MOUNT OLIVE, N.C. — It was an exciting year for Katie Gates, of Winston Salem, NC. In fact, 2020 was supposed to be “HER YEAR.” She was finally going to graduate from high school and head off to college. Then, COVID-19 came and turned her world upside down.
“We got the news that high school would be out for two weeks,” she recalled, “Those two weeks turned into a month and then a month turned into the rest of the school year.”
For Gates, and most high school students throughout the country, everything was shutdown. No FFA banquet, no final walkthrough, no yearbook signing, no senior sunset, no elementary walkthroughs, and no graduation. “In the blink of an eye, everything we had worked so hard for during our 13 years of school and wanted to celebrate was ripped away from us,” she recalled. “Suddenly everything we wanted to say goodbye to, just left.”
Graduation came with no fanfare and college entrance loomed. “It was very a intimidating time for me,” Gates revealed. “I was enrolled at the University of Mount Olive, but I knew no one and I had to move in and settle my things all by myself. My parents stood outside of my window all day, since they were not allowed inside due to COVID restrictions.”
With strict social distancing and mask mandates in place all across American colleges and universities, Gates, like many, found it hard to meet people and make connections. After one semester, she was ready to call it quits. However, Samantha Crouch, a fellow UMO student convinced Gates to stay. “She told me that college was a time for character development,” Gates recalled. “I heeded her advice and stayed. During my second year at UMO COVID restrictions were lightened. I met so many new people and got to attend many events that had been previously canceled.”
After a rocky collegiate start, Gates immersed herself in all things ag-related. The agriculture education major became involved in CFFA, attended regional rallies, and Career Development Events (CDE). She began working in the UMO Admissions Department and at the UMO Kornegay Student Farm, where she assisted will all sorts of farm duties and responsibilities.
“Working at Kornegay Student Farm has been so much fun,” she gleamed. “On a typical day, Katie and the other student workers feed and care for the donkeys, goats, sheep, cows, and chickens. They water plants in the greenhouse, pick whatever fruits or vegetables are in season, and then assist with a variety of farm chores. The chores include moving fencing, staking up tomatoes, pulling weeds, landscaping, setting plants, getting produce ready to sell at the farmers market, hosting farm tours and events, and so much more.
“I love working at the farm,” Gates stated. “It is helping prepare me for my future career as an agriculture teacher by exposing me to many hands-on experiences that I will, in-turn, be able to share with my future students. I have met many new friends, made lots of connections with the people around me, and become involved in things that have always interested me,” Gates beamed. “UMO has given me so many opportunities. I am so glad that Samantha convinced me to stay!”
“Katie is a real rock-star,” said Dan Pipkin, Kornegay Student Farm Manger. “She is always ready and willing to assist in any project, big or small. She does everything with a smile and a positive attitude. I know she will go far in life and that her future students will be the benefactors of her experiences and her love of agriculture.”
This fall Gates will start her junior year at UMO. She is on track to graduate in the spring of 2024. Her plans include becoming a high school horticulture teacher. Gates is the daughter of Tom and Carrie Gates.
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University is sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists. For more information, visit www.umo.edu.
—Rhonda Jessup, University of Mount Olive