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All the Way: Lecturer’s NC State Journey

When North Carolina State University faculty member Billy Flowers opened the door for to Charlotte Meli to help with his research, she had no idea how the much the experience would change her life.

Meli, who had recently graduated with a degree in animal science, no longer wanted to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a large animal veterinarian.

Instead, she decided to go to graduate school at NC State. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees here, and she fell in love with her role as a teaching assistant. And today, she’s following her mentor’s lead by teaching, advising and inspiring students in the Department of Animal Science.

As a lecturer, Meli teaches reproductive physiology and anatomy labs, plus a course on the techniques of animal care.

From a Love of Horses to a Passion for Pigs

Though she’s been a part of the ’Pack since her undergraduate days, her path all the way to her current faculty career wasn’t a straight one. As a child in Winchester, England, Meli became fascinated with horses. When her parents decided to move to North Carolina, she balked – until her father promised to get her riding lessons.

That experience led to her desire to be a large animal vet. As a high schooler, she saw NC State as an obvious choice for beginning her educational journey toward that goal. But while a student at NC State, she changed that career goal.

“As I worked on my degree, I shadowed and spent more time with vets and just really decided that horses were my hobby and kind of my break from school and work,” Meli says. “And I didn’t want to mix that with my career. I was worried I would lose the relaxation of coming to the barn.”

Stumped about what to do next, she went to see Flowers, her undergraduate advisor, and he offered her the chance to help on a research project with pigs.

Like she’d loved horses, Meli developed a passion for pigs.

“I love animals, and I like working on their welfare and how we can better produce them and take care of them,” she says.

Finding Fulfillment in the Unexpected

Meli’s experience with Flowers led her to want to continue doing research.

“I would never have thought that I would enjoy it so much. And so I applied to continue at NC State as a graduate student, because I finally found what I wanted to do,” she says. “It was not what I would have ever guessed, that’s for sure.”

During her graduate school days, Meli discovered that she liked to teach. Flowers required that each of his master’s students work as teaching assistants for a semester.

“That was where I really thought, ‘Oh, this is fun. I love teaching. I like working hands-on with the students,’” she says.

Though Meli had met Flowers’ teaching requirement, she decided to teach every semester while she was in graduate school. She also helped with summer camps for high school students interested in animals.

While finishing up her doctoral dissertation, Meli taught biology and human anatomy at Wake Technical Community College for a year and a half. She found that she missed animals and hands-on labs.

Making Learning Hands-On – and Even Fun

In September 2019, a position in the Department of Animal Science opened up, Meli jumped at the chance, and she landed the job as lecturer and advisor.

Her goal has been to have students not only learn but to have fun. That’s why she makes her classes hands-on as possible.

While hands-on work wasn’t possible when COVID-19 forced the university to go fully to distance education, Meli found creative ways to keep her students’ interest. She even painted her horse, Misty, with different colors of paint, each one corresponding to a different muscle. Her mother then recorded a video of Meli pointing out those muscles, and Meli shared it with her students.

“Seeing as how I was in their shoes at one point, I hope that I can use my experiences as I came through NC State to help them along,” Meli says. “I want every student to walk out of that classroom with a big smile on their face — they had fun, but they also learned something new.

“When they walk out of there and say, ‘Thanks for a good lab today. This was so much fun. I’ve never done this before,’ that’s what makes it all worth it.”

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