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Shelby Ferrell: From Oaks Leadership to Plant Progeny

Shelby Ferrel holding a sign explaining why agriculture is important.

While Shelby Ferrell approaches the significant milestone of graduating with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science during a pandemic, she reflects on many favorite experiences of in-person classes and adapting to an “unreal” year online. Despite the storm COVID-19 has rained upon many of our lives, this Oaks Leadership Scholar is growing deeper roots.

While an intern with JC Raulston Arboretum, Ferrell contributed 500+ photographs to the public multidimensional database that is full of plants, gardens, and even people. Her research on industrial hemp led to a new NC State Extension publication, “Gray Mold of Industrial Hemp” that will help native farmers address crop disease. While Ferrell says she is prepared for the workforce, instead she plans to return to CALS and the Department of Horticultural Science for graduate studies. Her next goal is helping farmers by creating efficient production solutions and improving crop attributes through plant breeding.

What has been your favorite memory at NC State and CALS?

One of my favorite memories at NC State (because I could never choose just one) would be the year I spent as an Oaks Leadership Scholar. I had an amazing time with Dr. Bruce, Dr. McKee, and my fellow Oaks as I learned how to develop my leadership and teamwork skills for real world challenges that we as students are facing now and will continue to in the future. 

What has been your greatest achievement or accomplishment during your time at NC State and CALS?

My greatest achievement was being selected to present my research on industrial hemp at the NC Agriculture and Life Sciences Research Foundation’s presentation competition in 2019. It was especially exciting to be one of just a couple undergraduate students that were presenting! 

What impact do you hope to have in your chosen field?

As I said in my application essay almost four years ago to the day: I’d like to help make better plants so that farmers can do their jobs more efficiently and with better results. Since I first said that, I’ve learned just how much work, time, and trial and error goes into plant breeding, but my statement still holds true. 

What has your final year been like at NC State and CALS? How have you overcome recent challenges, whether it’s transitioning to online classes or the absence of campus life?

My final year has been absolutely unreal, and not in the way that I would have thought if I’d known at the beginning that my last year was going to be “unreal”. The transition from an on campus experience surrounded by friends and classmates to an entirely online semester has definitely been a shock to everybody, but I’ve learned how to adapt to sudden and extreme changes while staying connected with the campus and the people that I’ve called home for the last three years. Though I may not get to walk in my red cap and gown, I’m hoping I can make up for it in a few years when I walk in black instead! 

What are you most grateful for from the university and CALS as you are about to earn your degree?

I’m most grateful for the innumerable opportunities for personal and career development that CALS has given to me. As a freshman, I assumed that the next three and a half years of my life would be nothing but school and work. Since then, however, I’ve filled my time (and, consequently, my résumé) with research experience, clubs, scholars programs, internships, and more. Even though I don’t plan to enter the workforce immediately following graduation, I feel that I’d be more than prepared to do so if I wanted to. 

What are your career plans post-graduation?

Post-graduation, I’d like to stay right here in CALS as a graduate student in the Department of Horticultural Science!