2023 CALS Distinguished and Outstanding Alumni Honored
Deborah Hamrick and William Upchurch 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, Oct. 6, during a ceremony at the NC State University 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 for current students who will become future industry leaders.
Deborah Hamrick ’81, Horticultural Science
Deborah “Debbie” Hamrick is the director of specialty crops at the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation. Growing up, her father’s career in the U.S. Navy presented opportunities for her family to live in several states across the southeast, but no matter where they settled, Hamrick traveled to North Carolina each summer to visit her grandparents and help out in their expansive vegetable gardens. Hamrick came to NC State in 1977 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in forestry, but after walking into Kilgore Hall and meeting fellow plant people, she switched her major to horticultural science – knowing that she had found her home in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
While working toward her degree, Hamrick worked part-time on and off campus throughout her undergraduate career. She completed summer internships with Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Northrup King Seed Company in Indiana and Monsanto in the Carolinas. She also participated in the Horticulture Club and enjoyed getting to know fellow classmates – many of whom she is friends with today. Hamrick recalls many exceptional faculty at NC State, including Joe Love and Bill Fonteno, as well as Gus Dehertogh and Roy Larson, whom she credits for steering her to her first career job with Ball Publishing, a division of Ball Horticultural Company – in 1985.
Over the next two decades, Hamrick held various roles at Ball Horticultural, including editorial director of Ball Publishing, founder and publisher of FloraCulture International magazine, manager of conferences and trade shows and managing editor of GrowerTalks magazine. Hamrick returned to Raleigh in 1997 as a remote employee and later joined the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation to begin her tenure as director of specialty crops in 2004. In this role, she manages external relationships, provides analysis and interpretation of issues, and leverages new and existing resources into the North Carolina specialty crops agricultural sector.
Hamrick is a past board member of The North Carolina Rural Center, NC Sea Grant Advisory Board and the JC Raulston Arboretum Board of Advisors. She currently serves on the NC State Agricultural Institute Advisory Board, Center for Environmental Farming Systems advisory board and the Farmer Veteran Coalition North Carolina Chapter Board, among others. She also regularly engages with statewide agricultural organizations, civic and community groups, and college students through speaking engagements focused on consumer trends and general updates on Farm Bureau Federation policy and legislative initiatives.
She is a 2003 recipient of the CALS Outstanding Alumni Award for the Department of Horticultural Science. Hamrick resides in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she enjoys tending to her eclectic garden, bicycling and traveling to destinations on her bucket list.
William Upchurch ‘91, Agricultural and Human Sciences
William Upchurch was raised on a family farm in Cary, North Carolina, and it was there that his passion for agriculture began. During his high school years, Upchurch was actively involved in FFA – an experience that ultimately opened the door for him to attend NC State. He came to the university in 1986 to study extension education, and during his undergraduate years, served as state FFA vice president his freshman year (1986-1987), president of the Agricultural and Extension Education Club and completed an internship with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) that jump-started his career path.
Today, Upchurch is the executive director of the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission (TTFC), a position he has held since 2001. In its 20-year history, the TTFC has invested millions of dollars annually in projects impacting farmers, training new agricultural leaders and supporting crop research and extension programming. Prior to his work with the commission, Upchurch spent nearly a decade working for the NCDA&CS, first giving daily radio broadcasts on commodity prices and trends and later serving as a cotton marketing specialist and administrator of the department’s tobacco program.
Over the years, he has served on several state and local boards, including the Town of Cary’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, and both the Apex EMS and Cary Area EMS Board of Directors. Upchurch currently serves on the Wake County Agricultural Advisory Board, the N.C. Farm Bureau State Agritourism Committee, and as secretary and treasurer of the Wake County Farm Bureau. Upchurch is a former president of the NC State CALS Alumni and Friends Society and has received the Honorary American FFA Degree from the National FFA Organization.
He is a 2005 recipient of the CALS Outstanding Young Alumni Award and a 2013 recipient of the CALS Outstanding Alumni Award from the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences. Upchurch currently resides on his family farm in Cary, North Carolina. with his wife, Amanda, and sons, Zachary and Will.
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. The college’s academic departments selected the 2023 winners.
The Outstanding Alumni Awards Recognize CALS graduates who have excelled in their chosen fields and demonstrated a record of service.
Outstanding Alumni Award Recipients
Laura Parker, a Piney Creek, North Carolina, native, grew up helping out on her grandparents’ dairy farm and was actively involved in 4-H, FFA and the Mount Zion Global Methodist Church. In high school, she had the opportunity to attend Cooperative Leadership Camp and was selected to attend the National Institute on Cooperative Education and the Foundation for Rural Service Youth Tour to Washington, D.C. Parker was also selected to attend the Institute for Future Agricultural Leaders (IFAL) at NC State – which was ultimately a deciding factor in her decision to attend the university as an agricultural education major. During her undergraduate years, Parker was involved in several CALS student organizations, including Sigma Alpha, Alpha Zeta and the Animal Science Club – opportunities that she credits for building some of her best memories at NC State. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2004. Today, Parker is an agriculture teacher at Bandys High School in Catawba County. She also serves as an FFA Chapter Advisor, which allows her to work with students year-round to conduct leadership training and plan programs – like the annual Bandys Ag Day Event – to impact the next generation of agriculture leaders. Over the years, Parker has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including the 2010 Bandys High School Teacher of the Year Award; the 2010, 2017, 2018 and 2020 NCATA NW Region Teacher of the Year Award; the 2021 NCATA N.C. Outstanding Teacher Award; and the 2021 NAAE Region V, Southeast Region, Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award; among many others. Parker lives in Claremont, North Carolina, with her husband, Brian, and their two sons, Bryson and Wade.
