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Hank’s New Voice

Hank the Cowdog, TTU, Agricultural Education
This illustration by Texas Tech senior, Auden McBeath, depicts the Ranch Life Learning series resting upon a patch of bluebonnets beyond a cattle ranch.

As the importance of agricultural education increases, the National Ranching Heritage Center continues to provide educators with innovative classroom tools and has future plans that will bring Hank the Cowdog to life.

Merely three years ago, author John R. Erickson partnered with the NRHC to publish an informative series of children’s books narrated by his witty character, Hank. The books, known as the Ranch Life Learning series, incorporate ranching, agriculture and wildlife into public school curriculums and casts Hank in his new role as a teacher. 

Hank the Cowdog, TTU, Agricultural Education
This illustration by Texas Tech senior, Auden McBeath, depicts the Ranch Life Learning series resting upon a patch of bluebonnets beyond a cattle ranch.

Julie Hodges is the Helen DeVitt Jones Endowed director of education at the NRHC. Hodges is devoted to the message behind the Ranch Life Learning series and has worked closely in the development of a corresponding curriculum guide. 

“We’ve done some really cool things that I’m pretty proud of,” Hodges said. 

In the last three years, Hodges and the NRHC have implemented the Ranch Life Learning series into 60 school districts across the nation, distributing more than 45,000 copies. 

“It’s the only place in the world you’ll be able to see Hank the Cowdog in a realistic way,” Hodges said. 

With the original plan of a three-book series, Hodges was ecstatic to announce the publication of two additional books. 

“Book four will focus on ranch weather,” Hodges said, “and book five will focus on prairie fires.”

Erickson, the series author, lost his own ranch to prairie fires in 2017. Erickson hopes to depict prairie fire management techniques in book five by reflecting on his own experiences.  

“It’s a really interesting book and will hopefully help students in this area understand prairie fire more clearly,” Hodges said, “because there’s a lot of mystery to it.

Based on the success of the first three books, the Ranch Life Learning series has been developed into a multi-faceted curriculum plan. This carefully developed curriculum includes classroom activities, reading strategies, and teaching guides. The series covers topics such as economics, business, geography and animal breeds. 

The Ranch Life Learning curriculum is implemented into classes such as social studies, science, reading and more. By frequently updating curriculums and developing new activities, the NRHC is leading a progressive trend in agricultural education. Hodges said training and providing educators with curriculum guides has been very successful.

“It gives teachers the flexibility of when and how to incorporate it into their curriculum,” Hodges said. 

Julie Hodges, TTU
Julie Hodges standing next to the historic Hoffman Barn that was constructed by Lawrence H. Jones in 1906.

Using a cross-curriculum allows educators to utilize activities and lessons across many different courses. With the help of exceptional educators, Hodges said agricultural education will continue to impact and engage with young minds.

“I see it as a project that will never be finished and it’s something that we can always find ways to enhance,” Hodges said. 

Jim Bret Campbell, executive director of the National Ranching Heritage Center, is also closely involved with the Ranch Life Learning series. Campbell said curriculum developers work hard to create educational and engaging content. 

“They mostly focus on horses, wildlife and ranch livestock,” Campbell said. 

Campbell said the NRHC has big plans for the future of Ranch Life Learning. These plans include the development of the Ranch Life Learning Center exhibit, located on the NRHC property. 

The purpose of this interactive exhibit is to answer the frequent question; what is a ranch?

“The Ranch Life Learning Center will be an indoor-outdoor permanent exhibit that will answer questions with the help of Hank the Cowdog,” Hodges said. 

Hodges said when the NRHC opened its doors, the community was still very in touch with the meaning of agriculture. But times have changed, and an interactive exhibit will not only bring the Ranch Life Learning series to life, but also encourage agricultural education of the public. 

The exhibit will be large-scale and feature interactive technology and activities. The NRHC has been awarded a grant for planning the project but will require additional funding for the building process.

“We’ve made progress raising about a quarter of the funds needed,” Hodges said as she flipped through a binder. “And, we are actively pursuing the rest.”

The Ranch Life Learning Center is currently in the planning phase. By utilizing the skills of professional designers and architects, the NRHC hopes for the exhibit to be inclusive to all ages and levels of agricultural education.  

“We are partnering with various experts to make sure that we can build a wonderful exhibit that would be appropriate for a small child all the way to a seasoned rancher,” Hodges said.

Inclusivity is important at the NRHC. By creating age-friendly exhibits and activities, they are able to broaden demographics and reach a larger audience. Hodges said the NRHC expects a drastic increase in the number of visitors on site when the Ranch Life Learning Center opens. 

“It’s the only place in the world you’ll be able to see Hank the Cowdog in a realistic way,” Hodges said. 

