March is celebrated as National Women’s Month, a time to recognize the many accomplishments of women. There’s a common misconception that agriculture is a male-driven field. In North Carolina, there’s many trail-blazing women that are not only making their impact felt at the farm level, but also on National Agricultural Boards, leading as ag researchers and professors at our universities and companies and as owners of slaughterhouses, processing plants and other ag-related business.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also benefits from the knowledge and leadership of nine female division directors. These women have a cumulative 170 years of experience in agriculture and supervise a combined total of 565 employees. Their divisions include Agricultural Statistics, Agronomic Services, Budget and Finance, Food and Drug Protection, Human Resources, Legal Affairs, Meat and Poultry Inspection, Public Affairs and Research Stations. Below, our female leaders tell us about their jobs, role models and advice for the women that may come behind them.
Dee Webb, North Carolina State Statistician, Agricultural Statistics Division
Webb has been with working with the division for more than 24 years. Growing up on a farm, Webb always knew she wanted to work in an agricultural-related field. As state statistician, her job is to oversee at staff of 15 enumerators and other support services that collect statistical data from both personal on-farm and telephone surveys. This information is published at the state and county level for use by farmers, economists, the general public and other government agencies.
Webb is often asked where her work ethic comes from and she is always quick to credit her role model, her dad. “I always stop to think if my dad would approve or be proud of what I have done,” Webb said. “That keeps me in a pretty straight line. It never mattered to dad whether male or female, just your integrity.”
“There are so many lessons I have learned at work, but the most important lesson is, you should always put in an honest day’s work no matter what position you hold. Someone is always watching and learning and that will help you be successful in your job, advance in your work and lead when given the opportunity. It goes back to integrity.”
Dr. Colleen Hudak-Wise, director, Agronomic Services Division
Dr. Hudak-Wise has worked for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for 26 years. Her first job with the department was as a pesticide specialist in the Food and Drug Protection Division. Her mentor is Dr. Richard Reich, who was Agronomic Services Division Director before Dr. Hudak-Wise. “I admire Dr. Reich’s agricultural knowledge and his kind, empathetic nature,” she said.
The Agronomic Services Divisions provides North Carolina residents with diagnostic and advisory services that help increase agricultural productivity. Laboratory services include soil testing, plant tissue analysis and nematode assays.
Dr. Hudak-Wise supervises a staff of 58, which includes lab employees and regional agronomists. Her favorite part of her job is helping farmers daily by providing them with trusted laboratory services and unbiased recommendations.
Her advice for young women just starting their careers is stay flexible and open to new opportunities. “I spent five years teaching high school biology before deciding I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture,” she said. “Just because you start down one career path doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind along the way.”
Catherine Stogner, CFO and director, Budget and Finance Division
Some divisions are outward facing and serve the public, others, like the Budget and Finance Division, work with each of the other divisions of the department on a regular basis to ensure budgetary compliance. The 32 employees that work under the leadership of Chief Financial Officer Catherine Stogner manages large and small purchases for all divisions of the Department, manages 300 grants, processes payroll for more than 2,000 permanent employees and 500 temporary employees, and payment processing for division’s like the N.C. State Fair and Farmers Markets and other fee-collecting divisions such as Structural Pest Control and Pesticides, Agronomic Services, Veterinary and Marketing.
Catherine and her staff touch every aspect of agriculture every single day and are the face of agriculture for many other state agencies, such as the Office of State Budget Management.
Stogner has been with the Department for 13 years. Her first job was with the Department of Corrections in Human Resources. It was her dad that gave her a strong work ethic. “My father is a role model for me,” she said. “He is the one that taught me a strong work ethic will serve you well.”
Stogner’s favorite part of the job is seeing others learn and succeed. “A past supervisor gave me a framed saying “There is a big difference between counting numbers and recognizing value.” This applies daily to the financial field.”
Anita MacMullan, director, Food and Drug Protection Division
Working with the Department for more than 25 years, Anita MacMullan has been a Food Regulatory Specialist 1, Compliance Officer, Compliance Supervisor, Food Administrator, Produce Program Manager and currently Division Director for the 147 employees that work for the Food and Drug Protection Division.
This division enforces state and federal laws designed to ensure food, feed and drug products sold in North Carolina are safe. This includes making sure the products are properly and truthfully labeled, free from contaminants and stored in a manner that ensures safety and efficacy. The division regulates facilities that manufacture, store and distribute food, dairy, eggs, commercial animal feed, medical gas and drugs. The Food and Drug Protection lab provides analytical support services for programs of the division as well as other NCDA&CS divisions, and works with several federal partners including USDA, EPA and the FDA.
“The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that what we do at Food and Drug makes a difference in people’s lives,” MacMullan said. “We make sure people have a safe food, feed and drug supply and when we find unsafe products, we take action to mitigate public health impacts.”
MacMullan’s role model is her dad, Eugene MacMullan. “He instilled a strong work ethic in all his children,” she said. “He had limitless curiosity and even after retirement continued to grow and learn new things.” Assistant Commissioner for Consumer Protection Joe Reardon is MacMullan’s current mentor. “From him I have learned to handle complex issues using logical and systematic critical thinking. No matter how tough things get, he always provides guidance and leadership, and always has your back.”
Her advice to young women just starting their careers is to “take advantage of any and every opportunity to learn, dedicate yourself to learning new things and never stop expanding your skills.”
Sylvia Crumpler, director, Human Resources Division
As Director of the Human Resources Division, Sylvia Crumpler has supervised a team of 19 employees responsible for hiring all employees that work in the many divisions within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This includes position management, training, salary and benefits administration, safety and employee relations. This division works closely with all divisions and the Office of State Personnel.
