The Heirloom, the Hobby and Returning Home

Hightower in front of NRHC building with her chuck wagon Monica Hightower leans upon her chuckwagon in front of the famous Harrell House at the National Ranching Heritage Center, a museum she often volunteers for educational demonstrations or catering opportunities. (Photo courtesy John Childers)

Tradition and heritage, two important things to Texas Tech University, and its new hire. Found behind a desk of the campus’ iconic Dairy Barn, is the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources’ new lead writer. Similar to the Dairy Barn, the woman sitting at this desk is not a brand-new addition to Texas Tech, but instead has come home to the university.

The Hire

Monica Hightower is a proud alum of Texas Tech, having earned her bachelor’s degree in animal business management. She returns to CASNR on the dean’s office administrative staff as lead writer where she is responsible for grants and technical proposals for the college.

Hightower said her work includes remaining knowledgeable about the priorities and opportunities of external funders and working to align these goals with those of CASNR to provide the most benefit. 

Hightower in her office building, the original Texas Tech Dairy Barn, where both history and hard work occupy the barn.

“I hope to streamline processes, provide checklists for accuracy, encourage early submissions and improve the quality of proposals to increase funding potential,” Hightower said.

Hightower recalls the campus she knew as a student and said how the building that she attended class in would have been a small walk to her current office, as well as home to many of her agricultural connections.

Hightower’s diverse network comes from time spent at Farm Progress shows in Texas and Oklahoma, serving as the event coordinator for the National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration, and owning her own video company, Cornerstone Education, where she was named Lubbock Chamber of Commerce’s Businessperson of the Year.  She said she accredits this network for her successful career.

“You’re constantly networking,” Hightower said. “If you’re working in agriculture, you’re building a knowledge base and a reputation among your colleagues in that industry.”

Hightower said her commitment to lifelong learning, growing and meeting people has helped her navigate a variety of industries and professions.

“You’d be surprised at how many times you will reuse those contacts as time goes on,” Hightower said. “Never discount a contact or someone that you get to meet because that can be beneficial to both of you down the road.”

Hightower’s name is not unknown in the college as she has been named CASNR Distinguished Alumni, Department of Animal and Food Science Hall of Fame, and she now serves as president of the Department of Animal and Food Science’s alumni association.

Though Hightower’s network and resume made her an attractive applicant for her current role, she said her unique hobby kept her involved with Texas Tech and lead her to her current position. 

The Hobby

“Why in the world would you want a chuck wagon to start with?” Hightower said. “Working with the National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration here in Lubbock, we touched on all aspects of Western heritage and the iconic American cowboy.” 

While Hightower was serving as the event organizer, she got a wagon for educational demonstrations from her cousin, the owner of a wagon shop. The 1890s wagon originally belonged to Hightower’s great uncle. Her cousin restored the family wagon and attached a chuck box on it for her few demonstrations. 

“And so there I was,” she said. “I ended up with a family heirloom and a chuck wagon that I didn’t know how to cook on.” 

Hightower recalls the overwhelming feelings she had when people started to reach out about her chuck wagon and asking if she could work events for them

“I surely did not intend to start a catering business,” Hightower laughed. “It ended up being quite a lot of work, which was good though because it’s with friends and family and business associates.”    

Hightower said her hobby turned into a successful catering business that has served brandings in Colorado, demonstrations in West Texas, and even opportunities on campus, many being at the National Ranching Heritage Center. She said little did she know, she was networking for her next position. 

“So many people in the community have had the opportunity to see her and know her through her involvement and volunteering,” said Julie Hodges, the director of education for the NRHC. “And if you have, you see how hard she works to make an impact.”

Though Hightower has been successful through her career, for many, her largest impact has been teaching and cooking from her chuck wagon. 

 “Monica goes above and beyond to make all things she does unique and special,” Hodges said. “As a volunteer, and now as a Texas Tech employee, that is beyond special.”

Hightower said between her skill set and her chuck wagon network, she thought she would be a great asset to the CASNR team and was eager to make more memories at her university. 

Hightower said the hobby ended up having a much larger role in her life than she knew at the time.

“I am enjoying it so far,” Hightower said. “This university is so special to me. It makes the work you do even more important. You feel like you’re contributing and giving back to a university that gave you skills to be able to go through life with. And so, I think that’s really special.”

Hightower wears her stunning western clothing leaning on her family heirloom, a restored chuckwagon and her favorite pastime. (Photo courtesy John Childers)