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A Career-Changing Conversation

Devon Person
Photo provided by Devon Person

By Jessica Roulhac

Devon Person ’10 has worked with three Fortune 500 companies across 10 industries. During his professional career, he has lived in 12 states and, for at least three months, in four countries.

Without hesitation, he can share the places a Wilson College of Textiles degree can take students after graduation — beginning with his own career journey. He most recently joined Hanesbrands Inc. as its director of Supply Chain Americas. 

Previously, he served as a site leader at SPX FLOW, Inc., where he ran the hydraulics business within the company — a world leader in sustainable solutions. Before that, Person held positions with GE Oil and Gas and Eaton Corporation. 

A decade after receiving dual degrees from the College of Engineering and the Wilson College of Textiles, Person’s resume is an example of how NC State produces career-ready graduates. Person earned degrees in textile engineering and industrial and systems engineering. He also holds a master’s degree in supply chain management from Penn State University.

Reflecting on his time at NC State, Person vividly remembers his freshman year and how mentorship from two professors changed his trajectory.

“I always give the story about a life-changing experience for me,” Person said. “The reason why I was able to graduate from NC State was because of Dr. Jeff Joines and Dr. Jon Rust.”

Today, Joines is department head and professor of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science, and Rust is a professor of textile engineering (previously, department head at the time.)

One university, two degrees

Born and raised in Carthage, North Carolina, Person enjoyed — and excelled — in math. In high school, a mentor encouraged him to explore engineering.

“When researching, NC State’s engineering program was the best in the state,” Person said.

After deciding to apply to the university, one of the earliest challenges Person faced was selecting an engineering program. He was excited to become the first person to attend college in his family, but he was still learning what made each program unique.

When Wilson College of Textiles faculty conducted a seminar at his high school, it became easier to narrow his focus. Person had an opportunity to meet some of the professors, including Joines and Rust.

The textiles program intrigued Person, and he applied to the Wilson College. Once accepted, he noticed that many of his courses intersected with industrial and systems engineering in the College of Engineering. After talking with professors, he decided to pursue dual degrees.

He would later feel the increased sense of urgency for diversifying his experience — especially with the economic uncertainty of 2008.

“I really tried to get as many credentials, competencies and accolades as I could,” Person said. “I wanted to make sure I was very competitive with how the economic environment was at the time.”

Slow start, strong finish

When Person began his freshman year, he wasn’t off to the best start. He was quickly falling behind.

It wasn’t a math problem, though — it was a struggle with time. During the early part of freshman year, Person was working two jobs that totaled a 60-hour workweek — on top of pursuing dual engineering degrees from NC State.

While Person did well on tests, completing daily assignments was the biggest obstacle. His GPA was in trouble, and he needed help.

“Devon was excelling in my classroom and aced my first test, but he was not completing homework assignments,” Joines recalled. “After talking with him, I realized his [work] schedule. I went to Dr. Jon Rust, the department head at the time, and said that we needed to help this amazing student be successful.”

The conversation would be life-changing. Person opened up about his workload outside of school, and the two professors had a solution: an internship as an undergraduate researcher.

Since he received a salary, Person no longer had to work two jobs. Instead, he focused on excelling in his undergraduate research role and earning nothing less than “A” in his remaining courses.

He also overcame another obstacle: demonstrating experience. He received a jumpstart with his undergraduate research role. Staying persistent and connected with the university’s Career Development Center as well as the college’s Career Services office, Person would complete seven co-ops during his time at NC State. He would later go on to intern with GE Energy and participate in their Operations Management Leadership Program.

“Joining a leadership program with a company is probably one of the best things you can do with your career,” Person said. “It allows you to get to know the company, receive mentorship and guidance early in your career, and try different leadership roles to see what’s best for you.”

Looking back, Person is grateful for the preparation, mentorship and opportunities he received from the Wilson College of Textiles.

“I had an advantage in my career by my strength in Excel and data analysis,” Person said. “I was one of the first students to take Dr. Joines’ Excel and VBA Class: TE/ISE 110.”

Person adds that the new curriculum helped him build and analyze data quicker to use statistics and data to make accurate business-driven decisions. He still uses these skills today, and he will take them wherever his degree carries him next.

Which, as Person knows, can be anywhere.