Dal AC valedictorian has come a long way in a short time

Holly Fisher of Masstown, N.S., was voted the 2017 valedictorian by her classmates at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture in Truro. (Johanna Matthews photo)

Holly Fisher of Masstown, N.S., was voted the 2017 valedictorian by her classmates at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture in Truro. (Johanna Matthews photo)

by Emma Geldart
If you had asked Holly Fisher four years ago to stand in front of hundreds of people and speak on behalf of her graduating class, she probably would have said no. But that’s exactly what she did at the Faculty of Agriculture graduation ceremony on May 12 as her class valedictorian.
Nervous? Not at all. Instead, she is overcome with a sense of pride and accomplishment for overcoming the obstacles that stood in her way.
Fisher’s dream to study animal science at the Agricultural Campus was overshadowed by one major detail — at 25 years old, Fisher didn’t have a high school diploma.
Fisher, from Masstown, N.S., enrolled in the Nova Scotia Community College’s adult learning program and earned her high school diploma. She then set her sights on the Faculty of Agriculture. After upgrading courses over the summer, she began her bachelor of science in agriculture program.
Four years later, she was voted valedictorian by her classmates and addressed the Class of 2017 during its convocation ceremony. In the past, Fisher explained that her speech impediment — oral dyslexia — kept her from public speaking. She said she wouldn’t have perfected her public speaking skills if it wasn’t for her involvement with Cultiv8.

Fisher has been involved with Cultiv8 for two years. Cultiv8, a collaborative program that is offered to both Dalhousie and Acadia students, offers students access to business mentors and entrepreneurial resources. Through Cultiv8, students are given the opportunity to learn entrepreneurship through programs, mentoring, and interactive programming.
“Truthfully, I had never considered myself an entrepreneur and I really had no idea what it was,” said Fisher. “However, after meeting Jolene MacEachern, Cultiv8’s co-ordinator, in the library one day, I was inspired to come to a Cultiv8 meeting, which actually changed my life enormously and made my university career what it is today.”
Through Cultiv8, Fisher has competed in a number of pitching competitions and business development workshops allowing her to work on her business idea using the business model canvas while earning credits toward her degree. It was through Cultiv8 that Fisher developed the idea for her business, 3Meals. Through 3Meals, Fisher plans to produce a protein supplement from mealworms, which are high in protein, full of nutrients, and environmentally friendly.
“I have always had an interest in entomophagy (the human use of insects as food) and believe it will play a crucial role in agriculture in the future,” Fisher explained. “The need for a reliable and cost-efficient protein source is becoming important as the population grows and insects may prove to be the answer for this problem.”

Fisher has also taken part in pitching competitions through Cultiv8 such as Start It Up at Acadia University as well as Sprint Ag and Pitch Ag at Dal AC. She even had the opportunity to compete in the Canadian Business Model Competition which then led her to compete in the International Business Model Competition in Seattle, Wash.
“These events were fantastic learning and networking experiences and gave me an understanding of the amazing things going on in Nova Scotia and around the world,” Fisher said.
This summer, Fisher’s journey will come full circle as she will be working as assistant coordinator at Cultiv8. She will work on event planning for things such as the Food Truck Fest, the Entrepreneurship Summer Camp hosted in partnership with the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development, and numerous other Cultiv8 events.
“I have been so impressed and proud of Holly and her development over the past two years that I have worked with her,” said MacEachern. “I have watched her grow as a student and a professional, and it’s a pleasure to have her commitment and talent as we further develop the Cultiv8 program.”

It was through her academics at Dal AC and Fisher’s love of insects that led her to discover her true passions — teaching and research. Fisher plans to continue her education and pursue a master’s degree through Dal AC and Cape Breton University after graduation.
“I have been bitten by the teaching bug,” Fisher said with a laugh. “My dream is to one day be a professor teaching at a university and completing research.”
Fisher realized her love for teaching when she was asked to represent Dalhousie University alongside Paul Manning, former Rhodes Scholar and a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Plant Food and Environmental Sciences, at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto last fall. Manning and Fisher hosted an educational seminar that combined both of their research topics and taught students how important insects are to agriculture as well as the future possibilities of using insects as a food source.
“It was a great learning experience for me on how to run a classroom and how to make it educational, yet entertaining,” said Fisher. “It was a huge honour to represent Dal AC at this event.”
She is also a two-time recipient of an Undergraduate Student Research Award given to students who are interested in natural sciences and engineering. More recently, she won Best Research Award for her fourth-year project with Enterra Feed of Vancouver on the approval of Black soldier fly meal in the diets of salmonids (a family of ray-finned fish), and was also awarded the Phillip Stead Memorial Excellence in Student Leadership Award.
“It was a huge honour to receive the Phillip Stead Memorial Excellence in Student Leadership Award and it made me feel proud for the work I have done on campus,” Fisher explained. “To see that people notice and appreciate the work you have done over the years really makes a difference in your life. Meeting the family who set up the award was fantastic and to have them express how impressed they were with my work on campus really made me beam with pride.”

As Fisher closes one chapter in her life, she can’t help but anxiously anticipate the adventure she faces as the next one begins. From not graduating high school to forging a path to becoming a teacher, Fisher reflects on her time spent at Dal AC and admits the opportunities and experiences she was presented truly made her time on the Agricultural Campus a life-changing experience.
“The best part about studying at Dal AC has been the sense of community on campus,” Fisher said. “People here are always helpful and willing to take a minute to have a great conversation. I have made some great connections on this campus and friends that I will have for life, because of my time here and I don’t think you can find that on any other campus.”

(Emma Geldart is a writer for Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture and has a full-time position as a marketing and communications coordinator with the Egg Farmers of Nova Scotia.)