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Lixia Lambert (left) and Dayton Lambert joined the OSU agricultural economics department in 2018. (Photo by Maddie Neuschwander)

From Crossroads To Careers

Friday, May 27, 2022

Media Contact: Jami Mattox | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-8061 |

In the semi-arid, windy Hetao Plains of inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of Northern China, a young Lixia Lambert established her roots in the Chinese agricultural industry.

On the other side of the globe, Dayton Lambert stepped into his education in Ohio. After living and learning all across the world, their paths unexpectedly crossed in West Lafayette, Indiana.

The Lamberts met while earning their doctorates in agricultural economics, said Lixia Lambert, assistant professor in agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University. Now, both are faculty members in the OSU Department of Agricultural Economics, but their early journeys were far different.

Dayton Lambert, professor and Willard Sparks Chair in Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and began his post-secondary studies in anthropology at Miami University of Ohio.

After he completed his undergraduate degree, he earned a master’s degree in cultural anthropology from Rutgers University. After Rutgers, Dayton became a Peace Corps volunteer.

“I met Dayton on April 10, 1993, at an airport on our way to volunteer for the Peace Corps in Africa,” said Michael Wilcox, Purdue University Extension assistant director and lifelong friend. “We were in North Carolina for a 12-week aquaculture training before we were sent overseas to serve the people of West Africa.”

Dayton was sent to Burundi, East Africa. There, he worked as an extension agent with the Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Livestock, teaching smallholder farmers how to grow tilapia in earthen ponds and how to integrate aquaculture into other farm operations.

In 1993, Burundi experienced civil unrest, which eventually culminated in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Dayton Lambert was evacuated from Burundi and re-posted in Gabon, Central Africa, where he finished his volunteer service.

After his service in Gabon, he enrolled in Auburn University’s graduate program in fisheries and allied aquaculture, where he received a master’s degree in 1998.

The rare opportunity arose again to consult the Peace Corps fisheries programs in Gabon and Zambia, where he trained new volunteers to construct earthen ponds and raise fish.

“The Peace Corps is where my interest in agricultural economics and international development really began,” Dayton Lambert said. “I really wanted to step back and understand this more completely from the perspective of markets, prices, risk aversion, and technology adoption. Agricultural economics was a natural discipline for me.”

In 2000, Dayton Lambert was accepted to Purdue’s doctoral program in agricultural economics, which is where the couple’s paths crossed, thanks to their mutual friend Michael Wilcox.

Wilcox and Lixia Lambert started their friendship early in their studies at Purdue.

“While I was at Purdue as a struggling doctoral student, I met this young woman named Lixia in my econometrics class,” Wilcox said. “I enjoyed her to absolutely the end of the earth.

“I did not really know anything about China. Lixia was infinitely patient with me because I had a million questions about her culture, and I thought she was just really cool.”

Lixia Lambert’s family was involved in agriculture, which is where her love for agriculture started, she said. Her grandparents and uncles produced wheat, sunflower seeds, turnips, corn, sorghum, sugar beet, watermelon, sheep and goats.

In 1982, her father began teaching college courses in agricultural economics at Huazhong Agricultural University, which meant the family had to move to Wuhan, China, and live on campus with other faculty families, Lixia Lambert added.

“As a youth, I had the chance to meet farm families with village leaders, city mayors and university faculty members from different disciplines with my father in the field,” she said. “I was able to hear how their knowledge can be transferred back to the agricultural production system. That process stuck with me.”

After high school, Lixia Lambert wanted to become an agricultural economist like her father, she said. When her national entry examination scores were not high enough, officials placed her into fermentation engineering for her undergraduate study, she added.

“After graduation, I was employed for more than two years at a food distribution center in Wuhan,” Lixia Lambert said. “Because it was the early 1990s, China had a planned economy where families could only buy so much food based on the number of people, gender and age of the people in the household. This situation sparked my interest in food supply and the economics behind it.”

Lixia Lambert applied and retook the national entry exams for graduate school in 1995. She then completed her master’s in agricultural economics and management at Huazhong Agricultural University in 1998.

“One day I was walking on campus and saw a poster on a tree announcing a seminar on growing corn given by a researcher from Purdue University,” Lixia Lambert said. “I didn’t go to the seminar. Instead, I went home and did some research on Purdue University and its agricultural economics program and applied to Purdue.”

She began her doctoral program in agricultural economics at Purdue in 2000.

After having classes together but never actually talking, Wilcox, their mutual friend, connected them at a graduate student dinner in 2003.

After graduating from Purdue in 2004, Dayton Lambert moved to Washington, D.C., and worked as a research economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.

Lixia Lambert worked for the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Water Research at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

They married in 2006, and both began working for the University of Tennessee where they remained for 12 years. They moved to Stillwater in 2018 after accepting agricultural economics faculty positions at OSU.

“Our students need to be able to see couples working in professional situations,” said Cheryl DeVuyst, department head of agricultural economics. “The students see how it is possible to be successful as individuals and as partners.”

Both as researchers and as faculty members, some projects demanded their work paths cross, placing them on the same project, Dayton Lambert said. They worked on separate parts of the project, so their personal and professional lives could stay separate, he added.

“The great thing about Dayton is he’s very collegial, but he’s also very demanding and expects the best of everyone,” Wilcox said. “Lixia has always been a hard worker. It is so difficult to be a female in the agricultural industry.

“Lixia and Dayton are living out their dreams as highly productive faculty members, world-renowned faculty members."

At OSU, Dayton Lambert teaches graduate students and assists with research projects.

Lixia Lambert teaches the Environmental Economics and Resource Development course and the Food Marketing to a Diverse Population course.

Lixia Lambert said she has a heavy research appointment but has learned she is passionate about teaching undergraduates and serving as an academic adviser.

“I enjoy spending time connecting with students and providing them guidance to meet their career objectives,” she said.

Dayton Lambert said he enjoys getting to work with graduate students and studying problems concerning the agricultural industry.

“It is an honor to instruct Oklahoma’s next generation of agricultural entrepreneurs and to address issues faced by Oklahoma’s agricultural producers and rural communities,” Dayton Lambert said. “We are proud to be part of the Cowboy family.”

Story By: Halle Roper | Cowboy Journal

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