With 26 years of human resources experience, Crumpler has had many mentors and role models that have helped guide her along her way. Within the department, Chief Deputy Commissioner David Smith has served as her mentor. “He has provided me with an in-depth knowledge of the department and how to navigate issues,” Crumpler said. “He cares about my successes and provides support for Human Resources.”
Crumpler enjoys consulting with employees and supervisors and helping them navigate issues and solve problems. “It is very fulfilling when you feel that you have been able to help someone and make a difference for the organization.”
Her advice for young women just starting their careers is to “find your passion and success and happiness will follow.”
Tina Hlabse, general counsel and director, Legal Affairs
A passion for the people and services of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is what drives Tina Hlabse in her job as general counsel and director of Legal Affairs. “The people in this department are some of the most dedicated, brilliant people I have ever met,” Hlabse said. “Their dedication to agriculture and the citizens of North Carolina is inspiring and prompts me to give my best every day.”
Hlabse supervises a staff of four and says her employees are like family. She represented the Department while working at the Attorney General’s office and has worked eight years as the department’s general counsel. “I never would have pictured myself working for the Department of Agriculture when I graduated from college or law school,” she added. “However, I couldn’t be happier. Be willing to take chances and go outside your comfort zone. If you can find a job where you learn new things every day and can help people, consider yourself blessed.”
Hlabse names her mom as her superhero. “She has always been my role model and mentor. She is a hair dresser and has been working for 50 years and grew up on a farm. She has always taught me to work hard, do what I love and help others.”
Dr. Karen Beck, director, Meat and Poultry Inspection Division
Any establishment producing meat and/or poultry items in North Carolina required to bear a mark of inspection must, by law, receive state or federal inspection every day they operate. Dr. Beck and her staff of 118 inspectors, supervisors, veterinarians and support personnel ensures this happens for state-inspected products. “Every day, rain or shine, pandemic or not, our staff members are at work across the state to ensure regulatory requirements are met for the production of safe wholesome and unadulterated products,” she said. “I could not be prouder of the work they have done and continue to do each day.”
Dr. Beck has worked for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for 14 years, beginning her career as a Surveillance Veterinarian in the Emergency Programs Division. She was named director of the Meat and Poultry Inspection Division in early 2020. The division inspects meat and poultry processing facilities, slaughter facilities and licenses and inspects meat handlers and poultry-exempt operators across the state.
Dr. Beck names Evelyn Foust, head of the N.C. Division of Public Health’s Communicable Disease Branch as one of her role models. “Evelyn and I have worked together since I started with NCDA&CS,” Beck said. “She is a strong leader who listens to understand, creates space for others to lead and knows how to build lasting partnerships. Through the years, I have seen her lead her team with professionalism, grace and a touch of humor.”
Andrea Ashby, director, Public Affairs Division
The Public Affairs division is the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services central communication arm. Through news releases, interviews, social media, web pages and other outreach materials, the staff of six aims to help the public understand department programs and services. The division also serves as the press office for the annual N.C. State Fair and publishes the Agricultural Review, a monthly newspaper.
Andrea Ashby has served as Public Affairs Director since 2017 and has worked for the division for 25 years. Her favorite part of the job is working behind the scenes on an idea and seeing it come full circle and being a success. A recent example of this is the Farm Feature Friday series, which highlighted one farmer a week on the department’s social media platforms. “This weekly feature has been one of the more popular ones in terms of viewer reach,” Ashby said. “Hopefully we are accomplishing our goal of personalizing agriculture for non-farming folks and showing that we are all alike more than we are different.”
Ashby credits her parents for laying a foundation to succeed. “My father showed my sister and me through his example what it means to work hard every day, to not give up when times are hard and that things have a way of working out,” she said. “He also encouraged me to pursue a career where I could do something I enjoyed, which in my case was writing. My mom raised us to be independent and with the idea that we could do anything we put our minds to. She also fostered my love of words, writing and ideas.”
She also named her old newspaper publisher Steve Woody as a mentor. “He motivated people through a sense of engagement, camaraderie, empathy, teamwork and friendship, resorting only to his title as boss when absolutely necessary. I hope to be that kind of leader to our team.”
Teresa Lambert, director, Research Stations Division
If anyone was destined to grow up to be director of Research Stations it may have been Teresa Lambert. She now supervises 164 employees at 18 different research stations located across the state. Her dad, who was a tobacco supervisor at Upper Mountain Research Station, encouraged her to work on the research station and pursue a degree at N.C. State University. Her first job with the department was as a temporary summer employee at Upper Mountain Research Station and then livestock supervisor at the same station.
Joe Hampton, former superintendent at Upper Mountain Research Station and Piedmont Research Station is her mentor, “He is a walking encyclopedia,” Lambert said. “He was that manager that let you make and learn from mistakes. He was a coach and a cheerleader but never a micromanager.”
Lambert loves talking about agriculture to anyone that will listen and loves that her job allows her to interact with some of the finest people she knows, and that work that’s done on the research station’s farms will benefit society for generations to come.
Her advice for women starting their careers is to work hard, have thick skin and be graceful.
She loves her job because of the integral role the research stations play in advancing agriculture. “When my grandmother was born in 1933, her family farmed with mules and almanacs,” Lambert said. “When she died over 100 years later, we farmed with GPS satellite guidance and autosteer tractors. Corn yields where 27 bushel per acre when she was born, they were north of 400 bushels when she died. We made these huge and rapid advancements in agricultural production by research and innovation.”