CALS Celebrates Outstanding Alumni

People smiling for a photo with awards in their hands

Alumni, friends, faculty and staff of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) gathered at the Park Alumni Center on Sept. 7 to celebrate the recipients of the annual CALS Alumni Awards.

Alan Ayers and Tony Avent were honored as the 2018 Distinguished Alumni, joining a select group of prestigious recipients of years’ past. Also receiving awards at the event were 13 Outstanding Alumni and 12 Outstanding Young Alumni.

These awards are given each year to recognize the stellar achievements of the college’s outstanding graduates and their ongoing commitment to giving back to NC State University.

Alan Ayers, a native of Bear Grass, North Carolina, got his start in the agricultural industry picking tobacco and cotton as a boy. Since then, he has spent his career in crop protection advancing health and nutrition for people around the world.

Ayers worked for Bayer CropScience and its predecessor companies for more than 30 years, and currently serves as the company’s director of state affairs and stewardship. His time with Bayer CropScience has included stints overseas leading global teams and responsibility over areas ranging from sustainability to legislative affairs.

He has been honored with numerous awards during his career – including the CALS Outstanding Alumnus Award in 2009 – and has been a valuable resource for the college’s faculty in program development and in maintaining linkages with industry. Ayers earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a Ph.D. in plant pathology from NC State.

“Dr. Alan Ayers has been a leader at all levels when it comes to advancing the college and the industries connected to it,” said CALS Dean Richard Linton. “He is a tireless ambassador whose volunteerism and wise council serve as a valuable asset. Some people have iconic singular philanthropic impacts, this is not the case with Alan, his impact is felt across all departments and programs.”

Raleigh native Tony Avent was born with his hands in the soil. As a child, instead of playing games, he wandered the woods and fields near his home studying wildflowers. He parlayed that interest into a robust career – and lasting legacy.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in horticulture science – where he studied under renowned horticulturist J. C. Raulston – Avent worked for the North Carolina State Fairgrounds as its landscape director for 16 years.

He later established Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Gardens, which he operates to this day with his wife Anita. With a passion for sharing his knowledge with others, Avent served as the News & Observer’s weekly garden columnist for more than a decade, and today is a contributing editor to Horticulture Magazine and Walter Magazine. In addition to running the nursery, Avent is a prolific plant breeder – best known for his Hosta breeding program.

“I consider Tony Avent to be an innovative pioneer when it comes to ornamental horticulture,” Linton said. “He has been a leader both nationally and internationally in breeding efforts, introducing a profusion of new plant varieties. Tony’s commitment to education and advancing the college is evident through his continued advocacy and support.”

 2018 CALS Outstanding Alumni

  • Sergio Abit, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
    Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Oklahoma State University
  • Ray Best II, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
    Regional Manager for Energy Services, Duke Energy
  • Marc Cubeta, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
    Professor of Social Mycology and Plant Disease Ecology, NC State University
  • Tammy Ellington, Department of Horticultural Science (deceased)
    Former Operations Manager of the Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University
  • Chad Jordan, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology
    NC State Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Plant and Microbiology
  • Daniel Measell, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
    Founder, Mortgage Dynamics Inc.
  • Jonathan Merkle, Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences
    Chief Science Officer and Vice President of Science and Technology, Michael Foods
  • John Prestage, Department of Animal Science
    Senior Vice President, Prestage Farms
  • Ray Starling, Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences
    Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Jeff Vaughan, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
    Owner, JWT
  • Bill Warren, Agricultural Institute
    Owner, Warren Farms
  • Christian Waters, Department of Applied Ecology
    Chief of the Inland Fisheries Division, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
  • Andrew Yersin, Prestage Department of Poultry Science
    Senior Vice President of Worldwide Quality Assurance, Kemin Industries

2018 CALS Outstanding Young Alumni

  • Leann Barden, Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences
    Research Manager, RxBAR
  • Brooke Bissinger, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
    Director of Entomology, AgBiome
  • Nicole Bridgers, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
    Senior Technical Project Manager, Kymanox
  • Rasha El-Beshti, Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences
    Program Evaluator, Contracting Resources Group
  • Aaron Fleming, Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences
    Superintendent of Schools, Harnett County
  • Megan Inskeep, Department of Animal Science
    Technical Services Veterinarian, Merck
  • Zachary Lowman, Prestage Department of Poultry Science
    Corporate Geneticist and Director of Research, Joe Jurgielewicz & Sons
  • Dana Massey, Department of Horticultural Science
    Owner, Plantworks Nursery
  • Callie McAdams, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
    Deputy Economist, U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Agriculture
  • Steven Midway, Department of Applied Ecology
    Assistant Professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University
  • Erik Soderblom, Department of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry
    Assistant Research Professor with the Proteomics and Metabolomics Shared Resource, Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology
  • Josh Stalls, Agricultural  Institute
    Sales Manager, Benchmark Buildings & Irrigation

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