Student Spotlight: Ben Rose – A Passion Worthy of Pursuit

man walking and playing mandolin

Connecting students to careers that solve growing challenges, that’s our mission at NC State’s department of crop and soil sciences. We are home to over 250 graduate and undergraduate students who are all following different routes, but their goal of agricultural and environmental impact is the same. 

Our students are daily on the move between classes, homework, and hands-on research and fieldwork. We caught up with Ben Rose, a senior undergraduate soil science major to learn about his winding academic journey and future plans. If you are a student who is questioning the relevance of your educational path, grab some coffee. You’ll want to join this journey.

Hi Ben, where are you from?

Surry County, North Carolina.

What led you to NC State and CSSC?

When I dropped out of high school, I made a lifelong commitment to pursue meaningful education. I promised myself that I would return to formal academia when I discovered a subject of study that deserved my undivided attention. 

My love of nature led me to embark on a journey across the U.S. to explore the nation’s parks and forests. My decision to abandon traditional education quickly catapulted me into the workforce. I took temporary work in restaurants or on farms to support my travel. While providing basic work skills, these experiences also enforced my awareness of the challenges faced in food systems, at all scales. 

Although I was unaware of it at the time, I was developing my academic goal. Land use solutions combining intensive production and regenerative resource management became my source of motivation.

Man in front of a Bhutan mountain

What sort of work were you doing during your travels?

I worked with an organic landscape company and then a community garden and farmer’s market project called Beta Verde, among others. I supplemented my working knowledge by attending workshops that addressed sustainable farm issues. I quickly saw the importance of managing soil health to meet the nutrient demands of production. Long-term sustainability depends on the interactions of the whole biological community all its inhabitants, above or within the soil.

Through these work experiences, I realized that no land management solution is complete without an understanding of soil chemistry and biology. But I often uncovered more questions than answers. I had found a topic worthy of my attention; one with an opportunity for research, discovery, and most importantly, impact.

Man in yellow winter coat
Ben found inspiration in worldly travel including this visit to Iceland.

Wow, that’s powerful! How did these work experiences shape your educational interests?

I traveled extensively throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, Thailand, Mexico, Iceland, and Bhutan. This brought insight to my work that changed my perspective on global food security and large-scale land use.  

I recognized the value of agricultural Extension programs, where interactive research and educational outreach place the power of knowledge in landowners’ hands and keep the research community focused on practical issues. I saw how local cooperation among researchers and farmers, supported by an international research network, is crucial to developing profitable and sustainable land management.

These experiences ignited my passion and motivation. I was ready to return to academia and pursue research with both local relevance and global impact.

What topics of your studies interest you most?

While completing my associates degree, I became interested in soil microbes, especially mycorrhizal fungi. They are intimately related to nutrient exchange and soil structure, but their role in productive agriculture and forestry still remains somewhat elusive. I am inspired by research that addresses both sustainability and productivity by understanding interactions in the rhizosphere.

Man examines a soil sample for texture
Ben brought soil study home in 2020 by digging soil pits on his own property.

What has fueled your interests outside the classroom?

After arriving at NC State, I sought out work in Dr. Kevin Garcia’s lab investigating mycorrhiza. Under the mentorship of post-doctoral assistant Dr. Arjun Kafle, I learned lab techniques for handling and studying mycorrhizal plants and received a thorough introduction to experimental design. The opportunity to ask Dr. Kafle endless questions about research was often just as valuable as the lab experience itself. 

Last fall I also joined the Soil Judging team led by Dr. Matt Ricker. Even though COVID-19 interrupted some of our field time, it was still a great experience. The focused team practice is a fun way to gain an intuitive understanding of soil properties through open discussion and hands-on interaction. I only wish that I had signed up sooner. I highly recommend this team for anyone who is seriously interested in working with soils!

Professor teaches student group outdoors
Professor Matthew Ricker leads a 2019 Soil Judging Team meeting outside Williams Hall.


You obviously have a solid plan. What is your career goal? 

First, I’m planning to complete my master’s degree and continue work with Dr. Garcia on a project studying the role of mycorrhizal symbiosis in the potassium uptake for loblolly pines. This may open doors for other research opportunities, or perhaps a Ph.D. project.

Ultimately, my goal is to understand nutrient dynamics in productive soil systems to inform land management decisions. We need to make the best use of these precious resources without unraveling their natural integrity.

You have such a unique story. What’s your advice to students who are rethinking their education?

An entire career can develop from sincere curiosity and communication.

Take note of the topics that make you want to learn more than you could possibly find in class. Then contact faculty who are specifically researching those topics – even if they are outside your current major or field of study. They will be glad to hear from you. An entire career can develop from sincere curiosity and communication.

Can You See Yourself in Crop and Soil Sciences? 

If you are looking for an academic path that leads to impact, consider Crop and Soil Sciences. Our students learn from expert professors and hands-on adventures every day.  Learn more about student degree pathways including deep dives into our soil science and turfgrass programs. Then sign up for an undergraduate’s guided email tour of our Crop & Soil Sciences Department.  

Connecting students with growing careers is just part of how we are growing the future.