Perspectives Online

College Profile, Dr. Carm Parkhurst has spent 34 years making sure his students get the education they’ve paid for. By Terri Leith

Dr. Carm Parkhurst
Photo by Becky Kirkland

When I teach, I want students to leave the class excited,” says Dr. Carmen Parkhurst. “And when I walk in the classroom I want to feel so excited I could hunt ducks with a pipe wrench. I don’t want to stay until I have to shoot ’em!”

In other words, Parkhurst, Alumni Undergraduate Distinguished Professor of Poultry Science, will know when it’s time to finally quit teaching.

But that time has not quite yet come. Parkhurst retired from the Department of Poultry Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on July 1, but it is a phased retirement — he’ll continue to teach two classes per semester and advise undergraduates for a few more years.

And he’s “pipe-wrench” excited to be able now to concentrate on teaching.

“I like research,” Parkhurst says. “But I have a passion for teaching.”

When Carm Parkhurst began teaching at N.C. State in 1971, among his duties was to recruit new poultry science undergraduates. “There were about six to eight students at that time,” he says. “We got it to 50 within three years, and it’s never been below 50 since. Now there are about 70 undergraduate students. It’s made me feel good to see us get to the point that we had a viable department and that our students were getting jobs and being successful.

“We’ve never had people to have trouble getting jobs with their poultry science degrees,” he says.

Taking stock of his 34 years, Parkhurst recalls, “When I first came to North Carolina, I noticed something different: Kids were driving school buses, and adults were delivering papers. ‘Surely,’ I thought, ‘a country boy can make it here.’ I don’t think there could have been a better place for me to work than the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, interacting with the students and parents from the agriculturally oriented families in North Carolina. I have been truly blessed.”

Parkhurst says he has enjoyed the “constructive criticism” he’s received from students in course evaluations over the years, then admits those evaluations were typically good ones.

“It feels good when someone is happy with you and tells you that yours is the best course they’ve had,” he says. “I keep in contact with a lot of my former students; some from 30 years ago will call and have a question to run by me. It’s nice when people seek your opinion,” he says. “I know I’m successful part of the time, because if I meet the students’ parents, they’ve told them about the class.”

His modesty is in character, but Parkhurst should not be surprised by compliments. His distinguished career is packed with honors and awards, including the N.C. State University Academy of Outstanding Teachers, the Poultry Science Association’s Ralston Purina Teaching Award, NACTA Teacher Fellow Award, the UNC Board of Governors Teaching Award, N.C. State Alumni Undergraduate Distinguished Professorship and the N.C. Poultry Industry Distinguished Service Award.

He was the CALS Alumni and Friends Society’s 2004 Outstanding Faculty/Staff Award winner. And three years ago, an endowment named in his honor was created in the College to support teaching programs in the Poultry Science Department.

The Carmen R. Parkhurst Poultry Science Teaching Program Endowment is “a teaching endowment,” Parkhurst explains with emphasis. “It’s needed because the money for the things to make classes special is shrinking. This will enhance teaching by supporting field trips, invited speakers, special supplies, operating expenses and student recruiting efforts.” (To contribute, 919-515-2000.)

His former students and associates created the endowment, with some contributions made by the honoree himself. Additionally, in early June, Parkhurst made a donation to the endowment that will allow creation of a scholarship.

That same week, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the FFA state convention, held at N.C. State.

Reflecting on his still-continuing lifetime of achievement, Parkhurst says the course he has most enjoyed teaching is the introductory poultry science course, poultry science and production, a four-hour course with a lab. “This is my favorite because it makes me feel good to be able to get students involved in the course. And I always teach my own labs,” he adds.

It’s a whole-package approach that gibes with his philosophy that “students pay their tuition; they ought to get what they pay for. I want to have contact in the lab with the students that I lecture. I want continuity between the lecture and the hands-on lab experience, eliminating the possibility of variation,” he says.

He has also enjoyed teaching courses in the College’s Agricultural Institute.

Parkhurst remains determined that his students can find him when they need him. “I think my students would say I’m accessible, and I’ve always got time for them,” he says.

Staying accessible is one reason he has devoted so much time to working with student groups. Parkhurst served as adviser to the Poultry Science Club for 33 years. He also has advised Alpha Zeta fraternity, FarmHouse fraternity and Ceres, the women’s agricultural fraternity. And he has served as adviser to the Agri-Life Council, an organization of 24 student groups within the College.

Carm Parkhurst, an FFA and 4-H member as a youngster in Ohio, received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the FFA state convention in June. The Department of Poultry Science will host a retirement celebration and endowment fund-raising event in his honor Nov. 18.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
“There are a lot of opportunities for education outside the classroom, and I think clubs and organizations are a great way to do that,” he says. “It’s a chance for people to develop people skills in a non-classroom setting — part learning, part social. I like to see people develop skills and learn parliamentary procedure and other things that will be assets to them.”

Through the Poultry Science Club, he says, N.C. State has had teams judging poultry and poultry products. His group competed in the nationals at the University of Arkansas last fall and at a U.S. Poultry and Egg-sponsored competition in Louisiana this past spring. Over the years, they have won nine contests, “and they’re always competitive,” he says.

“I take students from my classes for the team, spend weekend time getting ready,” Parkhurst says. “It’s not teaching poultry judging as such. It’s teaching people to use good judgment under pressure, and it develops a lot of esprit d’corps. It’s a recruiting tool as well — you don’t have to be a poultry science major to participate. I guess I’m always subconsciously recruiting.”

Student club work is “where you really get to know people,” Parkhurst says. “Part of our university’s mission is public service, and that’s mine. Maybe that’s my payback: People did it for me when I was in 4-H and FFA.”