W. Carroll McLawhorn grew up in Ayden, North Carolina, and it was there, on his grandfather’s farm, where he first developed a love and appreciation for animals and agriculture. In high school, he learned about NC State’s Agricultural Institute (AGI) from some fellow classmates, which led him to enroll in CALS. During his time in the program, McLawhorn fondly remembers living on the NC State research farm working with and caring for the university’s hogs, cattle and sheep. He graduated from AGI in 1964 with an associate’s degree in livestock and poultry management, and credits the two-year program for being the foundation of his 53-year career in agriculture. Since his graduation, McLawhorn has been involved in the agricultural industry throughout eastern North Carolina, beginning at Hendrix and Dail, Inc. in July 1964, as a sales representative – eventually working his way up to president. In 2012, following the merger of three regional agricultural companies, McLawhorn was named vice president of TriEast Ag Group, Inc. Throughout his career, he has served as an avid member of the Wolfpack Club, a past member of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension State Advisory Council and past president of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Foundation. McLawhorn has also previously served as the director of the NC Crop Protection Association and Southern Crop Protection Association. As an advocate for NC State, Cooperative Extension programs and the Agricultural Institute for more than 50 years, McLawhorn has established endowments to support student scholarships and internship opportunities – encouraging students to experience and pursue careers in agriculture and natural resources. He currently lives with his wife, Glenda, in Greenville, North Carolina. Together, they have two children, Kelly McLawhorn Graham and Patrick McLawhorn, and two grandchildren.
Nelson Powell is a senior vice president at First Bank & Trust Company in Clinton, North Carolina. In this role, Nelson is responsible for the strategic expansion of the bank’s footprint into the North Carolina and South Carolina agriculture and commercial markets. A Sampson County native, Powell grew up working in the tobacco field and raising hogs on his family’s Bicentennial Farm in Taylors Bridge, North Carolina, and was active in FFA and Boy Scouts. He followed his passion at NC State, where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness management. Powell has fond memories of his time at NC State, including running for student body president, serving in the student body presidential cabinet, and being a part of the 1996 National Agriculture Marketing Team – who, under the guidance of professor Bob Usry, qualified for nationals in Nashville, Tenn. Outside of his role at First Bank & Trust, Powell is also a professional keynote speaker, and through his company, Speak Life, he has been able to educate and advocate for agriculture to thousands of people worldwide. He also frequently writes articles on agriculture, finance and leadership. Powell currently serves on the Sampson Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees, the Sampson County Agricultural Advisory Board, the NC State Agricultural Foundation Board and the NC State Agricultural and Resource Economics Office of Student Mentoring Advisory Board. He is also a 2015 recipient of the Honorary American FFA Degree – the highest honorary degree awarded by the National FFA Organization. Powell is the eighth generation to raise his family on their family farm, where he lives with his wife, Melody, and daughter, Lily.
Dr. Rosemary Sifford grew up on a small tobacco farm in Stokes County, North Carolina, where she enjoyed trail riding with family and playing in the marching band. As a student at NC State, Sifford held leadership positions in the Animal Science Club and marched in NC State’s “Power Sound of the South” Marching Band. She graduated with bachelor’s degrees in animal science and agribusiness management in 1996. Sifford went on to pursue her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where she was a recipient of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Saul T. Wilson, Jr. Internship. Over the next several years, Sifford took on various full-time roles with the USDA, where she worked in the field and in the regional office before moving to work in headquarters. In 2021, she accepted the role of deputy administrator and chief veterinary officer. Outside of work, Sifford supports her local FFA and 4-H groups as a volunteer leader. She also supports her daughters, Madison, Salem and Sedona, in their many 4-H and FFA projects, including showing beef and dairy cattle at the local, regional and national level. Sifford is grateful for her parents, John and Dawn Bowen; her husband, Stephen, who she met in Animal Science Club; and her daughters for their continued support over the years.
