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Senior Brittany Wall’s Poultry – Not Poetry – Journey

Brittany Wall with Mr. and Mrs. Wuf (NC State mascots)

When you’re the first one in your family to go to college, graduation is extra special. On Saturday, senior Brittany Wall will accept her B.S. in Poultry Science (not poetry!) and finish the first leg of her PDPS journey.

Wall says people ask her, confused,  about “poetry” science – she replies “I study chickens!”

That emphasis is intentional. It took a bit of exploration, but Wall says she’s found her niche through research focused on broilers (meat chickens).

College Plans

Wall grew up “on the line” between Welcome and Midway, NC, just outside of Lexington. While her family had “a little bit of everything,” it wasn’t what she would call a farm. Her parents encouraged her to go to college, “just not too far!”.

With college in her sights, Wall spent time exploring her options. She attended three different camps in the summer after her junior year of high school.

One of those camps was the Poultry Science Summer Institute (PSSI). She’d heard it was good for students who wanted to go to vet school, like her. Wall said she thought “‘I can study chickens for four years, that won’t be that bad’.” Not bad at all! Part of her decision to apply to the Prestage Department of Poultry Science (PDPS) came from how much fun she had at PSSI.

PSSI was an inexpensive opportunity with a lot of activities, so Wall got a good picture of what she’d be in for. She says her parents were supportive, but couldn’t help wondering how she’d turn “a week” into “four years.” With the help of WISE Village friends, PDPS graduate students and a faculty mentor, Wall has spent four years with chickens and isn’t done yet.

Settling in to State

As the parent of a first-generation college student, Brittany’s mom was concerned about her living situation. She wasn’t sure about coed housing, Wall says, and encouraged applying for housing in the WISE Village. WISE (Women in Science & Engineering) is a “living and learning community” in Lee Hall for freshmen women in STEM majors. From her WISE mentor who “adopt[ed]” Wall to her engineering friends, the choice was, indeed, wise.

Wall says that everyone would go to the library together to study, so it was easy to stay on track, even as the coursework proved challenging. Back home, it could be hard for Wall’s family to understand how hard some classes (like organic chemistry and physics) were. It was easier to manage that struggle with the support of her dorm mates. So, Wall thanks her mom for “pushing the idea” of living with STEM women.

Once she started at State, Wall found a second campus home in Scott Hall with PDPS. Graduate students helped her find her path (graduate school, not vet school) and she seized an opportunity to work as a student employee in Kim Livingston’s lab. She started in her second semester and has stayed with the lab through her entire undergraduate career.

“I really like it here…they know who I am,” Wall says of PDPS. She likes that faculty, staff and students (grad and undergrad) know and greet each other as they cross paths.

Between classes and working, Wall made time to give back as a CALS Ambassador. Ambassadors “represent CALS in recruiting prospective students, educating peers and networking with professionals.” Wall applied after she was recommended for the program.

“It forc[ed] me to talk to other people,” Wall jokes about her time as an Ambassador. Even with so busy an undergrad career, she admits to being a bit of a “homebody.” Getting out and helping others find their path became a way for her to thrive. It also made sure she saw more of CALS and State than her home department. From Spend a Day at State to Packapalooza, Wall was in the thick of campus social life.

Agenda: Research

After working in Livingston’s lab and making graduate school plans, Wall committed to adding research to her agenda. In her first year or so in the lab, she supported grad student research by weighing birds, helping on the farm and processing samples in the lab. Then, she got the chance to do even more.

As a CALS Honors student, Wall “got [her] own research project” in her junior year. Since then, her responsibilities in the lab have grown.

Wall’s research project, which was FDA- and Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)-approved in the fall of 2018, investigated black soldier fly larva as a potential replacement for soybean meal and oil in animal feeds.

With the poultry industry tackling the challenges of feeding a growing world population, fly larva meal is one scale-able option for feed – it takes a lot less space to produce than soybeans.

Brittany Wall standing next to her research poster
Brittany Wall at the Honors Symposium

After completing a six-week trial, Wall ran another, shorter study. That two-week study led to her first research conference presentation in 2018. Traveling to San Antonio in July, Wall did a poster presentation at the Poultry Science Association (PSA)’s annual meeting.

“It was 100 degrees every day!” she says, smiling. PSA was a successful entry into the world of scientific presentations. Wall even smiles when talking about the questions she got. One audience member questioned her statistical analysis, thinking she was a grad student. When the audience member realized she was “only” an undergraduate, she apologized for being so “harsh.”  It was useful feedback, though, and Wall took in stride.

Buoyed by her first foray in scicomm (science communication), Wall followed the PSA presentation with one at the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE) in February. She’s pragmatic about presenting: even though they can make you “super stressed out, it’s do it or don’t” once you’re on stage, she says.

Wall’s winding up her undergraduate career – and counting the days to graduation – but is keeping research in her sights. She’ll be presenting the FDA- and AAFCO-approved work at PSA this July (in cooler Montreal). And, while she’d “love to take a vacation” this summer, there are trials starting, so she sees herself working before graduate school.

Collegial to the Core

Collegial refers to partnering well and comes from the same root as college. The word means different things to different people, but most would agree that collegiality is a key for success in life, school and work.

For Brittany Wall, it’s clear that college was about connecting with people and her own purpose; she embodies a collegial mindset. And she’s made strong partnerships at State – three different people recommended her immediately when a call went out for an “outstanding graduate” to feature.

Graduate student Daniel Adams calls Wall “an extremely hard worker” and says she’s “always willing to go out of her way to help others.” Ben Alig, another graduate student, echos Adams, saying Wall is one of the “most involved” undergraduates with the department.

After working in Kim Livingston’s lab for three years, it’s no surprise that Livingston also thought of Brittany when “outstanding” came to mind.

Advice to Share

Brittany Wall is sure she’s on the right path for her. And to help others, she has some advice.

“If you question it too much, [it] should be obvious it isn’t for you,” she says of anyone still “see-sawing” between options. She encourages students to focus on what they like, setting themselves up to succeed because they enjoy what they’re doing. It’s ok if that means following their ideas, not their parents, she adds.

Finally, Wall recommends that students “get good at time management.” As an Honors student with a demanding job and plenty of time given to her department and college, that’s tried-and-true advice.

Focus on the Future

Brittany Wall in red cap and gown with a dog
Brittany Wall with her dog, Opie

So, what’s next for this outstanding graduate? More research, of course! Wall plans to continue her fly larva work in graduate school, “going the whole way” to a Ph.D. She asks her family to “wait for it,” but assures them that she’s destined to be Dr. Wall one day. Then, she plans to continue her research with an industry position.

“Senior year, I finally figured it out,” she says, referring to her specific focus, merging two fields: “feed additives and meat quality.” This hybrid is a progression from her work with Kim Livingston and Matthew Livingston, who both encouraged her to “mix stuff up.” The mix is working so far and Wall’s excited to see where it takes her after Saturday.

As she walks across the stage at graduation, she’ll be glad to be inside. Her only complaint about her time at State? “How hot the bricks get.”