There’s No Stopping Rachel Brown

Rachel Brown face-to-face with one of her sheep.

Rachel Brown got involved in 4-H and began showing sheep as a child on her family's former tobacco farm in Stokes County.

As Rachel Brown prepared herself for a teaching career, she took full advantage of opportunities available through NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. But the graduate didn’t stop there.

Throughout her four years as an undergraduate in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences, Brown found ways to engage with young people both on and off campus. She tutored and mentored at-risk middle schoolers in Raleigh’s AventWest community, and she made informal lessons part of NC State tours and State Fair visits she hosted with young people from Stokes County, where she grew up.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t held her back. In fact, Brown has found ways to turn social distancing into new ways to help kids cope with change and continue learning.

When it was clear that physical-distancing guidelines would force the cancellation of 4-H youth livestock shows statewide, Brown threw herself into helping a faculty member create a virtual one. For more than 100 4-H’ers ages 5 to 18, the event proved to be a way to learn even more about livestock, develop communication skills and have fun.

A Labor of Love

Creating a dynamic platform for 4-H livestock program participants to celebrate their 2019-20 accomplishments was especially meaningful for Brown. A native of Walnut Cove, she’d grown up on a former tobacco farm. She and her brother, Adam, helped bring the farm back into production when they got involved in raising sheep in 4-H.

Brown chose to come to NC State to pursue a degree focused on agricultural education as a way of building on the experience she’d gained in Walnut Cove. As a high school student, she’d visited Walnut Cove homeschoolers every day to teach them about agriculture.

Brown was ambitious in her university studies, earning two bachelor’s degrees – one in extension education, and the other in agricultural sciences – plus a minor in horticulture and concentrations in animal science and agricultural and natural resources.

Meanwhile, Brown made time for club involvement and leadership, ultimately serving two terms as chair for the Young Farmers and Ranchers’ chapter at NC State.

Recognized for Engagement

That (recognition) really meant a lot to me because it meant my advisors thought about me.

All that effort was rewarded recently when Brown’s department nominated her for a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences award for community engagement. 

“That one really meant a lot to me because it meant my advisors thought about me. It wasn’t based on my GPA or research with a professor and it wasn’t something that can be easily flagged on MyPack,” she said. “It was just because I’ve been involved in my community and in volunteer efforts.

Student, Leader Volunteer — and Sun Gazer

Still, for Brown, the college was about more than studying, leading and volunteering. In fact, her favorite memory from NC State involved kicking back with other students on the Brickyard on Aug. 21, 2017. “A lot of teachers cancelled class for it,” she recalled. That allowed students to head for the Brickyard.

It “was packed with everyone sitting there, just talking about it, experiencing that and the haze that it created. Everyone shared solar-eclipse glasses because not everybody had a pair,” she recalled.

Keeping the Show Going

Another meaningful undergraduate experience was a part-time position she held since her freshman year. She’d met Brent Jennings, an NC State Extension associate in the Department of Animal Science, through her involvement in 4-H, and over the course of four years assisting him, she’d helped develop and deliver youth livestock programs involving hundreds of North Carolina young people.

I definitely have ideas for improvements if we had to do it again — but, fingers crossed, we won’t have to.

Brown’s final project with Jennings, the Virtual State 4-H Livestock Show, caught the attention of more than a dozen extension professionals who offer livestock shows in other parts of the country each spring. While Jennings came up with the idea for the virtual show, it was Brown who found ways to use computer tools to create a dynamic, interactive experience – one that was, as she puts it, “free and easy.” 

Brown used Google apps, the popular video-sharing social network Tik Tok and the Zoom video conferencing platform to create the show.

“It’s been a really cool experience, and I definitely have ideas for improvements if we had to do it again — but, fingers crossed, we won’t have to,” she said.

Where She’s Headed Next

Brown’s next challenge will be graduate studies in agricultural education at the University of Florida, where she hopes to put to work the skills and knowledge she gained at NC State to work. 

Ultimately, she intends to teach elementary students about agriculture. While North Carolina doesn’t yet have formal elementary agricultural education programs, Georgia has six pilot programs. 

“It’s an up-and-coming field that I hope other states will jump on soon,” she said. “I’m excited about being part of that.”

Generous scholarship support helped Brown wrap up her NC State studies without racking up any debt. From the Aubrey Lee Brooks Foundation, she’d won a scholarship that paid half of her expenses. NC State scholarships paid the rest.

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