How to Shape a Passion Into a Career: Award-Winner Paul Siciliano

Paul Siciliano standing in a barn with a horse

When Paul Siciliano says this isn’t his first rodeo, he means it.

The professor of equine science started jackpot calf-roping and riding in rodeos in junior high school.

Siciliano’s longtime love of horses feeds his 30-year career teaching and researching equine science, and it shows. In 2017, Siciliano was honored with two national awards: the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Educators Award, and the American Society of Animal Science Equine Science Award.

He started teaching at CALS as an associate professor in 2006, and has been racking up the awards — and the research publications — ever since.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Mentoring students. Helping them pinpoint what it is they want to do, where their talents and passions lie and how to focus that into a career.

One of the things I realized midway through my own career: If you get hung up on the details of what you’re doing, whether it’s writing a paper or putting together a lecture or conducting research, it can get to be a little mundane. If you just look at the thing in itself, it gets boring — but if you focus on the fact that there’s a person behind everything you do, that you have the opportunity to impact another human being with each thing you do, that puts a little freshness into it, a little more purpose. You always have the opportunity for positive impact.

Paul Siciliano with students and a horse

Why did you choose to come to CALS at NC State?

I was on the faculty at Colorado State University, my first job after earning my Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky, and had been there for more than ten years, had tenure. NC State was always recognized for their Extension programs in the area of the horse, and were really a model for many other schools…so when Mike Yoder called me and said, we’ve got a job here that I think you should apply for, I knew the school was very strong.

They didn’t have a research program in equine nutrition here at the time, and that was one reason they wanted to hire me — it was a chance to develop a research and teaching program, to get to start a little bit from scratch, to an extent. And it was also an opportunity to be closer to family.

How did it go at the awards ceremony in Baltimore?

Really well! It’s always humbling to be recognized by your peers.

One of the cool things was, there were four NC State faculty from the Department of Animal Science who received awards: Steve Washburn, Sun Woo Kim, Billy Flowers and myself. That was kind of a neat thing — a good showing for the team for sure.

What research are you working on right now?

You’ve always got to be thinking and moving on your feet.

One of the tricks in being a nutritionist is that basically, you’re an accountant. You need to know what nutrients go into that animal. You can figure that out real easily if you’re feeding them in a stall or a pen, but when they’re in a pasture, it’s really hard to quantify, which is an area we are actively pursuing. We’ve also worked on grazing methods that prevent horses with low requirements from eating more than they need, which can lead to a variety of negative health consequences and inefficient production.

My student now is looking at how restricted grazing impacts the microbiome and ultimate health of the gut.

Paul Siciliano with a student and a horse

What’s your favorite memory from your time at CALS?

I can’t say it was any one day in particular, but being promoted to a full professor is up there. It’s an acknowledgement that what you’re doing is making a contribution to the team.

Has there been a time in your career when you had to transform an obstacle into an opportunity?

I think every time you conduct a research project, you’ve always got to do that. You’ve always got to be thinking and moving on your feet, whether it’s teaching a class or conducting a lab and all of a sudden things aren’t working how they’re supposed to. You’ve just got to stop and reflect and turn it around.

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