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Laying the Foundation for an Agricultural Career

Lynn Worley-Davis teaching students in one of her embryology labs

For Lynn Worley-Davis, NC State University and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) have been a second home. She earned two bachelor’s degrees in animal science and poultry science from CALS in 1986, a master’s degree in agricultural education in 2012 and an Ed.D. in 2018.

Davis is now a teaching assistant professor and the director of undergraduate programs for the Prestage Department of Poultry Science.

Worley-Davis grew up surrounded by agriculture. In rural Northampton County, many folks produced cotton, peanuts, pigs and chickens. 

Like many young women in the 1980s, Worley-Davis wanted to become a veterinarian. When NC State University admitted its first class to the College of Veterinary Medicine in 1981, it became her top choice. It also helped that she grew up an NC State fan. But Worley-Davis recalls a “flurry of women” coming to NC State for the vet school soon after that first class.

“We were probably three (males) to one (female) back then, where now it’s 50/50. Women were getting into the agricultural workforce and were coming to school and becoming vets. There are a lot of female vets around my age because of that surge of women,” she explains.

Worley-Davis was admitted into the zoology program but soon transferred to Animal Science thinking she’d be one of those women going on to vet school. However, later she changed her mind about vet school.

“By my junior year I decided I really didn’t want to work with livestock, although it’s an important part of our state. I completed animal science, but also added poultry science,” she says. 

After earning her bachelor’s degrees, Worley-Davis began working in the poultry industry at Tar Heel Turkey Hatchery, now Butterball. 

“I was in charge of quality control for the company and planning for the hatchery division,” says Worley-Davis. As different managers left the business, it gave her an opportunity to keep learning different parts of the company and operations. 

After 11 years, Worley-Davis made her way back to NC State.

“I got pregnant and my husband was taking another job and we were trying to get closer to Raleigh. I applied for the research coordinator position at the animal and poultry waste management center, which was housed in poultry science. I was trying to get out of the poultry industry, but still having that technical expertise, I kept getting sucked back in,” Worley-Davis says.

She got the job and was assigned to coordinate field research to find  alternatives to lagoon sprayfield systems in the early 2000s. Her director had an opportunity to become what Worley-Davis is now, the undergraduate coordinator.

“He took that opportunity, and it came with a caveat: that I was going to continue doing research but also help with undergraduate programs.” Worley-Davis jokes that her career and life has all happened by circumstance. “Everything I’ve done, I haven’t planned. It just worked out, which is probably a good thing because a lot of times people get disappointed when their plan is not executed like they thought it would be.”

It’s a message she shares with her undergraduate students.

Lynn Worley-Davis teaching students in her embryology lab
Worley-Davis teaching one of her embryology lab classes in Scott Hall.

“One of the things we try to stress with students is to not to be narrow minded, try not to be tunnel-visioned. Always have a Plan B. I think my life has been a Plan B from day one. I never ever planned to do what I’m doing or to be where I am now,” Worley-Davis says.

But teaching is where Worley-Davis found her niche.

It’s important for us as agriculturalists and scientists to make sure everybody knows how important agriculture is to our state, to the United States and globally.

“I’m just happy that I’ve had a place in this world that allows me to do what I love to do — teach and advise,” she says. “I’m really hands-on oriented and I like to show students the application of science in the real world.” It’s also about showing students that a degree in poultry science is more than building chicken houses and raising chickens.

“I think a lot of times that’s the stigma that’s attached to a lot of agricultural programs: Oh, you’re going to be a farmer.“ But Worley-Davis says it’s so much more. “You’re laying a foundation to build upon. Hopefully by exploring opportunities, you may find something you enjoy.”

Over the years, her labs have become home to many CALS students, but it’s become more common to see students from other colleges, too.

“I actually have a student from the School of Design this semester. We also have some people from engineering. Having that diverse population that knows nothing about how food gets to the grocery store is really important. It’s important for us as agriculturalists and scientists to make sure everybody knows how important agriculture is to our state, to the United States and globally.”

Worley-Davis says it’s also about getting past the stigma that a career in agriculture isn’t grand. She will agree it’s a tough industry, especially when dealing with elements out of your control like weather.

“You have to be on your toes, always thinking and being that critical problem-solver every single day. It’s tough, but at the end of the day it makes you stronger.”

And no matter how others might perceive the industry, agriculture is necessary.

“If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t eat and we wouldn’t exist. I think it’s important for everybody to understand that.”

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