Joining Forces: BAE Participates in Agricultural Symposium

Written by Olivia Rogers

On March 14 the Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) Department collaborated with three other departments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). These departments teamed up to host students from over 10 different Wake County high schools at NC State for a day.

Kayla Howell, Student Services Specialist for the Agricultural Institute, says, “Several individuals from the Agricultural Institute, CALS Academic Programs and the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering headed this project.” Here in the BAE department Tommy Stephenson, a BAE lecturer, used this event as an opportunity to demonstrate a clear path toward a future in agriculture.

Howell and Stephenson are both on the Wake County Career Advisory Team (CAT). In October 2022 the CAT committee invited agriculture teachers from Wake County schools to campus. During this visit, attendees learned about CALS programs. Howell says, “The teachers enjoyed it so much they wanted to bring their students so they could see the different areas of agriculture that they may never have considered for a career or as an educational option.” 

Howell says, “High school students who were involved in agriculture classes, Future Farmers of America (FFA) or other Career and Technical Education (CTE) related courses were invited to participate.”

Students talking with a representative from Gregory Poole.

To showcase different areas of CALS, the committee had students choose which area they would focus on for the day. Students could choose to spend the day with departmental representatives from BAE, Animal Science, Horticultural Science, or Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Science. A few representatives from Prestage Department of Poultry Science and Crop and Soil Sciences (CSS) were also there helping out.

Since students got to choose which session to attend based on their interests, there were a variety of disciplines to explore. Kayla Howell says some students “extracted DNA from plants, learned how Howling Cow ice cream is made and then tried it.” Others learned about meat processing and incubation.

Representatives from WSP answering questions about drones.

Students interested in agricultural mechanics spent the day with BAE staff at Weaver Labs. During this session, students participated in hands-on activities and lecture-based learning. Industry representatives also attended and talked to students about their career journeys. Industry representatives included NC State BAE alumnus Jared Medford and NC State’s College of Natural Resources alumnus Travis Howell. Howell and Medford both work at WSP, and during the symposium they talked about their careers in surveying and precision agriculture. Stephenson says, “They do a lot of surveying using LiDAR scanners and drone technologies which I thought was a nice fit with the precision agriculture topic.” Jason Ward, a BAE assistant professor, spoke about his career in precision agriculture along with Howell and Medford. Stephenson says, “I also brought in Gregory Poole to talk about their diesel mechanic program and opportunities they have as welders and mechanics.” 

BAE faculty and staff also led discussions with students. Joseph Blalock, Interim Research Shop Supervisor, talked with students about his career in welding and diesel mechanics. Stephenson led an activity in collaboration with CSS. During this portion of the session, Stephenson and Adam Howard, a Research Technician and Soil Fertility Instructor in CSS, discussed the soil sampling process. Then, students took their own samples using manual equipment. Stephenson also had students use a more efficient soil sampling method, a hydraulic soil probe, to show how easy engineering can make things. He says, “It was nice to see them take a sample manually, then go over to the [hydraulic soil probe] to see how engineers can create technology that makes things easier and more efficient for the farmer.” Stephenson says he hopes students can apply what they learned in the future. 

The day ended with lunch in Fountain Dining Hall where students talked with CALS faculty and staff. Garey Fox, CALS dean, spent time talking to students and teachers about NC State’s programs. 

Blalock talking about his career as a welder and fabricator.

Stephenson says this kind of outreach is “critical for the agriculture industry.” He explains that outreach opportunities like this give students an idea of what the industry has to offer. Stephenson says, “I think the agriculture industry needs students, whether they go to college or not, because they need to be exposed to future opportunities.” 

Howells says, “We hope we exposed students to what NC agriculture is, what kind of careers are out there in agriculture and how NC State can prepare students to be successful in the agriculture industry.”