Graduating Senior Strives for ‘Bigger and Better Things’

Luke Owen at the farmers market

For Luke Owen, pursuing a bachelor’s degree was something of a lark. He was excelling in his course work in horticulture technology at Blue Ridge Community College when he decided to see if he could earn a scholarship to transfer to a four-year university. He wasn’t sure his family could afford the tuition and fees it would take to earn a bachelor’s degree.

To his surprise, the Transylvania County native won what was essentially a full-ride scholarship to his dream school: North Carolina State University.

“I had always thought that NC State was best in terms of horticulture and agriculture,” Owen said. “Even when I did research for universities in other states, I felt that NC State was cream of the crop in what I was interested in.”

The Goodnight Scholarship that Owen received is designed for top-notch first-year and transfer students with low to middle incomes who are talented in science, technology, engineering and math.

It provides them with opportunities for civic engagement and professional development, as well as the chance to work with a mentor. Owen’s mentor was Chancellor Randy Woodson, who majored in horticultural science as a college student.

As a junior, Owen also received the Walter E. Ballinger Scholarship from the Department of Horticultural Science. An outstanding graduating senior in that department, Owen has been accepted into its graduate program in the fall.

New Experiences Awaiting

Before he came to NC State, Owen had never been on an airplane or traveled to another country. Through an alternative spring break program, he went to Trinidad and Tobago to learn about environmental sustainability and tourism. He also had the chance to travel to Boston in a fall break trip focused on science and technology. And he’s traveled the state to teach STEM to school students.

“These experiences encouraged me to get outside of my box,” Owen said.

Owen also found meaning in his role as president of Pi Alpha Xi, an honor society for horticultural science students. Among other activities, members run popular spring and fall plant sales. Some of the proceeds go to foundations, schools, nonprofits and youth groups with horticulture projects.

To the sales, Owen brought experience with similar sales in community college, as well as work he did as an elementary and middle school student at his grandfather’s plant nursery in Transylvania County.

Owen and his fellow Pi Alpha Xi members found creative ways to use an online store to help them carry out no-contact sales last fall and this spring.

“We did extremely well – better than we ever could have imagined,” Owen said. “We broke records for both our fall and spring sales. Our members were just incredible, stepping up and putting in the work, day in and day out.”

A Leader in the Making

Leading efforts such as the plant sale comes down to team building and listening, he added.

“The plant sale as a whole is just such a big task to tackle by any one person. By working as a team, we were successful,” he said. “Being a quiet person helps me listen to other people and get a feel for their ideas. I want them to be able to come to me if they have an idea and voice that.”

Owen hopes to put those leadership skills to work someday through a career in extension, the outreach arm of land-grant universities.

“Extension really does help marry the research that’s going on at land-grant universities like NC State and helps put it in the hands of people that can really use it. It benefits local communities, too,” he said. “I’m really excited and hopeful about a career in extension and getting the chance to go back to my local community and help people have bigger and better things in their future.”

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