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Alumni and Friends

Matchmaking for Career Success

Woman and female student holding a gray t-shirt
Through the CALS Alumni for Student Success program, CALS alumna Nicole Youngblood (left) developed a career coaching partnership with undergraduate Sarah Bailey (right).

When NC State University undergraduate Sarah Bailey and alumna Nicole Youngblood first met at N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Johnston County Center, it seemed like destiny.

Bailey recognized Youngblood’s name during an October 2023 field trip with NC State’s Rurally Engaged Agricultural Leaders (REAL) program, an initiative for students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who are interested in agriculture, rural communities, leadership and extension work. 

Youngblood is an N.C. Cooperative Extension agricultural communications and marketing agent in Johnston County. She earned her bachelor’s in plant and soil sciences with a concentration in crop production and a minor in agricultural leadership. She also completed her master’s in agricultural and extension education from CALS.

She was matched as Bailey’s career coach through the REAL program, which partnered with the new CALS Alumni for Student Success (CASS) program, a collaboration between the CALS Alumni and Friends Society and CALS Career Services.

Up to that point, the pair had only been introduced via email.

“This initiative is a call to action for our alumni to help coach current students.”

Bailey mustered the courage to introduce herself to Youngblood who was thrilled to meet her coachee. “I think that was a special moment. We were both so excited,” Bailey says.

From that moment, their friendship blossomed. Bailey and Youngblood bonded over the following months through one-on-one coaching sessions and field trips, including Breakfast with the Commissioner and the Southern Farm Show at the NC State Fairgrounds.

“It’s been fun seeing the professional side of being a well-connected extension agent,” Bailey says.

Launched in the fall semester of 2023, CASS’ inaugural cohort matched 39 alumni career coaches and students, including Youngblood and Bailey.

Youngblood, vice president of the CALS Alumni and Friends Society Advisory Board, explains that the board worked with CALS Career Services to develop a formal approach to coaching students and encouraging their career success. Recruitment is also vital to CASS’ mission. Alumni are contacts for prospective students and attend local events to promote CALS to schools and community groups. 

“We began working with the CALS career services and recruitment teams to help design CASS,” she says. “This initiative is a call to action for our alumni to help coach current students.”

Say “Yes” to Opportunity

Bailey, from Mooresville, North Carolina, enrolled at NC State through a dual enrollment community college program and is now majoring in soil science with a minor in extension education. Transferred credits gave her an academic edge. However, she needed to gain the networking skills to get her plugged into CALS and pursue her career interests.

Bailey praises CASS for providing opportunities to build the connections that make college a rewarding experience. 

“CASS helped me blossom and meet so many people, and now I feel well-connected after my first year,” she says. “Nicole invited me to several events, and networking built my confidence.”

Bailey applied her new networking skills to cultivate career-building opportunities. With Youngblood’s help, she built her network outside CALS and forged relationships with extension and soil science industry professionals.

“CASS helped me blossom and meet so many people, and now I feel well-connected after my first year.”

Taking Youngblood’s advice to say “yes” to relevant opportunities, the CALS undergrad accepted the Agronomy Club at NC State‘s historian position after being nominated for the role. She now manages the club’s Instagram account. She also took the initiative to create the “Tuesday Talks with Bob” YouTube podcast with her peer Emily Eldridge and CALS Alumni Distinguished Professor of Crop Science Bob Patterson.

“I’ve enjoyed watching Sarah take that officer position in the Agronomy Club and run with it,” Youngblood says. 

Coaching Chemistry

For Bailey, the most appealing aspect of CASS was being paired with Youngblood. 

“The CASS team strives to pair you with someone whose degree or profession is similar to yours,” she says. “This personalized approach drew me to the program.”

Coaches and students commit to meeting regularly for nine months and work together on career-boosting tasks tailored to the student’s goals.

Along with networking, some students want to know more about obtaining summer internships, applying for fellowships or creating a professional cover letter and resume.

Watching Youngblood thrive as an extension agent has helped Bailey embrace her own communication style and build confidence. “Nicole does it so beautifully,” she says, noting her coach’s professional ease. 

Youngblood is grateful to participate in a program that will have an immediate impact. She appreciates alumni who volunteer to support current students.

“CASS is a great way for alumni to stay involved with the college,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot walking this journey with Sarah as her career coach. It’s been really fun, and I’ve enjoyed it.”