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CALS students launch Life Sciences Awareness Day

On April 13, groups of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students gathered to offer fact-filled presentations about their various life sciences curricula, in displays set up on the N.C. State University Brickyard. It was all part of Life Sciences Awareness Day, a newly launched annual event in the tradition of the Ag Awareness Week event, hosted on the Brickyard in March by students in Alpha Zeta agricultural fraternity.

“Life Sciences Day is the beginning of a new tradition on this campus,” said Jonathan Phillips, CALS lecturer in Agricultural and Resource Economics and adviser to the Agri-Life Council. “I’ve always been impressed with Ag Awareness Week and the attention AZ is able to bring to agriculture on this campus. It was brought to my attention by Dr. Ken Esbenshade [CALS Academic Programs director] that life sciences were not heavily represented. From there it was decided to hold a Life Sciences Day.”

The purpose of this event, Phillips said, “is to allow students and departments in the life sciences to show the rest of the campus community what they do. At this inaugural event we are hoping to increase awareness of the life sciences, attract participants for next year and find a student organization like AZ that is willing to take the event over in future years.”

One student organization that would perhaps be a good candidate for that responsibility is the Zoology Club, whose members enthusiastically presented their Brickyard exhibit. Shane Jordan, the club’s vice president and a junior zoology major from Mechanicsburg, Pa., shared the early shift of manning the display, along with club sergeant-at-arms Brittany Sherbert, a senior zoology major from Pikesville, and treasurer Sarah McGrath, a sophomore in zoology from Madison.

What set their display apart from its Ag Awareness Day counterparts, Jordan said, is “we’re focused more on exotic animals.” Gesturing toward photos illustrating the club’s display, he explained that the club meets twice a month, features speakers from exotic animal-inclusive facilities, such as Carolina Tiger Rescue and Noah’s Landing, and takes part in field trips to the  N.C. Zoo, N.C. Aquarium and the Carolina Tiger Rescue. On the docket for upcoming presentations are an exotic animal veterinarian and a raptor rehabilitator, he said, adding that the speakers often offer “volunteer opportunities for the students to get their careers started.”

Biological and agricultural engineering majors Prescott Hill (left) and Justin Rothrock prepare the quarter-scale pulling tractor for display.

Just across the way, near Harrelson Hall, the Pack Pullers student team from the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering was displaying its quarter-scale pulling tractor. Built by BAE students, the tractor will compete in the ASABE quarter-scale event in June, said team captain Prescott Hill, a senior in BAE from Elm City. Fellow BAE senior Justin Rothrock from Walnut Cove joined him in showing the tractor to visitors.

Nearby, students from the Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences Department invited passersby to learn about nutrition sciences by guessing which meals, represented in slots on a tabletop game board, were the most high-calorie. Student Nutrition Club members Ilse Gonzalez, Hillary Spangler, Joan Reedy and Emily Bisset served as hosts at the exhibit. 

Animal science senior Dylan Kelly offered reticulated python encounters to Life Sciences Awareness Day visitors.

At the next exhibit, which was a herpetology display, Dylan Kelly, a CALS senior in animal science, looked perfectly at ease in spite of the fact that a reticulated python named Optimus Prime lay coiled around his neck and upper torso. Kelly explained that the snakes on display – including an orange bull snake named Lucy, a tiny red mangrove water snake named Nubbins and a Vietnamese blue beauty called Bruce – each draped over the arms of visiting spectators, were all the pets of the life sciences students.

“We have a lot of people who are really excited about being out on the Brickyard for this event,” said Kris Stuart, a senior in biochemistry from Raleigh and student coordinator of the activities. “We realized that many students do not know what faculty and students in the life sciences are doing. We hope that we can change that and build awareness about the life sciences. Who knows, maybe we will be able to inform a student or two about programs that they weren’t even aware of that they would be interested in.”

Stuart and his fellow students were anticipating even more visitors on the cool, sunny April day, as soon as classes changed. And with this first year’s event leading the way, he said, “we hope that in the future it will become only bigger.” – Terri Leith