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I AM CALS: Dannica Wall

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences staff member Dannica Wall will make history when she becomes the first Black female to earn a Ph.D. from the Prestage Department of Poultry Science.

Poultry Science PHD Graduate, Dannica Walls, with her a gaze on a flower in her hands

Dannica Wall never imagined she’d make history one day. But the NC State University graduate student and staff member is on track to do just that when she becomes the first Black female at NC State to earn a Ph.D. in poultry science.

“I was unaware of being the ‘first’ until after I completed my prelims and was inquiring about those who came before me for guidance and reassurance. I was relying on myself for guidance and reassurance and the feeling is surreal, especially knowing that I have carried the torch to light the way for those who come after me,” Wall says.

“I like to think of myself as an individual who was confident enough to take risks without knowing the outcome. Self-belief is very real, and at times I think we take that for granted.”

I was like, ‘This is where I belong, with the chickens.’ This is my life.

Unlike some of her colleagues and classmates, Wall’s childhood didn’t include growing up on a farm surrounded by agriculture. She did, however, dream of becoming a vet.

Wall started working toward that dream at North Carolina A&T State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science. During her undergraduate studies, she interned at a veterinarian’s office and quickly learned that wasn’t the path for her. The following year, she took a class in poultry production.

“I fell in love with it. I was like, ‘This is where I belong, with the chickens.’ This is my life,” Wall says.

Photo by Marc Hall

She graduated with a master’s degree in animal health from NC A&T in 2011 and began working as a lab animal resources technician for NC State’s vet school the following year. She soon transferred to the Prestage Department of Poultry Science as a research specialist, where she conducts several research protocols, organizes and manages labs, and supervises undergraduate students. 

In addition to her daily duties, she helps coordinate an annual conference in Atlanta and assists with other Extension programs while pursuing a Ph.D.

More About Farmer-to-Farmer

The program — funded by the United States Agency for International Development —  provides technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. It promotes sustainable improvements in food security and agricultural processing, production and marketing.

She’s also been very active with the group Farmer-to-Farmer.

“They essentially recruit volunteers, depending on area of expertise, for specific projects they have around the world,” Wall shares. One of Wall’s college friends works for the organization, and that’s how she became involved.

“I got connected with one of the groups that’s part of Farmer-to-Farmer — Winrock International — in 2019. They’re based in Senegal. At the time, they didn’t have any projects focused on poultry, but they wanted me to apply because of my background if a poultry project ever came up,” Wall explains.

Later that year, Winrock contacted Wall about difficulties they were having on a project and asked if she’d be willing to help.

Traveling to Senegal was Wall’s first time flying solo overseas.

I hate flying. It makes me so nervous!

“I applied to work on the project on a Tuesday, and by Wednesday evening, they had picked me!” she says.

Wall’s favorite part of working on the project was using what she had learned in school and throughout her career at NC State. 

“I was educating teachers at a local university about different topics related to poultry production so they could then teach their students. On the third day of my visit, small producers came to the course as well. I was able to visit their farms and help troubleshoot any issues they were currently having,” Wall says.

After her trip, Wall worked on two other projects for Winrock. Her fourth and latest project – set for Mozambique, Africa – is on pause due to the pandemic, but Wall is looking forward to her next adventure.

“My boss has been great about allowing me to participate in these projects. He said it’s international extension work,” Wall says.

And it’s work she thoroughly enjoys.

“I absolutely love Extension. I love the idea of being able to go and communicate with people and help people, but I also love research and getting my hands dirty,” Wall shares. “I think it’s just the camaraderie of people getting together for a purpose. I also love learning about different people from all walks of life.”

Photo by Marc Hall

As far as what’s on the horizon, she’s still narrowing it down.

“That’s the million-dollar question. Everybody’s always asking that,” Wall laughs. “I’m not opposed to teaching since I have experience, but I don’t see myself as strictly being a professor. But as of now, it’s still a question mark, and hopefully, it’ll come to me. I’m keeping my options open to see what’s all out there.”