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Hardworking Heroine

Callie Lewis Bryan making Wolfpack sign on campus

From Mark Twain to Ted Lasso, popular wisdom holds that every life contains drama, tragedy and comedy. Alumna Callie Lewis Bryan could add a Broadway musical soundtrack to the twists and turns of her life story.

At her lowest point, fearing that she wouldn’t be able to complete her bachelor’s degree in poultry science because of a health crisis, mastering the intricate rap lyrics of Hamilton boosted her spirits. 

After earning her degree at North Carolina State University, she celebrated with her mom, an English teacher who taught Les Miserables to her classes, by taking a trip to New York City to watch Broadway productions of Wicked, Hamilton and Parade.

And at her recent wedding to Noah Bryan, her sweetheart since high school, she walked down the aisle to “Only Us” from Dear Evan Hansen

Winning Support

Lewis Bryan, a native of Bladenboro, didn’t grow up on a farm. She became interested in poultry through high school FFA, when she was invited to join the poultry judging team. 

“I absolutely fell in love with it,” she says. “I did it for three years. We placed second in the state our senior year, which was really big for our school.”

Callie Lewis Bryan and her grandfather show off their NC State class rings at a campus ceremony. He graduated in 1969 and she graduated in 2022.

Her high school ag teacher had studied poultry science at NC State, which led Lewis Bryan to take a closer look at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). She’d grown up as a lifelong NC State fan thanks to her grandfather, an alumnus who earned his degree in 1969. 

“I thought I wanted to go to vet school, but I had changed my mind senior year. I knew I wanted to do something with animals, so I decided to just take a chance and go to poultry science, and I knew I would either love it or I would hate it.”

Lewis Bryan applied for as many scholarships as she could, starting locally. Once she was accepted to NC State and CALS, she used the online portal, challenging herself to try for scholarships she felt were a stretch. By summer she had secured enough support to cover the fall semester.

Then another notification arrived.

“It wasn’t anything like a grand gesture. It was an email, and I was at work and I called my mom, crying, to tell her I actually received a full-ride scholarship from NC State. It was amazing! And it was a privately donated scholarship from CALS.”

During her time in school, she had the opportunity to get to know Dan Warren, whose gift funded the scholarship. She was the first recipient of the Jarvis Warren Family Animal Industry Scholarship Endowment, named in honor of Dan’s father.

Callie Lewis Bryan and scholarship donor Dan Warren
Callie Lewis Bryan met with Dan Warren, who established the Jarvis Warren Family Animal Industry Scholarship Endowment, at the InternationaI Production and Processing Expo.

In the first lab for Poultry Science 201, she plunged right into heavy-duty anatomy, doing a necropsy to learn about chickens’ digestive and reproductive systems. 

“Experience is experience. Whether you love it or hate it, you learn something.”

“We didn’t do that in biology classes in Bladen County,” Lewis Bryan says. “I remember sitting there with Dr. (Lynn) Worley-Davis and thinking, what the heck have I gotten myself into?”

But she found herself fascinated. The course also gave her an overview of the poultry industry

In early 2020, the future seemed wide open. “I got one normal semester.” 

Broadway and Baking

Though the pandemic changed college for everyone, online coursework was a lifeline for Lewis Bryan, who became seriously ill right before the pandemic.  

“If we hadn’t had to do school from home, I probably would’ve had to drop out because I was so sick I couldn’t walk,” she says. “I was in the hospital two weeks before COVID hit. I went home the Saturday before the Monday that they shut everything down, and I was on my couch. I had a feeding tube. It was really bad. I couldn’t eat. And I had my laptop in my lap to email Dr. Worley-Davis and tell her that I couldn’t come back.” 

Learning that everyone would move to online classes, she resolved to keep going. To raise her spirits, she turned to a hobby business, making baked goods. She and her mom watched the musical Hamilton, which had just been released on the Disney channel, and she worked on mastering the rap and song lyrics. Gradually, she was able to manage her health condition. 

“By the time everything rolled back around and COVID was over, I was good to go, and I got to go back to school, which was great.” 

Experiences of a Lifetime

Back on campus, Lewis Bryan joined the poultry judging team. She had the opportunity to do two undergraduate research projects, one on egg grading and another on turkey behavior. In her junior year she applied for a 10-week quality assurance internship with Mountaire Farms, located near her home

“I thought it was a good way to get a feel for a processing plant,” she explains, noting that she had spent about 45 minutes in that setting before the internship. “Dr. Worley-Davis always told us that experience is experience. Whether you love it or hate it, you learn something from it.” 

She found that quality assurance was a good fit with her meticulous nature and told the team at Mountaire that she’d be back. After graduating in December 2022, she completed a yearlong management training program with the company.  

“I spent time in all of the departments throughout the whole company. I went to Delaware, traveled all over North Carolina. It was an amazing experience just being able to see the industry side, top to bottom.” A job opening was available by the time she was done. 

Callie Lewis Bryan and her mom with Hamilton playbill
Callie Lewis Bryan and her mom, Sherry Lewis, saw Hamilton on Broadway to celebrate Callie’s graduation from NC State.

In the meantime, she had plenty to celebrate. She took the graduation trip to New York City with her mom. And she put the finishing touches on a DIY wedding with Noah in January, making the cake herself. Her best friends, whom she bonded with at NC State on the poultry judging team and over late-night study sessions, were at her side.

The playlist, of course, was perfect. 

Noah and Callie Bryan at their winter wedding. Photo credit: Catrina Moretz Photography

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.