Distinguished NC State alum advances N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative through tireless collaboration and funding
Alan Ayers has lived in many communities, from the small village of Bear Grass, North Carolina, to the large city of Lyon, France. But no matter where he hung his hat, Ayers heeded—and carried forward—the important advice of his family: “If you’re going to be a part of a community, be a part of it.”
Nowhere else has Ayers applied that advice more than with his own NC State community. This Wolf Pack alum, who received his B.S. in zoology in 1974 and his Ph.D. in plant pathology in 1985, has closely collaborated with NC State throughout his successful 30-year career as a regulatory scientist in the agrochemical industry.
For decades, Ayers has worked alongside deans and fellow alums alike to support the university’s success while advancing public policy in the regulatory field, as well as serve in key volunteer positions, like director for the NCALS Research Foundation Board and serves on the NC Agricultural Foundation, Inc. Board of Directors.
More recently, Ayers has donated his time and regulatory expertise to support the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative (N.C. PSI), which is making lives better through innovative, interdisciplinary research that’s helping to solve some of the most complex issues facing agriculture and the world today. Ayers and key members of the regulatory industry worked closely with N.C. PSI’s Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science in Agriculture to shape the nation’s first and only regulatory science certificate course in agriculture.
Ayers also decided to support the N.C. PSI financially, naming the Dr. Alan R. Ayers Study Room in the Initiative’s new headquarters, the NC State University Plant Sciences Building, in recognition of his support.
All of Ayers’ work with NC State ties around one simple theme that has driven him from an early age: making lives better. We met Ayers to learn more about his work with the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative, how he became an inseparable part of the NC State community, and how he is making lives better through his efforts.
You spent a lot of time working and studying at NC State. What are some of your happier memories here?
There are too many to list. We won a national Basketball championship in ‘74, and we had some great football teams led by Lou Holtz. I was a part of that era, and it was almost a fairytale life. One thing I specifically did was join a social fraternity: Phi Kappa Tau. I did that during my undergrad years. I met a lot of people from all over the country and was exposed to guys who liked to have fun. We had a blast, but we were good students. We worked hard and played hard. A ton of them are still my friends today. We’ve played golf and watched football games. We’d complain about NC State sports when we’d lose and celebrate when we win. It was a key component of me being happy at NC State. It was a family away from home.
Why do you support the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative, financially and otherwise?
The Plant Sciences Initiative gives NC State a focused plan to collaborate with companies in Research Triangle Park–and at the national and global level–to work out common problems that not only impact companies but the growers. This is innovation that has moved to another step, and that’s what we need. Companies can’t do it by themselves. I don’t care how big you are. NC State brings a lot of credibility you can’t get alone as a company.
You also helped develop a regulatory science course through the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative. Can you tell us more about that?
I was involved, at the request of Bayer, in developing a regulatory science course at NC State. I got together with Keith Edmisten (Regulatory Science in Agriculture Certificate program coordinator), along with BASF, Syngenta, and others. I thought this would be very good, not only for the students but for the companies. If we can get more regulatory scientists in the agricultural field, we’ll all become more successful.
You lead the technical delivery for ZERO by 40, a project to help end malaria by 2040. How have you been collaborating with NC State on this?
NC State is connected with ZERO by 40 in several ways. There’s a vector research group that I work with. They’re involved in some projects. We’ve also given funding for entomology researchers here to do novel research and to address practical and applied work. The textile college is helping to develop special mosquito nets, too. It’s part of this whole narrative of making lives better. You have agriculture here on one side and public health and healthcare on the other, but they’re very closely tied together. A lot of people don’t know that. NC State supports all of those things that are very fundamental on the earth, making people’s lives better through innovation.
Why have you collaborated so much with NC State over the years?
Being here in RTP, NC State has been a go-to university for everything for a long time. I knew the people here. My cousin, Johnny Wynne, was dean at the College of Ag and Life Sciences at the time. We got involved and used that opportunity for interaction between faculty, researchers, students, and our company for talent. We’d have big meetings with national and local grower groups at NC State. And I got to depend on NC State’s help when we had issues. They could help us do a lot technically, as well as policy-wise.
You’ve been called a tireless ambassador, wise council, and a valuable asset to the NC State community. What drives your dedication?
That’s easy. If you’re going to be a part of a community, be a part of it. The NC State community has been a real anchor for me to go back and collaborate and work together. A lot of people here have given a lot of things to me. It’s my duty to give back. That’s why I’ve invested so much into CALS. And it’s also an easy sell. They’re doing a lot of great things.