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2022 CALS Distinguished and Outstanding Alumni Honored

Bryan Blinson and Dr. Phillip Snider are this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award winners for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). They, along with other outstanding alumni, were honored Friday, Sept. 9 during a ceremony at the Plant Sciences Building on Centennial Campus.

All alumni award recipients represent the fulfillment of the promise of our land-grant mission in academics, research and Extension. Their professional achievements and service to NC State and their communities exemplify the extraordinary possibility of achievement to current students who will become future industry leaders.

Blinson was raised on his family’s purebred cattle farm in Lenoir, North Carolina, where his passion for animal science began. Throughout high school, Blinson was actively involved in FFA and the National Junior Polled Hereford Association. He came to NC State University in 1980 to study animal science with a particular interest in beef cattle. In 1994, Blinson accepted a role with the North Carolina Cattlemen’s Association, where he served until 1999. After a short stint in real estate and equipment sales, Blinson returned to the North Carolina Cattlemen’s Association as executive director – the role he holds today. The leadership and advocacy Blinson has provided for many years in his role at North Carolina Cattlemen’s Association has significantly impacted the college’s ability to prepare students for service in the beef industry.

Snider is the discipline chair for primary care in rural and underserved areas for the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. He graduated from NC State with bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and chemistry in 1988 and earned a master’s degree in nutrition from UNC-Greensboro. Snider stayed in Greensboro and worked for eight years as a registered dietician and personal trainer before making the decision to go to medical school at Midwestern University in Phoenix, Arizona. Snider has board certifications from the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Family Medicine, and holds professional memberships with the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Osteopathic Association. Snider’s passion for teaching and helping others inspired him to make a planned gift which will provide scholarships to future CALS students.

Outstanding Alumni

The CALS Alumni and Friends Society also presented Outstanding Alumni and Outstanding Young Alumni awards, which recognize excellence and the achievements of former students in their careers and communities. Chosen by their academic departments, 2022 winners are:

Mark Blevins is a three-time NC State graduate, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in extension education and his doctorate of education in agricultural and extension education in 2019. Blevins serves as the assistant extension administrator for agriculture and natural resources at North Carolina A&T State University. In this position, he coordinates research and educational programs and practical solutions for small and minority farmers across the state. Prior to this role, he served as the county extension director for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Brunswick County for nine years.

Brad West is a partner of West Family Farms, a multigenerational family farm in Wayne County that was established by his father in 1979. West attended NC State’s Agricultural Institute and graduated in 1998. He’s served on the executive board of the North Carolina Peanut Growers Association, the North Carolina Farm Bureau State Peanut Committee, the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Affairs Committee, the Carl Best Ag. Leadership Program Executive Committee and the Coastal AgroBusiness Client Advisory Board.

James W. Owens is a devoted supporter of NC State University. He received three degrees from NC State, including a master’s degree in textile technology and a doctorate in economics. While earning his doctorate degree, Owens took a position as a corporate economist with Caterpillar, Inc. He is a lifetime member of the NC State Alumni Association and a former member and chair of the university’s board of trustees. Owens and his wife, Kathrine, have also supported numerous students through the need-based Nellie Maude Matthews Owens Scholarship, the James W. and Kathrine M. Owens Caldwell Scholarship and the James, Kathrine Owens Shelton Leadership Program Endowment and the James W. Owens Distinguished Chair in International Economics — held jointly by Poole College of Management and CALS. 

Barbara Durrant is the Henshaw Endowed Director of Reproductive Sciences for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, where her division studies reproductive biology, endocrinology and behavior, and develops innovative methods to encourage species reproduction. In this role, she and her staff conduct research in stem cell culture and transfer, endocrine disruption and the development and validation of hormone assays for a variety of species. Durrant also serves as an adjunct faculty member at San Diego State University and Palomar College. She earned three degrees from NC State, including a bachelor’s in animal science, master’s in physiology and a Doctorate of Reproductive Physiology. 

M. Kyle Briggs is the chief deputy director of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. He has also served as an assistant hatchery manager, hatchery manager, fish production supervisor, assistant chief of Inland Fisheries and chief of the Land and Water Access Division. Briggs earned a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and wildlife science in 1992. In 2018, Briggs was chosen to participate in the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Roadmap to Relevancy project. 

Sydney Seymour received three degrees at NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – all in biological and agricultural engineering. Seymour served in the United States Army in the 82nd Airborne Division. He later founded SeyConTech Engineering & Technology Consulting. To date, he holds 15 U.S. Patents and one International Patent in diverse manufacturing applications. Over the course of his career, he served on advisory boards for NC State’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, NC Agricultural & Technical State University’s Department of Biosystems Engineering and the West Forsyth Family YMCA. 

