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Alumni and Friends

CALSPack Strong: Lisa Rochette

Woman holding a pig
Lisa Rochette turned her longtime love of pigs into a career in swine health, thanks in part to NC State's Food Animal Scholars Program. Photo by Becky Kirkland

For as long as she can remember, Lisa Rochette has been fascinated by pigs, and NC State University gave her a big boost toward making their health and the health of other agricultural animals her life’s work.

Today, Rochette serves as assistant director of swine health with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Veterinary Services unit, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The unit works to prevent, control and eliminate animal diseases and monitors and promotes animal health and productivity.

By participating in NC State’s Food Animal Scholars Program, Rochette knew in her sophomore year as an animal science student that she’d gain admission to the university’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, so long as she met program requirements.

The program is open each year to six selected undergraduate animal science or poultry science students from NC State and North Carolina A&T State University.

Her Focus: Disease Control

Immediately after graduating in 2012 from the College of Veterinary Medicine, Rochette took a USDA position in Salt Lake City, where she worked on disease control efforts centered on poultry, swine and elk, then moved back to Raleigh to work with a trade staff that negotiated markets for animal and animal products internationally.

One year ago, Rochette took her current Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) position overseeing a team that works on swine health policy in the United States.

Swine disease outbreaks can be devastating to producers, so Rochette and her colleagues concentrate on keeping disease out and, when they do occur in U.S. herds, minimizing their impact on producers’ livelihoods.

The agency funds research, including biosecurity studies at NC State. “I see us as a liaison, taking emerging biosecurity information that comes from research and sharing it – making it accessible to everyday producers,” she said.

Mentors Helped Guide Her Path

Rochette is proud of the role her agency plays, but working in a government agency wasn’t what she had in mind when she entered NC State. She wanted to become a swine veterinarian. Rochette was steered to NC State by a veterinarian she knew in her hometown of Princeton, North Carolina.

“I did a campus visit to NC State and got to sit down and talk with some of the professors. They were just fantastic,” she said.

After arriving on campus, she soon got to know Dr. Billy Flowers. “He took me on as an advisee, and I worked in his lab on swine reproduction project,” Rochette recalls. “He taught me a love of statistics, which is probably how I wound up in an epidemiology field.”

Outside of the classroom and Flowers’ lab, Rochette was involved in a number of clubs and organizations, including the campus Habitat for Humanity chapter. She was president of the chapter her senior year and continues to volunteer for the organization.

The Food Animal Scholars Connection

Rochette cites the Food Animal Scholars Program as a one of her most valuable experiences at NC State.

“For one thing, it connected with mentors in the industry that I was interested in, which was swine medicine,” Rochette said. “Through the program, we also were able to connect with swine vets who took me on as an intern for a couple of summers. I got a really diverse experience. And it connected me with scholarship opportunities, which was a huge help as a struggling student who was footing the bill.”

Studying with like-minded students and working with mentors was another advantage of the program, she said.

Keeping in Touch

Rochette continues to maintain ties with the university by leading a College of Veterinary Medicine course in regulatory medicine that’s offered as a “selective.” Selectives are one- to two-week courses that focus on a special topic.

She also mentors students, and some of those students have gone on to work for USDA APHIS.

Rochette said that coming to NC State and participating in the Food Animal Scholars Program was life-changing, enabling her to fulfill a lifelong dream.

“For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to help the world, and I saw a way to connect on a career path that would support feeding the world,” she said. “And seeing how COVID has disrupted everyone’s life for so long is a constant reminder for me that this is really important work.”