When I was a youth participating in Hall County 4-H programs I was quite active with livestock and agricultural opportunities. A fulfilling and educational 4-H career launched my career as an educator and animal scientist.
Livestock judging and evaluation of animals, and knowledge about production and management, led me into a collegiate path of animal science. That included both livestock judging and meats judging training plus national travel while attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The “rest of the story” is that academic programs for master’s and doctorate degrees in animal science led to a nearly 20-year college teaching career. Opportunities in my home state enabled our family to return to the University of Nebraska system where I am the director of the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte. Now, coupled with my assignment in August as the interim dean at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, I again have direct involvement with college students.
Many of our Aggie students at NCTA hail from similar backgrounds to mine. They flourish in rural family life in Nebraska or elsewhere, and have been active in 4-H and FFA programs.
Some own and produce registered livestock in the cattle, swine and sheep industries. Others learned about livestock judging or meats judging as youngsters following in the footsteps of grandparents, parents and siblings.
Yet, some students come to NCTA not having been raised in a rural environment but eager to learn about production agriculture and management. Perhaps they have relatives from a farm or ranch, or they caught an enterprising interest through an urban classroom.
Our hands-on teaching and leadership opportunities at NCTA make a huge difference for all youth — not just those who are full or part-time students. As a rural campus with livestock, a working farm, and varied educational resources, NCTA has vast resources for educational events. This week we hosted two district FFA competitions with nearly 800 students on campus. Exposure to a collegiate environment can be formative to career choices for these young people.
NCTA had five student teams on the road this fall for collegiate contests. Livestock judging, ranch horse, rodeo, shotgun sports and stock dog students learn and refine their knowledge and skills in the classroom, arena, corrals, target range or farm.
They learn discipline, time management, organization, decision-making, communications, teamwork, appreciation, and much more in their interactions as team members, but also as individual competitors.
I enjoy working with the students, faculty and team coaches at NCTA in their clubs and teams. Student activities like these enhance academic success.
Next spring, crops judging kicks into high gear along with agribusiness and agricultural mechanics contests at the national level.
Students competing at the collegiate level often excel due to years of experiences and opportunities in their 4-H, FFA and high school programs.
Thank you to those parents, instructors, coaches and youth mentors who encourage these individuals as youngsters. Each of us strengthens the fiber of rural Nebraska and agriculture.