AgPack Strong: A Force of Nature
The first in her family to graduate from college, Paula Woodall earned two degrees from NC State: a bachelor’s of science in agronomy in 1986 and a master’s of science management (now the MBA) in 1998.
Today, she has a lot of titles.
Paula is a senior vice president in agribusiness development with First Citizens Bank, where she helps farmers grow their operations. She is past president of the CALS Alumni and Friends Society Advisory Board, 4-H volunteer and Boy Scouts leader.
Paula is a trailblazer, a hard worker, and a proud mother of two.
Above all, she is a force of nature.
What led you to NC State?
I grew up on a family farm, and I knew that I was going to study agriculture. But my guidance counselor didn’t encourage me to do that, because at that time, they encouraged women to go to women’s colleges. But I wanted to go to NC State. So I came up to Raleigh and got my own application, sent it in, got accepted, and was the first person in my family to get a college degree.
Why did you choose to study agriculture?
My goal was to go back and farm, but there were three of us kids right behind each other. In my final year at State, all three of us were in college … at State actually. I got a four-year degree, and my brother and sister each got two-year degrees. So they were earmarked to go back to the farm.
It was the mid-80s, and the economy was not great. We had enough sense to know that the farm would not support us all. I had a different degree, which was marketable, and Tar Heel Farm Credit wanted me. That was my first job out of college.
Our farm is still in operation today. My brother and sister are the managers. I’m kind of a behind-the-scenes person.
Where has your career path taken you?
I worked for Farm Credit for sixteen-and-a-half years. I did loans, I learned how to be an appraiser. I am a general licensed appraiser for the state of North Carolina, so I can do commercial appraisals. Farm Credit has a great training program. They prepared us to handle any situation from the weakest to the strongest. I got to move all over southeastern North Carolina with Farm Credit, and then an opportunity developed with First Citizens Bank.
I started out in Sampson County, and they started expanding my territory and kept expanding it to the point where we are right now, at 33 counties east of I-95. I go around to all of the branches and work with the various account officers. I bring expertise on agriculture, especially swine and poultry loans, because there’s a whole lot they don’t know about that. Getting those loans set up right is a benefit not only to the bank but also to the farmer. If you get those set up right, the farmer is going to be successful.
How did your experience at NC State help prepare you for your career?
It helped me develop my social and interpersonal skills. To get my master’s degree, I’d drive from Pender County after work two days a week to take classes on campus at night. That was before we really had a lot of online options. I had to do it the old-fashioned way, the hard way. But I was told in order to advance in finance, I needed a master’s degree. Otherwise I was as far as I could go. I hadn’t done everything I could do for my clientele, so I knew I had to step up and advance again and do more for them. I believe you have to position yourself where you need to be to help more people. And right now I’m in a position where I can help people throughout eastern North Carolina.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Visiting with the farmers … being out, seeing what they do, advising them on how to do it better. Taking the products I have and helping them enhance their operations.
Why has it been important to you to stay connected to the college through your service on the Alumni and Friends Society board?
I was very active when I was a student here. I was president of the Agronomy Club, I was in Alpha Zeta, I was in the Gamma Sigma Delta honor society. I was involved in just about everything, and it was fun.
I came from a small town and hadn’t really been anywhere, so when I came to Raleigh that was a big move. I had to come here and figure it all out. I believe it’s important to give back to the university, either as time or money or both. As you advance in your career, you’re able to start giving back money, but when you’re just starting out, about the only thing you can do is give your time because you’re trying to build things up. Giving back in any way I can is important to me.
You’re a big believer in youth development programs like 4-H and FFA. Why is that?
Lots of people think these organizations are just about farming, but that’s not true. The biggest thing they do is teach leadership. They also teach great interpersonal and social skills. I’m also a Boy Scout leader. I serve on the advancement committee, which is for the whole county, and I interview young men who want to be Eagles. Boy Scouts, 4-H, FFA … it all ties together. They introduce kids to the different careers they can explore.
What advice would you give a student just starting out in CALS?
Get in there. Get involved. The academic piece is important, but learning what you need to be career-ready is what you’re here for. And that means the interpersonal skills, the networking skills, the leadership skills that come with everything outside the classroom. That makes for a full experience.