Dallas Barnes is the president of Meherrin Agricultural & Chemical Company, a family-owned agricultural supplier and parent company of Severn Peanuts, Meherrin Fertilizer and Hampton Farms – the leading roaster of in-shell peanuts in the United States. Barnes earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from NC State in 1978. Today, he serves as a member of the NC Agricultural and Life Sciences Research Foundation. 

Bruce Martin serves as professor emeritus of turf pathology in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Clemson University. He is also the former research and extension turfgrass pathologist for the state of South Carolina. Martin earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Hendrix College and a master’s degree in plant pathology from the University of Arkansas. His continued passion for plant pathology led him to NC State, where he earned his doctorate in 1982. Martin has been active in turf research, extension and teaching for the past 30 years at Clemson University, where his research emphasized disease control programs, nematode control, fungicide efficacy and diseases of turf caused by Rhizoctonia. 

Mandy Taylor manages the research and development early talent team at Mars Wrigley. A California native, she began her food science journey at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in food science in 2001. Taylor earned her master’s degree in food science at NC State in 2004. After graduating, she worked as a food technologist at Schwan’s Bakery, Inc., a bakery scientist for the Sara Lee Corporation and as a scientist for national chain accounts at Newly Weds Foods, Inc. In 2011, she accepted a role with Mars Wrigley where she served in various roles to support supply chain and research and development operations before transitioning to her current role in 2021.

Aurora Baltazar is an internationally recognized scientist whose work contributed significantly to weed management in the Asian Pacific region. A native of the Philippines, Baltazar earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and master’s degree in weed science from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She pursued her doctorate in horticultural science at NC State. Throughout her career, Baltazar was an active member of the Weed Science Society of the Philippines, the Asian-Pacific Weed Science Society, the Pest Management Council of the Philippines and the International Weed Science Society. 

Dr. Lavanya Nagaraj is a partner at Blue Ridge Dermatology where she enjoys all aspects of general dermatology, pediatric dermatology and skin cancer surgery. Nagaraj earned her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry with a minor in psychology from NC State in 1997. She earned her doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Nagaraj is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology and serves on the board of directors for the Visual Art Exchange and Frames of Mind. 

Wade Wall is an ecologist for the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering Research and Development Center. In this role, his research focuses on balancing training on U.S. Army installations with environmental compliance as well as threatened and endangered species management. Wall earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He earned a master’s degree in botany from NC State in 2008 and a doctorate in plant biology in 2013. He has published more than 20 articles on topics including plant demography, plant population genetics, wildland fire and much more. 

Caitlin Boon graduated from NC State with bachelor’s degrees in food and poultry science in 2002. She earned a master’s degree in food policy at City University London while on a Fulbright grant to the United Kingdom, and later earned a doctorate in food science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She served as the Associate Commissioner for Food Policy and Response for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In this role, she advised the Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response on food safety activities, including implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, outbreak response and recall activities, and efforts to evaluate and adopt new and emerging technologies to strengthen the FDA’s ability to address food safety concerns through developing the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative. 

Outstanding Young Alumni

Jacqueline Knowles is an agriculture teacher at Southern Lee High School in Sanford, North Carolina and the FFA advisor for the Southern Lee Chapter. She also serves as an instructor at the 1st Special Warfare Training Group, Delta Company and Civil Affairs Qualification Course at Fort Bragg. Following the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Knowles enlisted in the United States Army. When she returned from active duty she enrolled at NC State. Initially pursuing veterinary medicine, Knowles later discovered her passion for teaching young people about agriculture. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education in 2017. 

Taylor McDonald is a partnership engagement manager at Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. She is passionate about working with diverse groups across the state to promote awareness about child abuse prevention. McDonald earned her master’s degree in human development and family studies at NC State in 2018. For her outstanding achievements in the program, McDonald received the 2018 Outstanding Graduate Student Award. McDonald is a Children’s Trust Fund Alliance Certified Strengthening Families Protective Factors trainer, certified Connections Matter trainer, certified Standards of Quality trainer and  a registered behavioral technician.

Sarah Maddry is an extension agent for 4-H youth development at the NC Cooperative Extension’s Alamance County Center. Maddry earned her associate of applied science degree in livestock and poultry management from NC State in 2018 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness management in 2020. Maddry has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including  2021-2022 North Carolina 4-H Program Assistant of the Year and the 2021-2022 National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals Regional Communicator Award. 

Xu Han is an associate professor at City University of Hong Kong. He earned his master’s degree in economics at NC State’s Poole College of Management (PCOM) in 2008, and later, his doctorate in economics, a joint program with PCOM and CALS in 2012. In his current role, Han’s research is focused on econometric theory and applied econometrics, particularly in topics related to high dimensional modeling and big data. He also works on econometric methods with applications in empirical macroeconomics. 