Ellen Damschen is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches ecology and biology courses, leads a research lab and serves as a mentor to many student researchers. Growing up in northern Minnesota, Damschen was actively involved in Girl Scouts, enjoyed spending time outdoors and camping with her family, and was an avid musician throughout college. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Luther College, she came to NC State to pursue her doctorate in zoology. During her doctoral program, she had the opportunity to take a plant community ecology course with Professor Thomas Wentworth, a course she credits as one of the best classes she’s ever taken. Damschen was also strongly influenced by a collaboration with Mary Wyer, NC State faculty emerita, who taught her about the intersections between gender, race and science, how new approaches to teaching could increase the involvement of diverse scientists and how diverse scientific teams can produce better science. Today, Damschen is known for her work in the world’s largest habitat fragmentation experiment at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where she conclusively demonstrated that conservation corridors increase plant species diversity. Damschen’s research has been published in numerous journals and national publications, including Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The New York Times and Washington Post. In 2018, she was the recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Inclusive Excellence from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her spare time, Damschen enjoys spending time with family, hiking in the southeast and midwest, and playing music with friends. She currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, John Orrock, and daughter, Ella.
Marlon Brevé Reyes, a native of Olancho, Honduras, is the ambassador of Honduras to Spain. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in agricultural engineering from Louisiana State University, where he was actively involved in the Honduran Student Association and International Student Association. Brevé Reyes came to NC State in 1990 to pursue his doctorate in biological and agricultural engineering under the leadership of Wayne Skaggs. Some of his greatest memories at NC State include field trips to Plymouth, North Carolina, to take soil, plant and water samples and provide maintenance to the drainage and subirrigation facilities, where camaraderie with fellow students and field technicians evolved into great friendships. Brevé Reyes was also actively involved in a number of university clubs and activities, including Phi Kappa Phi and Gamma Sigma Delta. Before obtaining his doctorate in 1994, he was hired by EARTH University in Costa Rica in 1993 as a professor of agricultural engineering. While at EARTH University, he also served as director of research, director of admissions and international programs, and dean of academic affairs. In 2007, Brevé Reyes was appointed minister of education of Honduras, and in 2010, he joined Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana (UNITEC) in Honduras as dean of graduate studies. Over the next several years at UNITEC, he was promoted to academic vice president, and later, academic president. In 2022, Brevé Reyes left the university to become the ambassador of Honduras to Spain. When he’s not working, Brevé Reyes enjoys traveling around Spain and Europe with his wife, Nadina, and visiting his sons and grandson in the United States.
Alexander “Sandy” Stewart is the president of Sandhills Community College in Southern Pines, North Carolina. As the state’s first comprehensive community college, Sandhills Community College boasts approximately 11,500 students and serves as an economic engine for Moore and Hoke counties. For many years, the college has been a hub of activity for the greater Sandhills regions, offering cultural events, junior college athletic teams and the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens, to name a few. Previously, Stewart served as assistant commissioner of agriculture in the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS). In this capacity, he was responsible for the agricultural research divisions, which included Agronomics, Food Distribution, Marketing, Plant Industry, Research Stations, Soil and Water Conservation, as well as Environmental Programs. Stewart has also served as director of the research stations for NCDA&CS, and has been a faculty member and extension specialist at NC State and an extension cotton specialist for Louisiana State University. He has held positions in the cotton seed industry and as an independent consultant. Stewart graduated from NC State with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy in 1995, a master’s degree in crop science in 1998 and a doctorate in crop science in 2000. He has co-authored 34 peer-reviewed journal articles and one book chapter. Stewart was raised on a small farm in Moore County near Carthage, North Carolina, where he resides with his wife, Carol Grace, and their three children, Martha Grace, Virgie and Palmer Mac. Stewart is an elder in Union Presbyterian Church near Carthage, is active in his community and serves on several boards and commissions at the state level.
Allan Hruska is the director of Global Innovations in Development, Engagement and Scholarship (Global IDEAS) at Michigan State University. A Detroit, Mich., native, Hruska earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree from Duke University before coming to NC State to pursue his doctorate in entomology. He credits NC State and the support of his mentor, Professor Fred Gould, for opening the doors to many professional opportunities throughout his career. After completing his Ph.D., he was professor and chair of the Crop Protection Department at Zamorano University in Honduras, where he and Gould organized the first regional workshop on the use of genetically modified crops in Mesoamerica, leading to the creation of the first biosafety committee in Central America. In 2004, Hruska was hired by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as a crop protection officer for Latin America, based in Santiago, Chile. In this role, he provided technical and policy advice and capacity building to 44 member countries in the region. In 2017, Hruska was chosen to assume leadership of the global fall armyworm program for the United Nations, based in Rome, Italy. He led the technical development of the fall armyworm program in over 70 countries and raised $35 million in funding in two years. In 2020, Hruska returned to the United States when he was appointed as the inaugural director of Global IDEAS at Michigan State University. In his present role, he leads a team that broadens and deepens the university’s global engagement, develops partnerships, works with faculty, and identifies and develops proposals for external funding. He is also actively engaged in policy and technical partnerships and collaborations with researchers, universities, governments and international organizations, where he develops innovations to sustainably manage the fall armyworm and other invasive pests. He has authored more than 50 publications, book chapters, reviews and technical guides and serves on several international technical advising committees. In his spare time, Hruska actively supports several community-based organizations and enjoys walking, gardening, playing tennis, and spending time with family and friends. He currently resides in East Lansing, Michigan, with his partner, Maria, and is the proud father of three grown children.