The exhibit will include topics of cowboys, livestock nutrition, prairie ecology and the basics of ranch life. From wildlife to native plant species, this exhibit will cover a broad spectrum. The NRHC is aiming to spread agricultural awareness while preserving the beloved voice of Hank the Cowdog. 

“We’re building something that’s real and telling a real story with the help of a fictional character,” Hodges said. 

Within the next two to five years, the Ranch Life Learning Center will be much more than the plans and blueprints on Hodge’s desk.

The Mentor

Kristina Butts Visiting
Butts visits with Delanie Crist, a past mentee, about their time in Washington, D.C.

From a young age, Kristina Butts was involved in the agriculture and cattle industries. Because of that background, Kristina thought she would find a job within production agriculture after she graduated. Like many students, however—because of an opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C.—those plans changed. That opportunity blossomed into years of work in D.C., but more importantly, that opportunity grew into a habit of mentoring.

“When I came to Texas Tech, I didn’t really know what my career was going to be. I just assumed I was going to find a job in the cattle industry,” Butts said while sitting in the office of Texas Tech University System Chancellor Mitchell. “If you would have told me I was going to be living in Washington, D.C., for nearly 15 years working on ag policy, I’m not even sure I could have told you what ag policy was.”

But because of a few good mentors throughout college and early in her career, Butts found her way down a completely different path. Made possible through her studies at Texas Tech and her work in D.C., she began bridging the gap between agricultural producers and the consumers they serve.

“I’m really passionate about the role models I had throughout my career who found ways to encourage me and inspire me,” Butts said.

Because of the mentors who helped her and her experiences in 4-H, FFA and Texas Beef Ambassadors, Butts found a new passion that has helped guide her career—returning the favor by becoming a mentor herself and creating more opportunities for students around her.

While many of her positions throughout her career have dealt with policy, creating opportunities for others has always become a focal point of hers.

It started when she accepted a graduate position in the animal science department back at her alma mater—Texas Tech—immediately following her congressional internship in Washington, D.C.

“I had a couple of job offers in D.C.,” Butts said, “but Texas Tech called and asked if I would be interested in a food safety research project.”

During her graduate research, Butts also worked as a graduate assistant in the Texas Tech President’s Office where she mainly worked to help expand the university’s congressional internship—the very one she had just completed.

“At the time, we only had one floor of what we call the Texas Tech house, so our program could accommodate eight students, and we wanted to grow that,” Butts said, “but we needed to grow the housing. We were able to grow up to 18 students. I worked with several presidents to expand the internship program over that three-semester program.”

Kristina’s accomplishment of expanding the Texas Tech Congressional Internship Program—creating new opportunities—during her time at the president’s office was her first real-world taste of helping others professionally.

After Kristina finished her graduate studies in animal science, she had a five-year stint as a staffer for U.S. Congressman Lamar Smith—the same place she worked during her Texas Tech congressional internship.

“I was very fortunate he was my first boss, to really kind of show me what the statesmanship really is in D.C. and how to work across lines,” Butts said with a smile.

I’m hopeful one day one of the former interns I had will hire me when I’m looking for a job in the future. I always tell them I want them to be better than me.

After learning the ropes of the political culture of Washington, D.C., Butts took a position with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

As the lead for NCBA’s lobby team, Kristina led many high-profile events and meetings on Capitol Hill, but there was more to it than just that for her. She took great passion in reestablishing the organization’s internship program.

“When I was at NCBA, I worked to reestablish their internship program,” Butts said. “My joke was, one day I’m going to leave D.C., and when I leave, I want to make sure there’s a pipeline—some really great future minds in agriculture who understand policy, who want to come to D.C. and want to be that advocate and middle person to help support the industry.”

After eight-and-a-half years working on behalf of the U.S.’s beef producers, Kristina got a call from Texas Tech University asking her to return to the university to help set-up its federal affairs program—keeping her in Washington, D.C.

“The other hook they gave me was to help work on the Texas Tech vet school,” Butts said with a smile as she remembered that moment, “and that was a big passion of mine.”

During her time working on behalf of Texas Tech on Capitol Hill, Delanie Crist—a young woman participating in the university’s congressional internship program—met Kristina.

While in D.C., Crist said Butts was extremely helpful to the Texas Tech congressional interns—both CASNR and the president’s interns.

“The most time we spent with her was when she would bring us lunch,” Crist said. “We would eat in the [House Agriculture Committee] room and go around sharing our experiences and talking with one another.”

That experience, for Crist, allowed Butts to become a mentor for her during her time representing Texas Tech in D.C., motivating Crist to take all the opportunities she could.

“She was invested in us,” Crist said with a nod. “The lunches were something that weren’t an obligation for her, but she did it through her desires to help interns and to influence them in a positive light.”

Crist’s experience is not an outlier—it’s representative of Butts’ influence on students and interns she’s mentored throughout her career.

