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May 28, 2024 10:17 pm

Student explains why she chose UMO to continue her education

Morgan Simpson, the valedictorian of the South Johnston High School Class of 2023, has chosen the University of Mount Olive to continue her education.

MOUNT OLIVE — Morgan Simpson could have gone to any college of her choice. After all, the 2023 South Johnston High School valedictorian was top of her class of 327 students.

With a strong background in FFA and agriculture, Simpson aspires to become both an agriculture educator and an FFA advisor, so her final college choice ultimately came down to the University of Mount Olive and North Carolina State.

Like many college students, many factors went into Simpson’s decision-making process. She had to consider location, scholarship opportunities, student-to-faculty ratio, and the overall feeling that she got as she walked across each campus and interacted with the students and administration. 

UMO Director of Public Relations Rhonda Jessup recently interviewed Simpson to understand better her and her college selection process.

Q: What opportunities in your life have influenced you and led you to where you are today?

A: Looking back, I can see the fingerprints of God. If you had asked me what I wanted to do with my life six years ago, I would have no idea what my answer would have been. Then I entered and won my first FFA competition at age 13. That competition launched me into my agricultural endeavors.

Near the start of the ninth grade, I began seriously considering becoming an agricultural educator. I threw myself into all things ag-related. Whether doing parliamentary procedure, judging a class of dairy cattle or horses, measuring the saw timber of a tree, giving a speech or tying a bow for floriculture, I kept falling in love with agriculture and all that it offers to our society and students. The crazy part about it is that I love it all. Although I have experienced things in the animal science industry, horticultural industry, natural resources industry and food science industry, I simply cannot pick a favorite. Therefore, the idea of becoming an agricultural educator just excites me, as I get to study and remain active in each of these industries within my career.

Q: Can you share with me about your agriculture background?

A: I live with my parents, Phillip and Heather Simpson, on my great-grandparents’ farmland in Newton Grove. We have horses on this land. During the summer, I grow watermelons, squash, zucchini and tomatoes. This past year, I also tilled up a part of our farm and prepared a quail plot for wildlife in our area.

Outside of my home life, last summer I gained a great deal of experience interning at UMO’s Kornegay Student Farm. Through the internship, I participated in many agricultural experiences that I did not have the opportunity to explore at home. These experiences included setting out sweet potatoes, picking and shelling peas, tending an organic plot, caring for the farm’s sheep, goats, cows and chickens, and assisting with the produce stand. It also gave me the opportunity to witness and participate in growing crops and products that I had never grown before, such as peanuts, soybeans, okra and sweet potatoes.

Q: I understand that you received the Goodnight Scholarship to attend NCSU, but declined that scholarship in order to attend UMO. What went into your decision making process and what things about UMO helped you make your final decision?

A: When I received the Goodnight Scholarship, I was beyond excited, but something just did not feel right. I had a hard decision and I prayed hard over it. In addition to the prayers, I also made a mental pro/con list between the two schools. At the end of my decision-making process, I concluded that I would likely receive more individual help and support from the University of Mount Olive. Through attending different FFA events, different camps hosted by UMO, and other outreach activities, many professors and UMO staff already knew me by name.

It seems that the university is at every FFA event and is constantly connecting with local agricultural students like me. Additionally, the UMO counselors and academic advisors seem to be more easily reached and more helpful than the confusing phone-tree networks of NCSU. When I went through the Goodnight and N.C. State application process, I felt more like a number than a name. Furthermore, UMO accepted all of my college transfer credits. Whereas, NCSU would only accept certain credits.

Q: Did you receive any scholarships to attend UMO?