Jennifer McMillen is an associate professor of food and nutrition at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. A West Virginia native, McMillen graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and general science education from Marshall University and a master’s degree in nutrition science from Meredith College. In 2017, she earned her doctorate in nutrition science from NC State, and while there, met her lifelong academic family, including Suzie Goodell, Natalie Cooke and Virginia Stage, with whom she continues to collaborate with and learn from today. McMillen returned to Meredith College as a teaching faculty member and obtained tenure in 2020. During her career at the college, she has served in several campus-wide and administrative positions, including the director of the Masters of Science in Nutrition program, a member of the Academic Council, a member of the undergraduate Admission Committee and as the director of the campus-wide Honors Scholar program. She is currently chair of the Department of Nutrition, Health and Human Performance and the faculty coordinator for the Dickson Foundation Community Garden. Her teaching focus includes graduate-level research methods, sustainable food systems, cultural food practices and lifecycle nutrition. McMillen is a recipient of Meredith College’s Excellence In Teaching Award, and in 2023, her graduate students presented her with “The Most Likely to Get You to Reach Your Full Potential” Award. As an active member of her community, McMillen volunteers and collaborates with many community organizations, including The Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C., Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Meals on Wheels and the YMCA. She currently resides in Cary, North Carolina, with her wife, Aurora, and daughter, Anna.
Aurora Baltazar, is an internationally recognized scientist whose work has contributed significantly to weed management in the Asian Pacific region. A native of the Philippines, Baltazar earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a master’s degree in weed science from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). She pursued her doctorate in horticultural science at NC State where she has fond memories of professor Thomas J. Monaco, who became her second family while she was studying in the United States. After graduation, she completed her postdoctoral work at the University of Arkansas’ Rice Research and Extension Center and later accepted a position as assistant professor at UPLB. Over the next 20 years, Baltazar served in numerous roles at the university including associate professor, affiliate professor, deputy director, professor and adjunct professor until her retirement in 2012. In the early 2000s, she also had the opportunity to serve as site coordinator for the Integrated Pest Management Collaborative Research Support program with Virginia Tech, based at the Philippine Rice Research Institute. Baltazar has been 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. She is the former editor of the Philippine Journal of Weed Science and the APWSS Newsletter. Baltazar and her co-author, Surajit K. De Datta, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, recently had a book published by John Wiley and Sons Ltd. in April 2023. For her outstanding achievements, Baltazar has been honored with the 1996 Pest Management Award from the Pest Management Council of the Philippines, the 2013 International Weed Science Society Achievement Award and the 2012 UPLB Outstanding Researcher Award, among many others.
Walter Havener grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he did yard work and brick patio construction alongside his father, an avid gardener. In high school, while working at Redmill Nursery, he made the decision to attend NC State to study in the Department of Horticultural Science. Havener graduated with his bachelor’s degree in landscape design in 1983 and credits the program’s influence as the foundation of his design philosophies and contributing to much of his success as a design professional. He has many fond memories of his time at NC State, and especially his time learning alongside a close-knit group of fellow students under the instruction of Will Hooker, Tracy Traer, Paul Fantz and the late J.C. Raulston. In 1986, Havener earned his master’s degree in landscape architecture from the Harvard University School of Design, and became a licensed landscape architect. In 1993, he co-founded Surface 678, a Durham-based landscape architecture firm dedicated to design excellence and the integration of natural systems and craft. Over the years, Havener has provided landscape architecture services to more than 25 projects at NC State, including the alumni entrance at the McKimmon Center, the Randall B. Terry Jr. Companion Animal Veterinary Medical Center, Fitts-Woolard Hall on Centennial Campus and the Gregg Museum of Art & Design, among many others. In 2011, his design at the North Carolina Museum of Art was featured in Landscape Architecture Magazine, and later that year, the museum’s West Building landscape was recognized as an American Society of Landscape Architects Professional Honor Award recipient. In 2018, Havener was inducted into the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Council of Fellows. Outside of work, he volunteers regularly with Habitat for Humanity, works as a grass farmer in Hurdle Mills, N.C., and enjoys riding his motorcycle. Havener would like to acknowledge his wife, Tammy, a fellow NC State alum, and his children, Paige and Grant, for their continued support throughout his career.
