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Student Spotlight: Passion for Ag Turns into Life Calling

CALS student Abby Whitaker with a cow

Written by Mel Pagar

Four years ago, fresh out of high school and looking to leave her small town of Mooresboro, North Carolina, Abby Whitaker came to NC State to pursue her passion for agriculture. She was confident that CALS was the place for her, and four years later she’s surer than ever.

She came for her future and found her family.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science — as well as minors in animal science, agricultural business management and extension education. Now she’s well on her way to a master’s in agricultural and extension education, focusing her studies on women in agriculture.

This is the story of how CALS became Abby’s home away from home.

Tell us about where you’re from. 

I grew up in the small town of Mooresboro, North Carolina, located in Cleveland County. When I say small town, I mean population of 312, a gas station my grandfather used to own, an old schoolhouse where my grandfather and my parents went to elementary school, one caution light on the highway, a small post office, and holding elected positions on the local town council running in the family. My parents both work 12 months as teachers, my mom in elementary education and my dad as a welding instructor at a local community college. My family has owned a small herd of beef cattle for all of my life and most of my dad’s. We bale and sell hay on a smaller scale as well. It was never full-time farming for anyone, but it was enough that I grew up working and quickly developed a love for agriculture. Things changed for me when I joined FFA and became heavily involved in the organization. I came to learn that the people of agriculture are where my passion lies.

Why did you choose NC State?

Simply put, I was looking to pursue agriculture and to stay in North Carolina. NC State was the only school I applied to, so thankfully they chose me! My FFA adviser suggested I look into the agricultural science degree program in the AEE department. Once I read over everything about the major, no other school had what I was looking for. There are out-of-state agriculture schools I could have attended and have been closer to home, but I knew I would have a family when I came here because of my experience in FFA. It felt right in my heart and here I am, still here four years later. It was definitely the right fit for me.

Why is agriculture important to you?

Of course, I love ag because it puts safe and healthy food on the plates of billions of people. I relate most things back to people, and when I think agriculture I think of the hard-working people who make every step of feeding and clothing the world possible. I think of the lessons learned from working on farms, such as dedication, responsibility, record-keeping, time-management, priorities, the value of a good investment, I could really go on and on. Agriculture is important to me because it produces a safe and healthy product for people to consume, but also produces a different kind of people who understand the importance of their work and doing it right. Agriculture makes for a different kind of supportive community that you can’t find anywhere else.

How did CALS help you adjust to the buzz of “city life”?

[pullquote color=’red’ align=’right’]When I think of agriculture I think of the hard-working people who make every step of feeding and clothing the world possible.[/pullquote]I found my home in my small department and being surrounded by people who had similar interests to mine. The professors in the AEE department know me beyond the classroom. They know where I come from, what interests me, what my passions are, and have always helped me apply that to my studies.

I would also have to give a lot of credit to the students in CALS. I came to NC State as a freshman in 2013 and moved into a dorm that had almost three times as many people in one building as my hometown. I eventually found myself falling into place with friend groups that are more supportive than I can describe. Whether it was my undergraduate roommates and neighbors, the guys I play music with, my roommates now in graduate school, or friends made along the way, I am one blessed girl when it comes to the friend department.

I quickly realized what a blessing it was to be surrounded by people my own age equally as excited to be going into the agriculture industry. My people have been what have made Raleigh and CALS home. NC State would not have been the same without them.

What’s it like being a part of the NC State Wolfpack?

This is hard to put into words but I remember the first time I had this feeling. I was sitting in Carter-Finley stadium as a freshman. I am not a football kind of person, I really don’t even take the time to understand the game, but when the Power Sound of the South played the national anthem and we all screamed “home of the WOLFPACK” and then our fight song followed, I looked around me and was surrounded by a sea of red, all there for the same reason, despite all of our differences, we all love the red and white. That’s what being a part of the Wolfpack means to me, knowing that there are all kinds of people, but we all come together for the same purpose.

What are your goals for after graduation?

My current plan is to pursue a career as a livestock extension agent. I came back to graduate school because I felt the need to continue my education in order to be more prepared as an agent.[pullquote color=’red’ align=’left’]You have to write your own story, and NC State is a great place to do that.[/pullquote]I have gained knowledge and skills in the educational aspect of extension that make me more and more excited to serve farmers as an agent one day.

I had a boss and mentor who once told me the most important part of an extension agent’s job is being willing to help the people who need you. He said no matter what you know or don’t know, as long as you do what you can and use the resources you have to help them, you’ll be doing your job. His advice and insight confirmed in my heart that my career is going to combine my love for agriculture and people.

What advice would you give a student just starting out in CALS?

Find your spot and find your people. That’s what makes college so special is that you are surrounded by people and opportunities like never before. Make your college experience your own. My path has worked for me and I have loved my time here at NC State, and I will gladly share my story, but it boils down to you. You have to write your own story, and NC State is a great place to do that.