A: At UMO, I received the Brittany Woodard Scholarship, the Trojan Presidential Scholarship, the Trojan Grant Scholarship and the UMO Grant Scholarship. I also obtained North Carolina Farm Bureau’s Robert Flake Shaw Scholarship and the Johnston County Farm Bureau Scholarship. I also received National FFA scholarships from Tractor Supply and the Bayer Corporation. In addition to these, I received a Career in Conservation Scholarship from the North Carolina Soil & Water Conservation, the North Carolina Agricultural Teachers Association Rising Freshman Scholarship and the Ag. Carolina Farm Credit FFA Scholarship, South Johnston FFA Alumni Scholarship, the Superior Lawns & Landscaping Scholarship, the Dr. Walter B. Parrish Scholarship from Wake Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry and the Friendly Holiness PFWB Church Scholarship.

These scholarships have greatly affected my ability to attend college. What I have found is that no matter where you decide to go to college, college is expensive. It has always been a dream of mine to receive a higher education, especially to obtain a master’s degree. Due to the blessings of these scholarships, I can make my dream a reality.

Q: In your opinion, what makes the UMO School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences unique/special?

A: The UMO School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences is so unique and special due to its size and opportunities. I like how the university is big enough to serve its students, yet small enough to know you by name and help you individually. When I run into a UMO professor or staff member in public or at a FFA activity, I am always welcomed with a warm smile and a “Hello Morgan, how are you?” To me, that is what makes the UMO Agricultural Department so special. Everyone that I meet here just seems so down-to-earth and it is evident that the staff here want to see their students succeed.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at UMO?

A: I am looking forward to the new opportunities that UMO offers its students including collegiate FFA, Young Farmers and Ranchers, and the student agricultural farm that the University of Mount Olive possesses. I have been a FFA member for six years, and I have seen a lot from the high school student side of things. I am looking forward to the opportunities from UMO for me to see the agricultural teacher/FFA advisor side of the organization and agricultural classroom. As a North Carolina FFA member, it is easy to notice that the University of Mount Olive is supportive of young agricultural students. UMO agriculture students are at practically every state FFA event volunteering, acting as judges, or working an informational booth. I am excited to have the opportunity to remain active in extracurricular events through UMO’s agriculture programs.

Q: Did the fact that UMO is a Christian school play a role in your decision making process? How so?

A: The fact that UMO is a Christian school had a large role in my decision-making process regarding college. Too many schools, universities and organizations like to push political and social agendas on young individuals these days. However, my family and I have found the University of Mount Olive to be much different. When we attended Open House, the fact that we began our day with prayer spoke volumes about the university. I am so thankful that the university puts God first in their activities, just as I was raised to do.

Q: What are the things you enjoy most in life and why?

A: I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I love to camp, travel, kayak and spend time in the outdoors. I also really enjoy spending time with my animals. If my parents get to missing me in the house, chances are I am off in the barn spending time with my horses, cats or my dog.

Q: How would the people closest to you likely describe you?

A: My family would probably describe me as an “old soul,” someone that appreciates old music, old cars and “old-timey” values of a strong work ethic, loyalty, respect and perseverance. My friends would probably describe me as the “organizer” of our friend group. They would describe me as someone who schedules things (outings, lunches, etc.), makes sure everything is together, makes sure everyone is invited and is on the same page. The people closest to me would also describe me as a dedicated individual, someone that throws her entire heart into whatever she does.

I think my teachers would describe me as a “go-getter.” Once I make my mind up to do something, I run at it with full force. I think my teachers would describe me as a thorough, organized, studious and goal-oriented individual. I think they would also describe me as an encourager. I do my best to see the good and recognize the potential in people and encourage them to do their best.

Q: What motivates you?

A: The people who support me are my main motivators in my life. I truly would not be where I am today without God, my family, my FFA advisors and my friends. God has blessed me with wonderful people in this world. My family never ceases to motivate me no matter what task I choose to take on. My parents and advisors, they do everything in the world to prepare me for success, and I do everything in my power to make them proud.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share?

A: I would just like to express my thankfulness and gratitude for all the kindness and hospitality that the University of Mount Olive’s faculty and staff have shown to my family and myself. I am forever grateful to be able to call Mount Olive home this coming fall.

— From University of Mount Olive Public Relations