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Honoring a Legacy: Andrea Rubio Receives First Award in Honor of Dr. John Thomas Brake

Andrea Rubio in front of the NC State Feed Mill Education Unit
Andrea Rubio at the NC State Feed Mill Education Unit | photo by Andrea Rubio

In 2018, the Prestage Department of Poultry Science (PDPS) was saddened by the loss of a distinguished researcher, teacher and colleague, when Dr. John Thomas Brake passed away. Former students were especially affected by the loss of a respected and loved teacher and mentor.

Dr. Brake’s family, wife Audrey Ferguson Brake and daughter Alston Brake Cobourn, established the John Thomas Brake Memorial Poultry Science Graduate Endowment to honor his memory and acknowledge his dedication to the poultry industry and devotion to North Carolina State University.

The department is pleased to share that the first recipient of the John Thomas Brake Memorial Poultry Science Graduate Endowment Award is Andrea Rubio, a graduate student who studies how to improve feed efficiency – and reduce costs.

Jesse Grimes, professor and Director of Graduate and Certificate Programs, announced the award during the virtual PDPS celebration of students on May 8.

“I am pleased that Andrea is the first recipient of Dr. Brake’s legacy award. Andrea represents herself and the qualities described in Dr Brake’s award in a superior manner. She, as a young scientist, displays exemplary qualities with dedication to excellence in education, research and outreach to the poultry industry,” he said.

“Dr. Brake was an excellent mentor and it was my pleasure to have had the opportunity to work closely with him. It is quite fitting that Andrea be the first recipient of this award as she exemplifies a number of qualities that he found to be important in a graduate student, not the least of which are dedication and a willingness to step into a leadership role,” said Adam Fahrenholz, Andrea’s graduate advisor and director of the NC State Feed Mill Education Unit.

“I hope this gift will help Ms. Rubio toward the pursuit of her Ph.D. I regret circumstances did not allow presentation of the award as scheduled this spring, but look forward to meeting her at a later date when the university has re-opened,” said Mrs. Brake. She also expressed her appreciation to the award committee for their selection.

It’s especially important to recognize Dr. Brake’s legacy and celebrate Andrea’s award now, since COVID-19 kept us from honoring them both in our usual in-person spring awards banquet.

About Dr. John Thomas Brake

This section is taken from the donor legacy shared by Mrs. Brake.

John Brake
John Brake

After growing up on a small family farm in Edgecombe County, John Thomas Brake attended NC State University. He graduated with highest honors in 1974 with B.S. degrees in both Poultry Science and Animal Science. He earned his Ph.D. in Physiology in 1977.

After growing up on a small family farm in Edgecombe County, John Thomas Brake attended NC State University. He graduated with highest honors in 1974 with B.S. degrees in both Poultry Science and Animal Science. He earned his Ph.D. in Physiology in 1977.

John received recognition for his outstanding scholarship and leadership as a student, receiving numerous scholarships and being elected to Phi Eta Sigma, Gamma Sigma Delta, Phi Kappa Phi, Golden Chain and Order of 30 and three honor fraternities. He was selected chancellor of the Fraternity of Alpha Zeta and senior commencement speaker.

John joined the faculty of Auburn University in 1978 and returned to NC State University in 1981 as an Assistant Professor of Poultry Science.

He was appointed a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2001 and served as Professor of Poultry Science, Physiology and Nutrition in the Department of Poultry Science for 37 years. He was Director of Graduate and Certificate Programs for the department from 2003 to 2017.

Dr. Brake received numerous awards for his teaching and research, including

  • the university’s Outstanding Young Alumnus Award (1986),
  • Sigma Xi Research Award (1986),
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Teacher Award (1990),
  • Outstanding Graduate Instructor Award (2002, 2003) and
  • the CALS Faculty and Student Organization Resource Development Award (2005).

He was a member of numerous professional organizations, including The World’s Poultry Science Association, Poultry Science Association (PSA), Southern Poultry Science Society, NC Poultry Federation, American Poultry Historical Society and the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists. PSA awarded him the Broiler Research Award (1991), the Merck Award for Achievement (1995) and named him a Fellow in 2006. He held two patents and was the recipient of numerous research grants.

Dr. Brake was an internationally recognized poultry science expert who traveled to over 50 countries as a lecturer and consultant.  He published nearly 1000 articles, translated into over 10 languages, and served on the editorial boards of several scientific journals, including Poultry Science.

In 2015 he received NC State’s Global Engagement Award for his extensive international service activities in addition to graduate training and mentoring of international students. He was a Life Member of the NC State Alumni Association and a member of the Chancellor’s Circle, past member of the Wolfpack Club and member of the NC State University Club.

Dr. Brake died unexpectedly at the age of 66 on July 31, 2018, leaving behind his wife of 43 years, Audrey Ferguson Brake, and his daughter, Alston Brake Cobourn.

