Annette Crymes earned her undergraduate degree from Saint Louis University in accounting, her master’s degree in international affairs from Washington University in St. Louis, and is now a PhD candidate in the Doctor of Liberal Arts (DLA) program at WashU. Her educational goals and interests led to a career working in foreign countries—Botswana, South Africa, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, and Peru, to name a few—collaborating with native populations to help them make use of their valuable indigenous plants.
The way she tells it, she ended up at a the School of Continuing & Professional Studies (formerly University College) information session one evening and has been hooked ever since. Keep reading to learn more about her journey and inspiration.
What inspired you to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs from WashU?
One of my primary interests is the area of food security and how the Western world impacts developing countries. In short, I examine what happens when the Western world wants certain foods produced in developing countries, and what happens to the indigenous people who see that product as one of their staple foods. We saw the effects of that when quinoa became en vogue.
One of my classes was a sustainable-business class in the International Affairs program. I reached out to an NGO in Botswana called Wild Foods, and I developed a program with them where I was working with Wild Foods of Africa and specifically with the marula plant. They were throwing away the nut part of the fruit, so I developed a formula to transform that waste into a viable product for the community and country, which they could sell domestically and internationally.
My background in the international field gave me the inspiration to look beyond books, to actually engage with people in Africa. I’ve traveled to Botswana, South Africa, Jordan, Turkey, and Greece. Now I’m working in Peru doing the same thing, except I’m working with indigenous groups in Peru seeking out different plants that might be of some commercial value for them. I go there three times a year and spend anywhere from three to four months at a stretch. Then I go back in the spring and fall for two weeks. I personally travel to the fields with the natives to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
In 2010, I started an international consulting company called Culinary Nutritionals. What inspired me to get into the program is my interest in international affairs, and the program at the School of Continuing & Professional Studies (CAPS) gave me the support to explore different business opportunities I’ve always been an entrepreneur. And with the knowledge I gained from the International Affairs program, I saw that I could turn this into a viable business. So I’m a social entrepreneur, of sorts—an intellectual entrepreneur.
What was a trying challenge that you faced over the course of pursuing your academic goals?
I had an accident and was unable to walk for a full year. To look at me today, you would never know it.
I’ve also learned to let go in life, so to speak. The more you let go, the more it comes to you. It changed the way that I do things. I’m calmer now; I’m not so intense. The accident changed the way that I view people. I see us all as just…we’re all on this path of humanity. And there’s not that much difference between us. It stopped me in my tracks, and I became not so concerned with the economic part of things. We have to support ourselves, but I got out of the rat race.
When I came back fully functional, I knew I wanted to further pursue my interest in international affairs. I’d taken some classes in the field, just out of interest. What led me to Peru was actually Elizabeth, my advisor at WashU. She has been my advisor from the start. She’s very inspirational. I was stressed and she said, “Why don’t you take this course in the Amazon?” And from there I began traveling and developing different international consulting and business ideas.
What led you to pursue a doctoral degree in the DLA program?
I started the DLA program in 2016, and I am basically writing about the cultural aspects of my experience in Peru. It’s also a part of my continuing journey with WashU. The DLA Program Director, Harriet Stone, has been very supportive of my ideas and thoughts, as has Elizabeth. They’ve helped me develop which angles my dissertation will be focused on. My dissertation will be about a specific culture of the use of various plants in Peru, and indigenous people who don’t know the economic value of their crops.
What has your experience at WashU been like?
It has been very inspirational, encouraging and very supportive. The classes that I take at WashU always, always trigger some spark of interest, some idea. Even after I get my doctorate, I’m sure I’ll still be taking some type of class. I’ve even taken courses that have nothing to do with my degree, just for fun.
It has definitely helped with my communication skills, my social skills, and it has been empowering to be on a campus that encourages students to achieve anything we can dream up. I would say being at WashU has changed my life. And all of these experiences are a lot more than what I’m telling you. I could tell you so much more. But I just believe in not giving up on anything as long as I have breath. The next day is not guaranteed.