My Student Experience: ‘I Wanted to be Someone That Kids Could Depend on and Know They Had an Adult in Their Life Who Believed in Them,’ Says Rachel Bland ’20
This is part of a monthly “My Student Experience” series in which the NC State College of Education highlights the student experience through profiles, stories and videos.
From owning a business to traveling the world, leading a student organization to serving her local community, Rachel Bland ‘20 has found ways to stay busy during her time at NC State. Not to mention field placements and student teaching in Johnston County.
This month, Bland will earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and then plans to teach in a rural area of North Carolina. Being from a rural county herself, Bland believes that she can make a difference in so many communities and bring change to rural education.
“I am incredibly passionate about food insecurity and access to affordable, nutritious foods. Part of why I am so passionate about rural education is realizing some of the additional factors imposed upon families living in these rural areas and what that means for students,” she said.
A native of Harrells, N.C., Bland developed a love for agriculture at a very young age. Some of her earliest memories are riding along in the buddy seat of a John Deere with her dad on the family’s farm. The land has been in the family for more than 250 years.
At 14, Bland took out a loan and began leasing part of her family’s farm to start her own business — Rachel’s Vineyard. She has just under an acre of grapes that she harvests to sell at fresh markets and produces various muscadine grape products.
“My freshman and sophomore year, I hired someone to pick grapes in the morning. I left immediately from my Friday classes, sorted, packaged, labeled and delivered grapes throughout the weekend, and returned to campus to begin classes again on Monday,” she said. “This experience has largely shaped my character in terms of persistence and hard work.”
Bland would spend her summers traveling the world, which meant hiring someone to take care of her vineyard. But she wouldn’t trade those trips for anything. Bland observed in school systems in London, Zambia and Australia.
“These experiences have enabled me to form lifelong friendships and connections across the globe. I am a more culturally literate educator because of these trips,” Bland said. “I wouldn’t be the person or teacher I am today without the courage, leadership and communication skills I have developed throughout my journeys abroad.”
Aside from running a business and traveling, Bland served this past year as president of the Education Council. In that role she planned and facilitated the general body meetings and executive boards meetings. She also researched community service ideas and communicated with partners.
“This organization has given me the opportunity to be surrounded by some of the state’s most engaging and driven teachers,” Bland said. “I have seen their drive for their students and the profession and know they will make a difference.”
Bland was also a Goodnight Scholar, where she served as a mentor for first-year students within the college and served as a STEM coach, leading STEM activities with students throughout the county and state in schools and afterschool programs.
She also spent her spring and fall breaks traveling to serve students in underserved populations and socioeconomically disadvantaged school systems, as well as advocating for STEM education and working with students influenced by the foster care system.
“This program has given me opportunities that have expanded my view, filled my passport and extended my circle of connections,” she said. “It has challenged me, given me leadership opportunities and friendships that will last a lifetime.”
Throughout her time in the NC State College of Education, Bland has gained the confidence and support to be the best educator. The College of Education, she says, has pushed her to both think critically about pedagogy and actually apply her learning in the field. And the challenges she faced have transformed her into a better leader and educator.
“I am passionate about agriculture, rural education and advocating that all students have equitable access to education despite their zip code, parents’ financial status and other factors which should not influence the access and right they have to an education but oftentimes do.
“I have such strong passions for financial literacy, agriculture, education and the foster system that I know my career goals will have a unique twist on them somehow,” she said. “I know that at the end of the day, I want to rest assured that I was the best version of myself that I could be and be prepared to tackle the next day’s challenges. I want to be happy.”
Photography Credit: Carmen Bollman