Honoring a Legacy

“A special thanks to Dr. Brake’s family for their support and generosity to the graduate students in the department. I can only express my sincere thanks. The fact that my work has been recognized instills confidence in me to work to the best of my ability for the interest of our department and the industry,” Andrea said when she received Dr. Grimes’ email.

A special thanks to Dr. Brake’s family for their support
and generosity.

We asked Andrea to share her story with us. Read about her journey to PDPS, her current work and how she feels she exemplifies the traits Dr. Brake exhibited and encouraged.

Tell us about your journey to PDPS.

I obtained a B.Sc. degree in Agricultural Sciences and Production from the Pan-American Agricultural School Zamorano in Honduras.

Zamorano trained me in the management of agricultural systems using an integrated, hands-on approach, including poultry management and feed manufacturing.

During my senior year, my devotion to animal husbandry motivated me to do an internship in the department of animal science at Louisiana State University. One of my most memorable experiences during my internship was the International Poultry and Processing Expo (IPPE), where Dr. Jose Charal introduced me to Ph. D. candidate Wilmer Pacheco. I was recruited by Dr. Wilmer when he became an Assistant Professor at Auburn University.

I obtained an M.Sc. of Poultry Science from Auburn University for evaluating the effects of the physical manipulation of feed on broiler growth. After my master’s degree, I got more interested in the interrelationships of feed manufacturing and poultry nutrition.

Therefore, I came to NC State to pursue a doctoral degree in poultry science with a co-major in nutrition under the direction of Dr. Adam Fahrenholz.

On a personal note, my journey to the PDPS and towards my degree has been full of faculty, staff, mentors and colleagues who have been willing to help me in every step. It has all been thanks to them and their constant support.

Tell us about your current work – in class and out.

Poultry farmers are continuously adopting new techniques to supply high demand while producing high-quality products at reasonable prices for the consumer.

However, in the poultry industry, feed manufacturing represents 70% of total production costs. Therefore, my research focuses on offering the poultry and feed industries ways to offset high feed costs and/or reduce the costs of feed manufacturing without compromising poultry growth.

Most of my work takes place at the NC State Feed Mill Education Unit. However, I also do research and help fellow graduate students at the Chicken and Talley Turkey Education Units. All the nutrition and feed manufacturing courses offered in the department have combined very well with my future research interests.

Inside the department, I am a member of the Poultry Science Graduate Association as Vice-president and the Poultry Science Peer Mentoring Group which provides mentorship for students who seek guidance to achieve their own goals.

Besides my work, I like to go to the gym and attend classes like yoga and cycle. I enjoy socializing with my fellow graduate students and also doing some sightseeing during the weekends.

What is your favorite memory of Dr. Brake?

I was fortunate to meet Dr. Brake during my second year at Auburn and before being part of PDPS.

However, Dr. Wilmer Pacheco was a former student of Dr. Brake, during his time at NC State. Therefore, he used to tell me many stories about him.

A nice memory of Dr. Brake was when I met him for the first time during a reception at IPPE. I could tell the presence and charisma that he had when he walked into a conversation and started interacting with students.

How do you feel about being the first recipient of this award in honor of Dr. Brake?

I felt sincerely grateful and happy with the department and Dr. Brake’s family when I received the notification that I was selected for an award in his honor.

It was such a surprise, especially knowing what the award represents. Dr. Brake remains the best example of a successful professional and also the positive impact that an educator can have on their students and how they can impact and support others.

Dr. Brake remains the best example of a successful professional and also the positive impact that an educator can have on their students.

What are your plans?

During my doctoral studies, my goal is to be an asset for the Feed Mill Education Unit –  not only as a researcher but also as a teaching assistant and by engaging students through interactive laboratories and encouraging their interest in the area.

As poultry science graduate students, we are usually contemplating a career in the industry or academia. My career goal is to become a professor at a research institution with a focus on poultry nutrition and feed manufacturing.

However, I also see myself working as a nutritionist or research developer for a poultry company and then transitioning to a faculty position. Like all my mentors, I will be a channel for connecting students who will be further advancing our contributions regardless of their career paths.

How do you try to exemplify the traits valued by Dr. Brake?

At Zamorano, our motto is Labor Omnia Vincit, which means work conquers all.

I strongly believe this is true. I like to see myself as a hard worker. Therefore, I believe we need to invest extra time not only in our work but also in trying to help others. As future professionals, we must consider that there will always be a team of people that drive our contributions to the industry.

I try to challenge myself and be optimistic about it. We should surround ourselves with exciting projects that can enhance our learning experience during grad school. In an era of limited resources, food safety, social media, and consumer awareness, there is a need for specialized scientists and members to think and act critically to confront the modern challenges of the poultry industry.

Help support students like Andrea and honor Dr. Brake’s memory with a contribution to the John Thomas Brake Memorial Poultry Science Graduate Endowment.