Mary Sliwkowski is the former global head of pharma technical regulatory at Roche. A New Jersey native, Sliwkowski earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Delaware and her doctorate in biochemistry from NC State. Looking back on her time at NC State, she credits her thesis advisors, Robert Horton and Harold Swaisgood, with fostering a positive environment to grow personally and professionally. After completing her postdoctoral work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, M.D., Sliwkowski joined Genentech in 1985 as a scientist in cell culture and fermentation research and development. Over the next three decades, Sliwkowski continued to grow with the company, holding positions in the cell culture process sciences, analytical chemistry, quality control, corporate quality and compliance departments. She was appointed as vice president of regulatory chemistry, manufacturing and controls (CMC) in 2006. After the integration of Roche and Genentech in 2009, Sliwkowski assumed global leadership of the organization and was promoted to senior vice president. In 2017, Sliwkowski retired after more than 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry. With a long-standing commitment to community service, Sliwkowski has served underserved communities by lending her expertise to the board of directors at the Genentech Foundation, which addresses hunger, homelessness and workforce development, as well as the Genentech Access to Care Foundation, which provides free medicines to uninsured and underinsured patients. She has also enjoyed volunteering with Gift of Adoption and Meals on Wheels. Sliwkowski currently resides in Northern California with her husband, Mark, splitting time between the San Francisco Bay Area and the north Lake Tahoe area. The couple enjoys traveling the globe and has two grown children, Daniel and Emily, as well as two grandchildren.
William “Bill” Gillette is a principal scientist and deputy director of the Protein Expression Laboratory at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research in Maryland. In this role, he oversees work on expressing and purifying proteins that support multiple efforts, including the RAS Initiative, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and research at the National Cancer Institute. Though he was born and raised in Virginia, Gillette spent summers throughout high school and college working on his uncle’s farm in Nebraska. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Virginia Tech in 1987 and a doctorate in microbiology from NC State in 1995. The practical experience he gained on the farm and his plant studies at Virginia Tech served as a solid foundation for Gillette’s work in the Department of Microbiology at CALS. He recalls many special memories from his time in the program, including working in the lab and greenhouses under the mentorship of professor Gerald Elkan, and seeing his lab work come to fruition in the greenhouse with observable and fascinating results. Throughout his career, Gillette has received numerous awards and accolades, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Award and the Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc. Special Achievement Award. Outside of work, Gillette enjoys bird watching, participating in the local high school’s National Honor Society events and gardening – with a special focus on cultivating and breeding. He also currently serves on the board of his local library. Gillette resides in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., with his wife and fellow CALS alumna Cathy Jozwik and their son, Doug.
Kymberly Gowdy is an associate professor at The Ohio State University (OSU) where she leads a research program in the Department of Internal Medicine focused on how air pollutants can influence chronic lung diseases. She earned her master’s degree in poultry science in 2004 and her doctorate in immunology in 2008, both at NC State. Some of Gowdy’s favorite memories of the university are the amazing support system of the faculty in the Prestage Department of Poultry Science, and learning alongside her mentors, professors Frank Edens, Susan Tonkonogy and Matthew Koci. Over the years, her research has resulted in more than 50 research publications that include her trainees and various extramural and intramural grants. Gowdy is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple study sections and is also active in journal peer reviews, including her role as associate editor for Toxicological Sciences and an editorial board member for the Journal of Immunology, American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Life Sciences, and Frontiers in Immunology. In addition to her research, Gowdy is passionate about inspiring women to pursue STEM fields and is active in community engagement to expose them to biological sciences early in their education. She started the Eastern North Carolina Chapter of Graduate Women in Science in 2016, and has mentored numerous research faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduates. In 2022, Gowdy was named the Melissa G. Piper “Mentor of the Year” for the Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute. She would like to thank her husband, Alex Rabb, her son, Aiden, and her parents, Wayne and Roxanne Gowdy, for being her biggest supporters.
Outstanding Young Alumni
The Outstanding Young Alumni Awards recognize former CALS students who have excelled early in their careers and show potential for continued success.
Outstanding Young Alumni Award Recipients
Joy Morgan Fleming grew up on a small beef cattle and tobacco farm in Oxford, North Carolina, where she was an active member of 4-H and FFA. One summer in high school, she attended a Phi Delta Kappa future teacher camp held at Indiana University and the Institute for Future Agricultural Leaders (IFAL) camp held at NC State, and it was at these camps that she officially decided she wanted to become an agricultural educator. After graduation, she attended NC State to pursue her bachelor’s degree in agricultural education with a concentration and minor in animal science. Morgan remained at NC State after she completed her undergraduate degree to focus on obtaining a master’s in agricultural education. Over the next several years, she returned to Granville County and taught both middle and high school agricultural education before coming back to NC State to pursue her doctorate. After completing her Ed.D. in 2014, Morgan began teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences. Today, she continues to embrace her love for teaching and working with students by leading both undergraduate and graduate courses, serving as an academic advisor, advising NC State’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Program, and leading the Rurally Engaged Agricultural Leaders program, which focuses on supporting rural and first-generation college students. In addition, she serves as the director of the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission Agricultural Leadership Development Program. Morgan has received numerous awards throughout her career including the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Educator Award and the USDA Early Career Teacher Award. In her free time, Morgan enjoys traveling, gardening and spending time on the family farm with her husband, Rob, and two beautiful daughters, Westry and Claire.
