadena, President UAM; Jay Akridge, Dean of the College of Agriculture).