NC State Prestage Department of Poultry Science (PDPS) recently named Dr. Patricia Curtis as the new Department Head.
Curtis received her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Home Economics Education from Texas Women’s University in 1979. She then attended Texas A&M University where she received her Master’s of Science Degree in Food Science and Technology in 1982 and her Ph.D. in 1985.
From 1980-1985, Curtis served as a graduate assistant in the Poultry Science Department of Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. From 1985-1989, she served as Assistant Professor within the Animal and Food Science Department at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with 100 percent appointment. From 1989-1990, she continued to serve as Assistant Professor but only 60 percent appointment, as well as Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor. Between 1991-1995, Curtis accepted the role of Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist within the Department of Food Science at NC State with a focus on poultry and egg processing and product technology. In 1995, Curtis was named Associate Professor and Extension Specialist and remained as such until 1999. In 1999, she became Professor and Extension Specialist until 2002. Curtis left NC State in 2002 and became Professor and Director of Poultry Product Safety and Quality Peak of Excellence Program at the Department of Poultry Science at Auburn University until 2017. Within her time at Auburn University, Curtis served as Interim Director for the National Egg processing Center from 2008-2011. In 2011, Curtis was named Director of the Auburn University Food Systems Institute.
Curtis officially rejoined PDPS as Department Head on April 28, 2017. When asked why she came back to NC State, Curtis said “There are a number of reasons why I came back here. The unique thing about NC State is that it’s the only poultry department that has all three commodities: layers, broiler breeders and turkeys. That helps us position what we’re doing with our strategic plan of incorporating more interdisciplinary and innovative practices.”
As a part of the strategic plan that Curtis is creating, PDPS will join with the College of Agriculture and Life Science (CALS) and the Food Animal Initiative (FAI). FAI brings interdisciplinary sciences together in order to solve challenges within the agricultural industry. It also partners with industry leaders in order to bring ideas to the market quicker.
“If you look at the six poultry science programs across the country, they’re all very similar. We all know what it takes to survive. I went through the Food Systems Leadership Institute which was a two-year leadership program created by the American Public Land-Grant University (APLU) and NC State was one of the co-sponsors. Within this program, it really got me interested in innovation and interdisciplinary studies in order to meet future needs,” Curtis said. “Universities are notoriously slow at making changes and if you look at how much the poultry and poultry-ally industries have changed over the years, educational institutes are way below the industry.”
If NC State PDPS wants to remain a global leader in poultry then “we must look to the future and determine what we need to do to meet future needs; in order to do this, PDPS must create partnerships within the industry and with stakeholders, government agencies, etc.,” Curtis said. “We’re going to have to go way beyond what the university can do by itself. We’re going to have to work together and figure out how we can achieve the goals we have for the future. Change is scary, but it’s necessary.”
Within Curtis’s first few months at NC State, she and PDPS faculty have restructured the department into three commodity groups: egg, chicken and turkey. Each group will be headed by a liaison. Curtis is currently working on installing a processing curriculum within the department; this would be a joint effort between animal, poultry and food science. By the end of her first year, Curtis plans to articulate a new mission statement and formulate a strategic plan that will reflect new directions for the department. Also within her first year, she hopes to have partners buy into the department to help develop new ideas.
In five years, Curtis hopes that an educational center will be installed within the various agricultural farms located off of Lake Wheeler Road. “I want there to be an area where we can bring in public school students and visitors and let them see how agriculture can exist in an urban setting,” she said. “We have got to change the image that agriculture is bad and that will first come by educating the public on where their food has come from. With these commercial buildings, people can come and see how poultry, swine, dairy, etc. units are working.” This center will use various technologies to show how everything — 360 Virtual Reality Cameras, GoPros, interact displays, and more.
“I’m trying to make us come back to an interdisciplinary approach. I want us to be a unique leader for poultry and allied industries and I want NC State PDPS to be their number one source that they’ll come back to,” Curtis said.