Kayla Howell is a student services specialist at the Agricultural Institute (AGI) at NC State. A native of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, Howell grew up playing soccer and was actively involved in the FFA. After graduating from high school, her love of agriculture and hands-on learning brought her to the Agricultural Institute. During her undergraduate years, she began working in the institute office as a student worker – ultimately leading to the position and career that she loves today. Howell graduated in 2013 with a degree in agribusiness management and a concentration in horticulture and later earned her bachelor’s degree in agricultural education – professional service from North Carolina A&T State University in 2020. She has worked at the Agricultural Institute full-time since November 2013. In her current role, Howell is responsible for initiatives and programs focused on student support. Howell works with incoming students, manages course scheduling, handles student concerns and faculty needs, and oversees the annual AGI graduation ceremonies. In addition, Howell organizes and manages the various CALS teaching awards, serves on the CALS FUN committee and maintains a Professional Administrative Certificate of Excellence from the American Society of Administrative Professionals. In 2017, Howell was the recipient of NC State’s Pride of the Wolfpack Award, which recognizes employees for their unique contributions to the university. Outside of work, she is an active member of Zebulon Baptist Church and enjoys cooking, wakeboarding and spending time with her husband, Wolfpack alum Justin, and raising two Wolfpack-loving kids, Addison and Lincoln.
Justin Somers, a native of Yadkinville, North Carolina, is a regional director for U.S. Senator Ted Budd, where he represents the senator in an official capacity within his 14-county region, and serves as a liaison between constituent groups and the senator. Prior to this role, he worked as a senior flock advisor at Perdue Farms Inc., where he was responsible for working with contract poultry growers, served as the area animal care and biosecurity officer, and provided oversight of various production trials. Somers graduated from NC State in 2013 with associate’s degrees in agricultural business management, general agriculture, and livestock and poultry management. While pursuing his degrees, he served as treasurer and president of the Agricultural Institute Club. Over the years, he has served as president of the Yadkin County Farm Bureau and has been a member of the North Carolina Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors and the Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. He also founded and served as the first president of the Yadkin County Agriculture Foundation. As an active member of his community, Somers volunteers with NC State’s Entrepreneurship Program and serves on the Agricultural and Resource Economics Office of Student Mentoring Advisory Board, Wilkes Community College Animal Science Advisory Council, among several other local organizations. In 2022, he was elected by the citizens of Yadkin County to serve on the county’s Soil and Water District Board of Supervisors. In his free time, Somers enjoys playing softball and baseball with his children, traveling, cooking and camping with his family. He currently resides in Yadkin County with his wife, Lindsey, children, Julia and Preston, and their chocolate Lab mix, Cocoa.
Christina Phillips grew up in Duplin County, North Carolina, and attended NC State where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in animal science. She later obtained her doctorate in animal science from the University of Minnesota. After graduating with her Ph.D. in 2011, Phillips was hired by the Smithfield Hog Production Division, and today, she holds the position of director of production research. In this role, she is responsible for conducting an internal research and development program within Smithfield Hog Production, which includes identifying opportunities in all areas of swine production and managing research programs to scientifically evaluate opportunities in multiple disciplines and across all phases of production. She is also responsible for communicating research information across the organization for technical support, education and implementation, and she tracks the economic benefits when implemented. In 2021, Phillips was awarded a prestigious Smithfield Foods Operational Excellence Award for her research that has resulted in significant contributions to the business. In addition to her work at Smithfield, Phillips currently serves as president of the North Carolina Pork Council, is the PTO president for Wallace Elementary School, and serves on several other community councils in Wallace, North Carolina, where she and her family live. She and her husband, Casey, met in their undergraduate years at NC State. They have been married for 16 years and have two boys, Will and Walt. The Phillips family enjoys watching NC State sports, fishing and traveling together.
Augustin “Gus” Engman is an assistant professor in the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee. His research areas include aquatic ecology and fisheries conservation and management, with a focus on anthropogenic changes, such as impoundments (dams) and associated alterations of river flow, urbanization and global climate change. In his early years, Engman lived in various locations – including Albuquerque, New Mexico, Rochester, New York, and San Juan, Puerto Rico – where he was involved in Boy Scouts and enjoyed football, soccer, fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving. Engman completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Miami prior to earning his Master of Science in biology at the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras. In 2011, he came to NC State to pursue his doctorate under the mentorship of the late Thomas J. Kwak. While working toward his degree, he lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, but was given the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico to conduct research for his doctoral program. Since the start of his career, he has mentored 18 undergraduate students in research experiences – 15 of whom identify as women or as members of groups that are underrepresented in STEM fields. In addition, Engman has authored 20 peer-reviewed publications and two book chapters, and has served as the major advisor to six graduate students. Today, Engman lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his wife, Ana, their cat, Tony, and dog, Coosa.
