Student Spotlight: CNR Ambassador Colin White

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Colin White, a senior studying Environmental Technology and Management, will receive his Bachelor of Science degree during spring commencement on Saturday. Not one to waste any time, he will begin his new career almost immediately at Avoca Inc., a division of Pharmachem Laboratories that develops and manufactures custom extraction products and services in Mary Hill, N.C.

The company of 120 full-time employees produces more than 90 percent of the world’s supply of sclareolide to the fragrance industry. Sclareolide is made from sclareol extracted from clary sage, which is grown by local farmers on more than 14,000 acres in the counties surrounding the Avoca plant. The fragrance industry then uses the sclareolide compound to extend smells that usually last seconds or minutes to hours in anything from chocolate to perfume to laundry detergent.

For White, his new role after graduation will be a homecoming. Avoca is only 45 minutes from his hometown, Askewville, in Bertie County near the coast of North Carolina. At first he wasn’t sure if he was ready to return to small town life where he’ll know everyone from high school again, but he eventually realized that working for Avoca “is kind of a big deal.”

White is not new to Avoca. He interned with the company both his freshman and sophomore years, keeping hazardous waste logs and hazardous material inventories. Applying what he learned in the classroom, he also completed safety inspections as well as collecting and processing air samples.

“My internships were great because I was completing the exact same things in my Air Pollutions class and technical labs,” he said. “I was using the same equipment and processes. It was great how they were directly related.”

His junior year, White moved on to intern with Perdue Agribusiness, traveling the East Coast working with the Environmental Management System (EMS). He wrote the new EMS manuals for most of the PAB facilities in North Carolina and some along the East Coast. He really enjoyed his internship, but ultimately decided to work with Avoca because of the family-feel of the company.

“Purdue also offered me a job,” he said. “But ultimately I liked how small Avoca is, I know everyone from the president down to the janitor.”

Despite all his success, it took White a while to find his place at NC State. “I first started in Environmental Management, but I didn’t understand anything,” he said. “I almost left the university. Moving from a small town to NC State and jumping into this major was a huge culture shock. My high school only had 13 graduating seniors.”

But soon he discovered that faculty like Dr. Gary Blank, Associate Professor and Forestry and Environmental Resources Undergraduate Programs Director, and Terrie Litzenberger, Senior Lecturer, were more than academics. They became mentors and pushed him to become an advocate for his own education.

“I called Dr. Blank and he helped me switch my major until I found something that made sense and I was passionate about. My academics improved, and I found a family,” White said.

During his time on campus, White not only found his academic family, he also found a community through his involvement with the CNR Ambassadors and the Natural Resources social and professional fraternity Alpha Gamma Rho. As a fraternity member, he became the VP of Risk Management and later the VP of Membership Development. As an Ambassador, White lead the Environmental Exploration Day, helped with Shack-a-Thon and planned new ambassador training.

“Colin is an essential member of our Ambassador team and considered a mentor and friend by all who meet him,” said Tiffany McLean, Director of Recruitment and Student Development. “Colin’s efforts to design and implement the College of Natural Resource Environmental Exploration Day, a program designed to introduce high school sophomores and juniors to our majors, have had a huge impact on the quantity and quality of students coming into our college. His creativity and desire for constant improvement makes any activity he plans a success. His love of the program is obvious!”

White’s student leadership opportunities taught him valuable time management skills and how to prioritize activities like school and social time.

“I also learned the importance of saying ‘no’ so as not to over commit yourself,” he said. “It’s an important aspect of the college experience and learning to understand yourself and your limits.”

While the next steps of his professional journey are clear, White is still a little nervous about graduation. “Most of my ET friends are pursuing law, politics or Ph.D. research,” he said. “And most ET majors choose to work for the government or a non-profit. I feel a like a black sheep going into industry, but my ET background means I’m equipped to work directly with them. It’s a necessity if industry wants to learn how to mitigate environmental impacts.”

His path might be different, but he’s ready for the journey. He also encourages others to take greener steps and find a new light and path.

“It took until my very last semester to realize that who you surround yourself with matters,” he said. “Those around you should have huge dreams and possibilities and so do you.”