Reuben Wilson’s Long and Winding Road Leads to his Academic Home: Soil

“What I’ve always wanted to do is help the North Carolina farmer. My dad, my friends’ fathers, people I’ve worked for; they’re some of the hardest working people in the state, and if I can use what I’ve learned here to assist them in any way possible, that’s my ultimate goal.”


How did senior Reuben Wilson, who grew up on his family’s cattle and Christmas tree farm in Mitchell County, find his home in Crop and Soil Sciences, where he is completing two majors and a minor while serving as current chancellor of the honorary fraternity Alpha Zeta?

“It’s been a long and winding road.” Reuben smiles. Though he was accepted and offered scholarships by each North Carolina school to which he applied, to Reuben the natural answer was NC State University. “My dad got his Animal Science degree from NC State.”

Once on campus, the road offered more than one fork. “There were a lot of things to do here that interested me, but I couldn’t narrow it down to one.” Journeying through the abundance of academic offerings with empathetic faculty advisors, Reuben eventually found his way to his home in Soil and Water Systems.

“I came in as an Ag Ed major, and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with that. After the first semester, I started thinking about things that actually interested me as far as environmental science and agriculture go, and I remembered an environmental science class I took in high school: one subsection dealt with soil contaminants and how soil can deal with processing those contaminations; that really interested me.”

So came the first bend in the road.  “First semester freshman year, I switched to Plant and Soil Science, Agroecology concentration. Because I grew up on a farm, I decided I still wanted to do something with agriculture, but I also wanted more soil sciences, because after looking at the degree (requirements) for my Agroecology, I wanted more hours of soil.”

His road took another turn. “I still wanted Agroecology, so I said, ‘I’ll add a second major.’ The major I added was in Natural Resources but this one was in Ecosystem Assessment, which is solely in the College of Natural Resources. I went through that for a semester, but I realized I still wanted more soils background to go with my agriculture background. So I switched. I kept my Plant and Soil Science major, but switched my Ecosystem Assessment in Natural Resources to Soil and Water Systems, where I am now.  So I guess in total, I changed from Ag Ed to Agroecology, added a second major in Ecosystem Assessment, and changed that into Soil and Water Systems. So I’ve had four changes.”

Though it’s been a long and winding road, Reuben’s destination is a happy one.

“I spent last summer working for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Research Service in Clinton, NC. I really enjoyed that. I’m part of the Pathways Program. Pathways is designed to help college students get familiarized with certain government jobs and so they take you on for a summer, and they helped me get situated with a job. I did all kinds of conservation efforts, everything from crop rotation to crop field conversion, to waste irrigation management, the whole nine yards. It was a really good experience.”

What does he plan to do with his education when he leaves the university? “Ultimately, what I’ve always wanted to do is help the North Carolina farmer. My dad, my friends’ fathers, people I’ve worked for; because they’re some of the hardest working people in the state, and if I can use what I’ve learned here to assist them in any way possible, to help them; that’s my ultimate goal.“ Reuben pauses, then clarifies, “Not just the North Carolina farmer, but every farmer I can.  And I think I would be best fit with my skill set as a soil conservationist.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to work in sediment erosion, the water quality lab under Dr. (Rich) McLaughlin, and just the people you get to know and the networking you get to do at NC State alone, plus the education you can get here, makes it entirely worthwhile. Being in Williams Hall and taking all the classes I have, being a double major in crop science and soil science, I’ve gotten to talk with lots of people on “both sides of the aisle” and gotten to know lots of people. (I appreciate) all the opportunities it’s given me, along with the knowledge and the connections.”

His interests when not in the classroom?

My biggest time commitment outside the classroom is Alpha Zeta, the honors fraternity. I’m the chancellor of that now, and without a doubt, it’s the best thing I’ve done at NC State. It’s been invaluable as far as personal development. I have friends in Agricultural Business Management, Poultry Science, Animal Science, Crop Biotech…people I wouldn’t necessarily have had the opportunity to meet.”

What’s coming next? “I’ll be taking a cooldown lap next year to finish both of my majors, in addition to the minor in Agricultural Business Management. In short, I’ll be at State another year and hopefully pursue a M.S. in Soil Science starting fall 2019.”

The destination of his long and winding journey? “The greatest thing about Crop and Soil Sciences Department for me is hands down, the people.  Dr. (David) Crouse is my advisor, but I can (also) just go in and talk. Dr. (Michelle) Schroeder-Moreno (his Agroecology advisor). Both of them. Not only do they advise me, but I see them in the hallway, I talk with them. They genuinely care about what’s going on in my life, not just academics.  Just the people in general: they’re good people. They’re easy to talk to, and they want you to succeed above all. You’re not just a number in their classroom. If you go to them and ask for help, they will give it to you, to the best of their ability.”

Article by Kaki Carl