Noah Joseph “Joe” Wright II is a native of Casar, North Carolina, and the owner of Wright Contracting, LLC a premier environmental restoration firm. The company – which proudly employs a number of NC State alumni – has restored nearly two million feet of streams and rivers and more than 1,000 acres of wetlands throughout the United States. Growing up, Wright was a member of the Boy Scouts of America, the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), and the marching band. After receiving his high school diploma, Wright followed in his father’s footsteps and attended NC State to pursue a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and environmental technology. He has great memories of his undergraduate years, most notably meeting people in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) with whom he still maintains relationships today. While attending NC State, he was a member of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC), participated in the department’s American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) club and was captain of the Quarter-Scale Tractor Team his senior year. Wright continues to support the BAE department by teaching several stream restoration classes, and his company enjoys participating in CALS and BAE events. He has been a volunteer firefighter for more than 20 years and currently serves as a captain and president of the department’s Board of Directors. Outside of work, he is involved in aviation – specifically flying antiques and warbirds – and is an active member of the Summit Church in Raleigh. He also enjoys working on the family farm, fishing, hunting and spending time with family. Wright thanks many for the impact they have made on his life, including his parents, who raised him in church and provided him with an entrepreneurial example; his close friend Charlie Hicks and the Hicks family; his wife, Whitney; and his two children, Breeland and Lawson. Most of all, he credits Jesus Christ with his success in life.
Nicole Youngblood is from an agriculturally robust area of Johnston County, North Carolina, and was raised near a tobacco and sweetpotato farm across the road from her home. As an active member of the FFA, Youngblood served as the chartering president of the McGee’s Crossroads Middle School chapter, and remained involved in FFA throughout high school and college, where she obtained the American FFA Degree, the highest degree awarded by the National FFA Organization. She graduated from NC State in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in plant and soil sciences with a concentration in crop production and a minor in agricultural leadership. While earning her degree, Youngblood served as a crop intern at the Extension office in Johnston County and was highly involved in the North Carolina Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Program. She was also active in the NC State Agronomy Club, where she served as treasurer and vice president, and, as a senior, was recognized as Outstanding Club Member of the Year. Youngblood currently serves as an agriculture extension agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Johnston County Center, where she focuses on agricultural marketing and communications, manages the JoCo Grows agriculture committee, provides technical support to farmers and increases agricultural awareness with the general public. As a proud first-generation college graduate and lifelong learner, Youngblood is currently pursuing her master’s in agricultural and extension education at NC State. She currently resides in Four Oaks, North Carolina, with her husband, Allen, and beagle, Maggie, who has been in the family since Youngblood attended NC State and is, of course, a fellow Wolfpack fan.
Kimberly D’Arcangelo is a scientist at Bayer Crop Science in Chesterfield, Mo. A native of Redford, Mich., D’Arcangelo earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with a minor in business administration and management from Adrian College in 2016. She continued her education at NC State, earning her doctorate in plant pathology and phytopathology in 2021. While in graduate school, D’Arcangelo was an active member of the Plant Pathology Graduate Student Association and interned at Bayer Crop Science. Through the internship, she gained invaluable on-the-job experience and meaningful networking opportunities, as well as a sneak peek into a career in the industry. D’Arcangelo credits the experience for establishing her career expectations and setting her up for downstream success. Beyond the internship, some of D’Arcangelo’s favorite memories include taking part in multiple NC Cooperative Extension events where she was captivated by the rapport between university researchers, growers and extension agents. During her time at NC State, D’Arcangelo was a recipient of the NC State Graduate Student Association Travel Assistance Award, a two-time winner of the APS Student Travel Award, a third-place winner in a BASF poster contest and a first-place winner in a Plant Pathology Society of North Carolina poster contest. Today, in addition to her role at Bayer Crop Science, D’Arcangelo serves as a graduate student mentor through the B4U Bayer University Mentoring Program, which provides one-on-one mentorship to students and postdocs and offers soft-skills coaching and career development advice. D’Arcangelo currently resides in Saint Peters, Missouri, with her partner, Jacob Blach, and their two cats, Loki and Apollo.
Aaron Anders is the associate director of manufacturing at KBI Biopharma Inc. in Durham, North Carolina. He serves as the department head for upstream manufacturing and is responsible for oversight in shift management, scheduling, deviations and corrective and preventive action, batch record and standard operating procedure drafting, and upstream process improvements. A native of Lexington, North Carolina, Aaron grew up with a passion for fishing and working in landscaping. He came to NC State’s Agricultural Institute in 2006 to pursue an associate’s degree in ornamental and landscape technology. In 2012, Anders earned his bachelor’s degree in bioprocessing science before going on to earn a master’s degree in biomanufacturing in 2018 from the Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC). While Anders has many wonderful memories from his undergraduate and graduate years, his most special memory was meeting his wife for the first time in Harrelson Hall while taking a summer-session math course. Outside of his role at KBI Biopharma, Anders is a guest lecturer in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences and also a semi-professional bass fisherman with extensive experience on lakes throughout North Carolina and Virginia. He currently lives in Wake Forest, North Carolina, with his wife, Melissa, who is expecting their first child (a daughter) in February. Anders would like to thank his parents, Tom and Ginger Anders, for their steadfast support throughout his education and for continuously encouraging him to succeed. He would also like to thank his wife for all the support and encouragement she has provided throughout his academic and professional career.
