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Student Spotlight: Entrepreneur Builds Steam at NC State

NC State student Ben Alig

From an early age, Ben Alig has taken an entrepreneurial approach to life. When he was 11, he started up his own backyard chicken hatchery, and in high school, he founded the nation’s first FFA chapter at a Catholic school. Now, he’s a junior studying poultry science and agribusiness management at NC State University, having come through the university’s unique STEAM program.

STEAM stands for the Student Transfer Enrollment Advising and Mentoring program, and it is a way for selected students who aren’t admitted as freshmen to get into agricultural degree programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. It is the nation’s first program of its kind, with students attending summer school at NC State after high school, then attending a community college for a year before pursuing their bachelor’s degrees.

Alig, of Wake Forest, has held three scholarships during his time at NC State — the H. Connor Kennent Scholarship, the W.F. and Mozelle Parker Scholarship, and the Fred Tarver Poultry Products Scholarship. He sat down before classes recently to talk about his Little Birdie Chicken Farm and Hatchery, his participation in the STEAM program and what he hopes to do next.

Why did you want to come to NC State?

“The ag program and the in-state tuition were attractive to me. And I especially wanted to study poultry science. I got interested in poultry science after I started running a chicken farm and hatchery nine years ago.”

How did you come to own a chicken hatchery?

“It just kind of happened. We got five chickens as a family, and I was taking care of them the whole time, and so I decided I wanted to sell eggs in the neighborhood. I saved my money, built a bigger chicken coop. And we figured out that there is a huge demand for selling baby chicks as well as the eggs.”

Can you describe the path you took to get into NC State?

“At first, the university denied me admission, but they offered for me to join the STEAM program, which meant that the summer after I graduated high school, I could do Summer Session II courses and then I had to go somewhere else for a year — I went to Wake Tech Community College — and as long as we got a 3.0 we could come here to NC State. The program also allows us scholarship opportunities that other sophomore students wouldn’t get, and … we had a faculty adviser telling us which community college classes we could take, and that was helpful. It prepared me very well.”

Can you tell me about some of the experiences you’d had at NC State outside the classroom?

“I don’t know where to start! I’m in the social professional agriculture fraternity Alpha Gamma Rho, I’m an officer in the Poultry Science Club, I am a (teaching assistant) for Dr. (Ken) Anderson. And I was able to go with the collegiate poultry judging team to Louisiana last semester.”

What would like you to do when it comes to a career?

“I don’t know yet. I might potentially run the small hatchery that I own, but I’m thinking more and more about graduate school and a Ph.D. program to become a professor. I could go into veterinary pharmaceutical sales management. I’ve found that there are lots of options.

“NC State has given me a lot of opportunities, specifically the (Prestage) Department of Poultry Science and Alpha Gamma Rho. I love the Poultry Science Department. It’s a small department, so as a freshman, you can start having classes with seniors. Everybody knows everyone there, and everybody’s friends. That kind of community is absolutely great.”