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Fall 2023

Full Circle

Amanda Hadden, a 2023 graduate of the Agricultural Institute at NC State, tells the story of her educational journey in her own words.

woman in graduation gown
Amanda Hadden graduated in May as the Ag Institute’s only valedictorian, earning a 4.0 GPA.

I was a very nontraditional student at the Ag Institute. I actually graduated from the University of Georgia in 2013, so I did this backwards, but there’s a story behind it.

After earning a bachelor’s in international affairs, my goal was to work for UNICEF, to help starving children. I spent time in the Dominican Republic at an orphanage where the children didn’t have shoes and other things that we take for granted, which was a big eye-opener. But I felt that even though there’s extreme poverty over there, we have just as much here in the States, and I should help in my home country. 

How do you combat poverty? I thought it started with education. After going through alternative certification, I taught at high-poverty schools in two different settings, urban and then rural. I got to see firsthand what an effect poverty has. A child could be misbehaving because they didn’t get dinner the night before. For some students, the only guaranteed food they have is the breakfast, lunch and snack provided at school. It broke my heart. 

I made my classroom a safe place, built relationships with parents and felt I was able to make an impact. But my mom would visit, and she could tell that I literally was just coming home, taking a shower, eating, getting up and doing it all over. As much as I loved it, that wasn’t sustainable.

In my childhood I showed horses, and my happy place was at the barn with the animals. But I had totally forgotten about my family’s roots. My great-grandfather was a farmer. He raised hogs and grew tobacco. We still own that land in Franklin County, which has been passed down in my family since the 1890s. My dad’s plan was to retire on the land, but that changed.

old family photo with man and woman
Hadden’s great-grandparents, John and Amanda Alston, in 1963.

I approached my dad and said, “I want to restore the land.” And he said, ”OK, I support you, but you don’t know what you’re doing.” I learned about the Ag Institute and said, “I can know what I’m doing. It’s a degree from NC State. It’s reputable.” What really drew me to it were the hands-on opportunities, because at every job that I’d had, I was inside all day.

At the Ag Institute, I could put my life on pause for two years and then have a career I enjoy. Going back to school, I was the one footing the bill. For the first year and a half, I worked 12-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays as a nursing home receptionist.

When my heart was heavy, I’d go out to the land or my grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ grave site. I just asked them to guide me and protect me, because it’s hard. I was never treated any differently at NC State, but walking into a meeting and being the only Black person—that’s intimidating. It made me second-guess myself. 

Initially I felt alone, but the more I got involved and the more I asked for help, I realized that I’m not alone. This is a community that wants to see their students excel. My adviser, Dr. Lynn Worley-Davis, has been truly instrumental. She brought in people from the poultry industry who talked about all the career opportunities, this whole world that I never knew about. 

woman holding chicken
Hadden at the Chicken Education Unit.

I found that I love working with chickens. That led to internships, joining the Poultry Science Club and the Young Farmers and Ranchers Program through Farm Bureau, and taking on an Ag Institute ambassador role. As the president of Delta Tau Alpha honor society, I’ve been able to bring in Ag Institute graduates to tell us what they did with their degrees.

I started working at the Chicken Education Unit at the Lake Wheeler Road Field Lab to learn more about birds and get hands-on experience. I did an internship last spring with Braswell Family Farms, and that was fantastic, because I had no agriculture experience. The fact that they gave me a chance, I’ll be forever grateful for. I also interned with Mountaire Farms to see all aspects of the poultry industry. That led to a job as a flock advisor with Perdue Farms.

It’s funny how life works. When I went to Georgia, I wanted to combat hunger and help starving children. Years later, I’m going into an industry that is helping feed the world. Full circle moment. Different approach, but the same goal.

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