Written by Kasey Harris
Ben O’Hallaron, a senior in plant biology minoring in applied ecology recently discussed his journey, and how his non-traditional path led him to NC State and to academic success.
O’Hallaron transferred to NC State in fall of 2016 after having earned his associate’s degree in horticulture. “Coming in as a transfer student, my whole experience was kind of compressed,” explained O’Hallaron, “but that can make it fun because you get to create your own path.” Throughout his time at NC State, he has looked for ways to make the most of his experience, including getting involved in study abroad, undergraduate research, and other opportunities to pursue his academic interests. O’Hallaron further noted, “my interests are in science, research, and understanding the world, and I’ve been able to find resources and opportunities that have helped me further that.”
O’Hallaron notes his journey has not always been straightforward. “Students are encouraged to begin getting involved in research as a freshman, which isn’t really an option as a transfer student, so you have to be purposeful about pursuing opportunities and resources to help if you want those experiences,” he explained. O’Hallaron also stressed the importance of making connections with faculty and staff members across campus. “You have to put yourself out there and try to meet as many people as possible,” he noted. O’Hallaron further explained, “a lot of the opportunities I’ve been able to be involved with have come from making connections with faculty who would forward me an email about a research opportunity or a scholarship they thought I might be interested in.”
O’Hallaron has made his place in the Wolfpack community by getting involved in undergraduate research, including presenting at the NC State Undergraduate Research Symposium and at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). In the summer of 2017, O’Hallaron studied and conducted fieldwork at Zhejiang University as part of an NC State botanical study abroad program. He noted his study abroad experience and his involvement in undergraduate research have been highlights of his academic career. “Participating in NCUR was interesting because there were students presenting from a wide range of disciplines” noting he enjoyed seeing different approaches to problem-solving. “It’s always good to be well rounded,” he explained.
“Something that really drew me to NC State was the opportunities and resources large institutions have to offer students,” O’Hallaron
noted. “The university is huge, but the botany department is pretty small and close-knit, so I get the best of both worlds in a sense.” O’Hallaron was also named as the 2018 – 2019 recipient of the Larry A. Whitford Award, from the Plant Biology department. The award is given annually to a continuing plant biology major who has a record of outstanding scholarship in the major and is actively engaged in research within the discipline.
O’Hallaron was also named as an honorable mention for the Goldwater Scholarship in spring of 2018. It was a connection O’Hallaron made with a faculty member in the Plant Biology department, who strongly encouraged him to apply for the award, which sparked his interest. The scholarship is awarded to students in either their junior or senior years, who plan to pursue research careers related to engineering, mathematics, or natural science. O’Hallaron noted earning the honorable mention accolade is particularly humbling in that “members of the Goldwater Scholarship Foundation and selection committee look beyond the research being presented to identify students most likely to be future leaders in scientific research.”
Some advice O’Hallaron has for his fellow transfer students is get involved as soon as you can and to get to know what campus has to offer. As a transfer student, he has become well versed in making the most of the time and opportunities presented to him. “We have a lot of great people like the Student Ombuds, the Fellowship Advising Office, financial aid counselors, and so many more great resources,” explained O’Hallaron. “There are opportunities out there for people who go out and get them,” he concluded.
This summer, O’Hallaron interned at the Missouri Botanical Garden where he hopes to further his interests in ecology, evolution, and conservation. After graduation, he intends to pursue a master’s degree in ecology and later earn a Ph.D.