UMES alumna comes full 'circle'

  • Mandala Pie founder is 2018 convocation speaker

    Friday, March 30, 2018
    Caitlin Cecil LaComb

    Caitlin Cecil LaComb returns April 5 to her alma mater to deliver the keynote address at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore's 65th spring honors convocation.  

    Since graduating with honors in December 2014 with a bachelor's degree in general agriculture, LaComb served overseas as a U.S. Army Reservist, became a mother and launched an up-and-coming pie-baking business.  

    This past fall, LaComb won $10,000 in a “start-up” business competition patterned after the “Shark Tank” television show that was sponsored by the regional chamber of commerce in Fredericksburg, Va., where she lives with her husband and son, Branch.  

    That star turn quickly led to a feature article in Fredericksburg Living magazine, where readers learned about such creatively named confections as “Bees' Knees” (a honey pie), “Goats & Gourds” (pumpkins and cayenne) and “Pink Zebra,” a lemon and organic raspberry combination.  

    “Pie baking is my tool to make the community better,” she told the magazine.  

    Growing up in Salisbury, LaComb didn't have to look far for inspiration in creating tasty and nutritious dishes. Her mother is Dr. Malinda Cecil, a Registered Dietitian and an assistant professor who directs UMES' undergraduate dietetics program.  

    As a UMES junior, LaComb conducted a research project studying the absorption of toxic materials in soil by sunflowers, and she planted hundreds of different varieties on campus. She was awarded a travel grant during her senior year to visit Ghana under a work-study program and learned about the African nation's agriculture system. Since that initial overseas travel opportunity, she has visited four continents.  

    Throughout her time at UMES, she worked in the agriculture laboratory as a sustainable agriculture research intern under the direction of Corrie Cotton.  

    LaComb enlisted in the military at age 17, serving eight years as an Airborne Civil Affairs Specialist. She deployed to the Horn of Africa in support of Operation Enduring Freedom immediately after graduating from UMES and has since worked in a variety of jobs, including as a nutrient management adviser for the Maryland State Extension System.  

    Her focus now, with an expanding baking business, is on improving her community's agriculture system by sourcing ingredients locally to use in each pie.  

    “We strive to connect the consumer to agriculture by using organically grown ingredients, sourced locally when possible,” she told the lifestyle magazine in the November article.  

    Dr. Michael Lane, the director of UMES' Richard A. Henson Honors Program who coordinates the spring honors convocation, said LaComb was extended the invitation to be keynote speaker because she “is well-traveled and vastly experienced.”  

    “She hopes to instill inspiration, hope and confidence … as she shares … some of her (life's) highlights, biggest mistakes and hard-learned lessons,” Lane said.