Kyle Mayberry is the director of agriculture for The Biltmore Company in Asheville, North Carolina. At Biltmore, Mayberry oversees row crop and forage production, livestock production, natural resources and Biltmore Grown—the product division of Biltmore Agriculture. In addition to these program areas, he is also responsible for agritourism and ag storytelling on the estate, and the agricultural land management of more than 1,000 acres of pasture and crop lands on the historic property. Mayberry earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science in 2016 followed by a master’s degree in 2018.

Jared Balik is a postdoctoral research associate working with Dr. Jonathan Coop, supported by Western Colorado University and the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center. In this role, he is working to determine what landscape and climate factors cause extreme wildfire spread events. Balik earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental science from Allegheny College in 2016 and earned his Ph.D. in biology from NC State in 2021. In this role, he is working to determine what landscape and climate factors cause extreme wildfire spread events and has opportunities to model the consequences of wildfires for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem functions and services.

Jared Day is the product and systems specialist for John Deere in the southeastern U.S. In this role, he represents the integration of technology, channel development, product expertise and agronomic implementation for dealers and customers. Day earned his bachelor’s degree in biological and agricultural engineering technology with a minor in agriculture business management in 2009 from NC State. He also graduated from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission Agricultural Leadership Development Program. Day serves on the NC Vegetable Growers Association Board of Directors, Wake Tech Community College Board of Advisors and NC State BAE Advisory Board. 

Katherine Drake Stowe is the director of the U.S. Soybean Research Collaborative – a new, multi-state soybean program dedicated to more effective coordination and collaboration among all sectors of the soybean industry. In this role, Stowe builds bridges between partners across the value chain and creates collaborative public and private partnerships that go beyond traditional production research. She earned a bachelor’s degree in polymer and color chemistry from NC State in 2009. She also earned her master’s degree and doctorate in crop science. Stowe serves as president of the NC State Alumni Association, an advisor and mentor to the NC State SATELLITE Camp program and is a member of the Caldwell Fellows Strategic Planning Committee.

Adam Dale is an associate professor of turfgrass and ornamental entomology at the University of Florida. In this role, he is responsible for researching economically important pests of turfgrass and ornamental plants, and disseminating the results through management recommendations to extension faculty across the state. The goal of his lab is to generate more sustainable, ecologically based management strategies that benefit the environment and the turf and ornamental industries. Dale graduated from NC State with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 2011 and a doctorate in entomology in 2015. 

Natalie Cooke is an assistant professor and director of undergraduate programs for nutrition science in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at NC State. After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in nutrition science and biochemistry and a minor in genetics from NC State, Cooke began graduate school with the goal of becoming an educator. While pursuing her doctorate in nutrition, Cooke engaged in explorations of pre-healthcare and medical students’ views of childhood obesity. In her current role, she designs innovative programs to improve students’ self-efficacy in nutrition-related disciplinary skills through teaching, advising and research. She is part of a team of recipients of the 2020-2021 Gertrude Cox Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching and Learning with Technology. 

David Hoffman is chief operating officer at Hoffman Nursery, Inc. in Rougemont, North Carolina. With a lifelong connection with the North Carolina horticulture community, Hoffman grew up attending CALS tailgates with his family, where he was introduced to many of his parents’ colleagues. After graduating in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture science, David spent two years at Stauden Peters Nursery, a perennial plant nursery in Germany. In 2015, he returned to Hoffman Nursery, where he applied experience with European automation and quality control techniques in his positions as stock coordinator and then production supervisor. In 2022, he became the chief operating officer and oversees long range strategic planning and manages sales and operations. 

Peter Thompson is a lead research scientist and research assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry at NC State University. Thompson earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 2008 and later went on to earn his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He then completed his postdoctoral work at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences where he studied allergen:lipid interactions. Thompson has used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study biomolecular systems since 2009. 

Jesse Noar grew up in the New Jersey suburbs with a passion for nature, spending time outdoors and reading about how things work. After his high school biology teacher introduced him to techniques of microbiological culture, Noar decided to pursue a career studying bacteria. He earned his undergraduate degree in biology from Cornell University. In 2016, he earned his doctorate from the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at NC State. After completing his Ph.D., Noar accepted a position at Medicago, Inc., working to develop and produce plant-based vaccines for influenza and later, SARS-CoV-2. His career has continued at Medicago and today, he serves as a manufacturing senior specialist. 

Krista Krish is a senior research specialist in Dr. Cheryl Day’s laboratory at the Emory National Primate Research Center’s Emory Vaccine Center. Krish assists with the characterization of cellular immune responses in pediatric and adult cohorts across a spectrum of M. tuberculosis and HIV infection states. During the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, Krish worked as a senior research specialist in the Emory NPRC’s Virology Core, conducting immunological testing to ensure the specific pathogen free status of the non-human primate research colony based in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Krish earned her doctorate in animal and poultry science from NC State in 2018. 

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.