Stephen “Steve” Meyers grew up in Rensselaer, Indiana, where his passion for horticultural science began. During his 10 years in 4-H, Meyers had the opportunity to participate in numerous gardening projects, where he was introduced to growing vegetables – the first step in his eventual field of study and career. Meyers received his bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Purdue University and, later, continued his education at NC State – earning his master’s degree and doctorate in weed science under the direction of Katie Jennings. Thinking back to his time at NC State, Meyers still recalls memories of the hot summer days spent conducting field research across the state, sharing his graduate research with regional farmers at field days and production meetings, and spending time with fellow horticulture students – and the late Frank Blazich – at Pi Alpha Xi plant sales. After graduating from NC State, Meyers spent several years at Mississippi State University, serving as the state’s sweetpotato extension specialist. In 2019, he joined the faculty of Purdue University as an assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. In this role, he conducts research in weed biology, weed-crop interactions, herbicide tolerance and integrated weed management strategies, and provides the state’s specialty crop producers with timely, research-based weed management recommendations. Throughout his career, he has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including Mississippi State’s Dr. Joe E. Street Outstanding Extension Award, the National Association of County Agricultural Agents Achievement Award and Purdue University’s Horticulture Early Career Impact Award and Extension Impact Award. In 2019, he was named an honoree in Fruit and Vegetable Growers News Magazines’ “40 Under 40” list. He currently resides in West Lafayette, Ind., with his wife, Jess, and two sons, Parker and Brody. Together, the family owns and operates Meyers’ Produce and Plants – a small, diverse farm specializing in vegetables, cut flowers, honey, maple syrup and farm-fresh eggs.
Laura Herring, a Charlotte, North Carolina, native, is a two-time graduate of NC State. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and chemistry in 2007. During that time, she was accepted into NC State’s inaugural Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) program, which helped foster her love of science. Herring has fond memories of those years at NC State, including courses with Dr. Knopp, drawing amino acids on the tables at D.H. Hill Jr. Library into the wee hours of the night with her fellow classmates, and membership in Alpha Chi Sigma – the chemistry fraternity – where she met lifelong friends. In 2010, following a brief stint in the industry, Herring returned to NC State to earn her doctorate in biochemistry. After receiving her doctorate, she joined the Proteomics Core at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she currently serves as director and research associate professor of pharmacology. Herring’s lab is affiliated with the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and she is passionate about helping cancer researchers accomplish their scientific goals. In 2019, she received the Pharmacology’s Chair Award, and over the years, she has contributed to more than 70 publications. Herring currently lives in Cary, North Carolina, with her husband, Matt, and two young children, Henry and Harper.
DurreShahwar “Durre” Muhammad is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of BioSciences at Rice University. In this position, she works to elucidate the mechanisms that maintain cellular health through accurate organelle degradation to uncover signals and pathways that govern peroxisome dynamics and communication with other organelles in Arabidopsis thaliana. As a Chicago native, Muhammad grew up within miles of the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. She visited the museums often and by high school, began volunteering at the Museum of Science and Industry – solidifying her love of science. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and went on to work as a research specialist in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology at her alma mater. In 2013, she came to NC State to pursue her doctorate in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. As an active member of the NC State community, Muhammad served as a graduate advisor; fundraiser and service chair of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS); treasurer of the Plant Biology Graduate Student Association; and was the graduate student representative for the University Diversity Advisory Committee. Muhammad was also the 2018 recipient of the CALS Kenneth R. Keller Award for Excellence in doctoral dissertation research. She currently resides in Houston, Texas, with her husband, Christopher, and their three daughters, Kenya, Eiliyah and Aalayah.
Coltin Caraway is the director of nutrition at Mountaire Farms in Statesville, North Carolina, serving Mountaire’s operations in North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, where he oversees the nutrition and research program for broilers and broiler breeders. Growing up in Texas and Oklahoma, Caraway was surrounded by ranching and farming communities, where he gained experience gardening and working with beef cattle, goats and horses. He was also actively involved in FFA, participating in Parliamentary Procedure and land, livestock and range judging. Caraway graduated from Oklahoma State with a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 2013. He continued his education at NC State, earning his master’s degree in poultry science in 2015 and a doctorate in poultry science and nutrition in 2018. During his time at NC State, Caraway recalls the opportunity to meet and learn from people from different corners of the world and work alongside professors John Brake and Adam Fahrenholz, who equipped him with the knowledge and mindset to succeed. Outside of his role at Mountaire Farms, Caraway serves on the board of directors of the Carolina Feed Industry Association and N.C. Agricultural Foundation. In 2020, he was recognized on the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association’s 30 Under 30 list, which highlights young professionals for their early career accomplishments and potential. Outside of work, Caraway supports several organizations that focus on food security, the environment and outdoor initiatives. He is also an active member of Trinity Baptist Church and enjoys fishing, hunting, hiking, cycling and landscaping with native plants. Caraway lives in Newton, North Carolina, with his wife and two-time NC State graduate, Chelsea, and son, Orrin. Caraway would like to thank Chelsea, his parents and his grandparents for their unwavering love and support through the years.
This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.