Jim Spain

How did you determine that college was the right path for you, and how did you decide where you would attend?

It was always my parents’ and teachers’ expectation. I seemed to be a pretty good student and folks thought I was “college material.” I selected North Carolina State University because my original plan was to be a veterinarian and NC State had a relatively new College of Veterinary Medicine.

What were the biggest challenges you faced — from enrollment to diploma — and how did you overcome them?

North Carolina provided significant support for public higher education, so tuition rates were very affordable. I received a four-year scholarship through my high school that really helped. My parents were committed and provided me with support, but I still worked part time. My first job at the University Dairy Farm (Unit II Dairy) was early morning. I didn’t adjust my late night routines, so staying awake in class was a challenge on days that I worked at the dairy. It wasn’t a problem getting up early, it was a problem that I stayed up too late. At the end of spring semester, I decided not to return to the dairy farm when I moved back to campus the following fall. I then worked part-time jobs that allowed a more “normal” work schedule. I eventually went back to the dairy farm my senior year, but I was more responsible for how I managed my time!

Who inspired you, provided mentorship or otherwise helped you along the way?

My K–12 teachers, parents, grandparents, neighbors, church members, aunts and uncles were all supportive of the idea that “Jimmy is going to State for college.” Mentoring started in the dorm with the older students who lived across the hall. One particular student, Mike, became my “big brother.” He got me my first job a the dairy farm and helped me explore a new major that I eventually switched to. Then there were several animal science faculty — almost too many to mention — Dr. Rakes who supervised the dairy farm and got me connected with my graduate advisor at Virginia Tech; Dr. Croom, a Mizzou alumnus who gave me an opportunity to do research as an undergraduate student; Dr. Ramsey, my advisor; and Dr. Jack Britt who served as a model scholar and was highly respected by colleagues across the discipline. And there were a couple of graduate students (Mark and Marco) who helped me understand what graduate school was all about. It is interesting to reflect on my path and the key role that my “big brother” Mike played as the catalyst for all of the relationships I developed with faculty in animal science after I started as a biology major at NC State.

I also found a support community in places that aren’t often considered with staff that I worked with. I worked in the University Bookstore and there were several employees who ‘adopted’ me like family. They invited me to dinner with their families and celebrated my special accomplishments and occasions. They even attended my wedding. For years, we stayed in touch including visits when my family traveled through Raleigh and holiday cards for years.

How did you meet people, make friends and get involved at your university?

It all started with my suitemates. We did everything together. We lived together in the dorm for two years and when we moved to off-campus housing, I lived with roommates from the dorm. I was involved with the Varsity Men’s Glee Club, and that led to new friends. And it was through relationships in the dorm and the Music Department that I was connected with student government where I served as a student senator and chair of elections. I was also fortunate to have a number of friends from high school in my graduating class who went to NC State.

Outside of your academic studies, what did college teach you about yourself? How did those lessons help you in your professional career?

How to persevere, how to adapt to unexpected setbacks, what contributes to being able to be successful, how to meet new people, how to build relationships and how to learn from the experience that others were willing to share.

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