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From 4-H Agent to Graduate Student: Meet Crystal Starkes

Crystal Starkes was in mid-layoff from a data entry job when she found the 4-H position opening in Union County, NC that would change her life. After interviewing, she was offered the position on the very last day of her data entry job, not knowing this opportunity would open many new doors and completely redirect her career path! In 2015, she was promoted to the lead 4-H Agent position after being a Program Assistant for a little over a year.

As a 4-H agent, Starkes works with youth ages 5-18, providing them with hands-on learning opportunities through various platforms including: 4-H clubs, special interest groups, summer camps, and school enrichment programs. She also trains 4-H volunteers and works closely with educators to help them implement research-based curriculum in their classrooms. Although she has various job responsibilities and involvements, her main goal as a 4-H agent is simple- to provide youth with a sense of belonging. Starkes plays a vital role in building relationships among youth, their families, and community stakeholders.  

Currently, Starkes is working toward her Masters of Science in Youth, Family, and Community Sciences (YFCS). She defended her thesis successfully earlier this year and plans to graduate in December of this year. Starkes realized the importance of understanding the needs of the youth and families that she serves as a 4-H agent. Coming to this realization, she decided the YFCS graduate program was a great opportunity for her to gain the experience and knowledge to better support her youth, families, and their goals.  

Looking back on her time at NC State, Starkes says that the university has provided her with confidence in her ability to excel as a student and more importantly, as a professional. Starkes says she is able to use the knowledge she learned from the program and apply it directly to her career. In the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences (AHS), Starkes developed lasting and impactful relationships with her thesis committee, which included: Dr. Harriet Edwards, Dr. Joseph Donaldson, and Dr. Mitzi Downing. Her Thesis Accountability Group has also been impactful in her education and career, standing out because they provided her with support and guidance throughout her thesis writing process.  

When asked who inspires her, Starkes’ reply was “My biggest inspiration are my sorority sisters, Drs. Ashley Gary-Roper and Kyvia Crisco.” They inspired Starkes to further her schooling and obtain a higher degree. She said “It was amazing to see someone so close to me achieve degrees beyond just a bachelors!” Starkes admits she did not believe that she herself could achieve a Masters until she saw her friends put in the work and effort towards it, and witnessed their hard work pay off.  

Starkes’ future plans are to facilitate presentations about the knowledge she gained through her thesis experience. She aspires to become a known expert in the realm of volunteer management, especially for young adults. Her recent trip to the National Extension Conference for Volunteerism, held in Oklahoma, was both educational and inspiring as she now wants to share her own knowledge at conferences similar to her experience in Oklahoma. She recently made the decision to apply to the doctoral program of Agricultural and Extension Education within the AHS department and hopes to be accepted and start classes in the spring.

4-H agents are change agents, inspiring and help youth develop into responsible citizens. Starkes is already impacting and making a difference in youth’s lives, and will continue thanks to the knowledge and skills she acquired at NC State.