That was during his youth in northern Ohio, on a farm where his family raised some poultry, but mainly grain and truck crops, such as sweet corn and Irish potatoes. “I spent all of my spare time with 4-H and FFA in high school, and I probably had a couple of heroes in the community — my ag teacher and 4-H advisers,” he says.

Among his heroes are his parents, who “did something that has really helped me,” he says. “They encouraged me to work hard and gave me confidence and the realization that you can accomplish things if you stick with it.”

Is that the message he gives now to his students? Parkhurst answers, “Oh, I think it is.”

He went into the Air Force after high school and was stationed in Washington, D.C., at a base near the University of Maryland. “I took classes there at night, he recalls, “and I finished two years of college during four years in the service.”

Parkhurst was an instructor in military survival, and that, he says, “gave me the confidence that I had the ability to teach.”

His original goal was to be a vocational agriculture teacher, when Parkhurst entered Ohio State on the GI Bill. “But I still had to work, so I found a job at the poultry farm at OSU,” he says. “I was offered an assistantship in the poultry department there, so I switched from ag education to poultry and started teaching courses. My good fortune was that Dr. Robert Cook was the department head at OSU.”

Cook later came to N.C. State to be the Poultry Science Department head, and he asked Parkhurst to come south to teach. Upon completion of his Ph.D. at OSU, Parkhurst relocated to N.C. State in December of 1970.

Thus began a career that, even guided by a teaching passion, has included more than 60 peer-reviewed articles and more than 100 research abstracts.

Research is one of the things he’s excited about as he looks forward to the future of his department. “We have been very fortunate to recruit a very good core of people in the biotechnology area, some super young faculty,” Parkhurst says. “Research in this area will allow us to enhance the immunity of birds and better understand and enhance growth and reproduction. There are also lots of opportunities to produce nutriceuticals in eggs.”

Assessing the key developments involving the Poultry Science Department during his career, Parkhurst says, “There are two things that stand out. First is the establishment of the Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center.”

The Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center and Waste Processing Facility at N.C. State was established in 1996. Its mission has been to provide solutions for animal agriculture operations in managing animal by-products in ways that are environmentally sound, socially acceptable and economically feasible.

“The establishment of the animal and poultry waste center was critical,” Parkhurst says. “The university knew it needed to work in that direction, and it was accomplished through the insight of a number of people across departments.”

Second, he says, “is the feed mill initiative.” He is referring to the Feed Mill Educational Unit on Lake Wheeler Road, where, in an academic feed milling program, students can learn about animal feed formulation and manufacturing; mill design, operation safety and maintenance; feed quality assurance programs and mill regulatory programs. Parkhurst himself was the author of the feed milling minor. “Ours is the only program in the country with this thrust,” says Parkhurst. And with the number of new feed mills in North Carolina, he adds, this program will answer a rising commodity need.

“In poultry science, we’re always ahead of the curve,” Parkhurst says, with a note of pride. “We were among the first commodities to vertically integrate. This is what makes poultry products reasonable in the grocery store. It’s the way much of agricultural production is going to be done in the future.”

As for what he is most proud of as he looks back on his career, Parkhurst says it’s “having students be successful.” He also is proud that he’s helped get scholarship money for students. “I feel good about that,” he says. “Also, I don’t think there’s a county in the state that I don’t know a bunch of folks in.”

Parkhurst has become an Angus cattle breeder, in addition to raising horses and swans as a hobby on his Franklin County farm. "I would like to try some of the things that work in poultry with cattle," he says.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
He’s met farm families from all over the state through former students and through his activities as one of the directors of the North Carolina State Fair. He oversees the fair’s poultry shows and helps organize the market turkey show, primarily involving youths from 4-H and FFA.

The turkey industry donates poults, which are given to youngsters through county Extension offices. The youths raise the poults and bring one back to the fair for competition. “I started the poultry youth shows at the fair to try to recruit students for our program,” Parkhurst says. “We had 140 kids last year show up in the fair with turkeys. Already some of those are N.C. State students in poultry science.”

He also mentions his participation with the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, a nonprofit organization. Parkhurst is one of AAALAC’s 32 council members who peer-review animal research facilities and accredit them for appropriate attention to the care of animals (according to the NIH Guide and the Agricultural Guide) and to the occupational health of workers in the facilities. Parkhurst makes from six to eight site visits a year across the country. “It’s a proactive way of ensuring and letting the public know that researchers, both public and private, and people in academia aren’t just haphazardly doing animal research,” he says. “If we do research, people need to see it’s done properly, that what we do is scrutinized. We do it for science and for the animals.”

Come fall, Parkhurst’s course load may be lighter, but his commute will be a bit longer, with his recent move from Apex to his new farm on 178 acres in Franklin County. His new address is in the town of Castalia; that’s the same name as his boyhood hometown in Ohio. The previous owner of the farm is a man named Scot Hall; Scott Hall is the name of the building that houses the Department of Poultry Science.

Whatever divinity shaped his arrival, Parkhurst is thrilled to be on the new farm, where he will raise swans and Angus cattle. “Everyone should keep a dream in their heart of what they would do if they could do anything they wanted. Mine has come true,” he says of his new home. “I have a nice farm that I hope can be an asset to my community and where I can be a good steward of the land.”

When he does eventually retire to that farm, he’s content with his legacy to the College. “One of the things that has made me feel good is that I’ve written a couple of textbooks. We have so many knowledgeable people on campus who retire, and that knowledge goes with them and is not always retrievable,” he says.

“With these books, I can continue to share.”

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