Even today—as the Chief of Staff for the Texas Tech University System Chancellor—she creates new opportunities to gain real-world experience for student assistants in her office.

“I’m hopeful one day one of the former interns I had will hire me when I’m looking for a job in the future,” Butts said. “I always tell them I want them to be better than me.”

Through all her work with students and interns in the past, one thing is very clear—she is invested in the future.

According to the American Psychological Association, mentors—including those found within an internship—are likely to increase professional identity, involvement in professional organizations and satisfaction with the job. Butts’ investment in the future generations through mentorship and creation of opportunities will leave a lasting impact.

“I just like finding the time to give back and help nurture the next generation, whether that’s here [at Texas Tech] professionally within higher education, politically in D.C., involved in policy or just involved in agriculture,” Butts said. “I’m just trying to get them plugged in.”

Diamond in the Rough

Lauren and Shelley Heinrich
Lauren Heinrich (Left) and Shelley Heinrich (Right) use every opportunity they have to advocate for agriculture. They use their event venue as a tool to share about West Texas agriculture.

helley and Lauren Heinrich never planned on owning and running a wedding venue, however when they found the Kitalou Gin everything fell into place.

Rediscovering Kitalou 

The Kitalou Gins last year of operation was 1974. From Kitalou’s last crop year the gin was used as a scrapyard. It was left for ruins until 2017 when it was found and restored by the Heinrich family. The Heinrich’s are cotton farmers from Slaton, Texas.

The Kitalou Gin was built in 1925 when communities ginned their own cotton. Located right outside of Idalou, Texas, Kitalou was placed adjacent to a railroad for convenient distribution of freshly ginned cotton. Due to the gins proximity to the railroad, it is said the gin was named after a railroader’s daughter.

In 2017, Shelley Heinrich had a pumpkin business which was booming, and she needed space to store her abundance of pumpkins. Her daughter, Lauren, suggested using an abandoned gin, because so many are scattered around small West Texas towns.

The mother-daughter duo started looking around at perspective properties when Shelley’s husband, Burt, proposed the Kitalou Gin, just minutes from downtown Lubbock.

“Up close, just driving by, it looked like a junk yard,” Shelley said.

The yard was full of old equipment and dead trees. In some places the gin was full to the ceiling with old deteriorating equipment. Despite the looks of the gin, the building was in great shape.

Shelley and Lauren decided to take on the project, spending every spare moment they had cleaning out the old gin.

“We’ve got the equipment and the gumption to do it,” Lauren said.

The Heinrich’s farm and have a lot of equipment, which allowed Shelley and Lauren to do a lot of the work themselves. As a family, the Heinrichs spent nine months cleaning and restoring the gin.

“We’re not only a good mother-daughter team, but good partners.”

Shelley and Lauren did not originally plan to turn the gin into a wedding venue, but the more they cleaned the more they realized the gin was meant to be so much more than a warehouse to store pumpkins.

“It was like overwhelming chaos, because there was so much that we could do,” Shelley said.

Throughout the process one vision remained – to maintain the integrity and authenticity of the gin.

Unexpected Wedding Planners

Lauren said before finding Kitalou, being a wedding coordinator never crossed her mind.

“We have the skill set,” Shelley said, “we just never had the facility.”

The two have backgrounds in event planning, but nothing quite like wedding planning.

Before owning and running the Kitalou Gin, Shelley had a career in the finance industry and retired in 2011. However, her retirement did not last long. In 2013 she went back to work, but this time for commodity organizations, spending a few years with National Sorghum Producers before moving on to her current position with the Cotton Board. Lauren worked for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association and then for a local congressman. In these roles, Shelley and Lauren gained skills in event coordination.

The Heinrichs runs every event themselves. From setting up to tearing down, they are there doing it all. On the day of an event, the family is there parking cars or helping with coordination. At the end of the night, they all get together to clean up the gin.

“When we started, our only goal was getting the bride down the aisle and after that we figured the rest out,” Lauren said.

The first wedding at Kitalou was for a family friend who asked to use the gin for her wedding. The definite timeline of this wedding helped motivate Shelley and Lauren to finish this project.

Even though the two cleaned on the gin for nine months, they were still picking up nails and pieces of metal out of the yard until the day of the first wedding.

A Unique Take on Agriculture 

Despite the disarray of the property, Shelley and Lauren decided to purchase the Kitalou Gin because of its unique location. Only minutes from downtown Lubbock, the location is convenient while still surrounded by farmland. Being surrounded by agriculture gives the Heinrichs a unique opportunity to share about West Texas agriculture.

Kitalou clients are drawn to the unique look and location of the gin.

“I grew up working in the feed yard riding the pens, working cattle, so growing up like that then going out to Kitalou and being surrounded by the farmland and cattle I just fell in love and felt at home”Bride Averye Ferris said.

Kitalou couples tend to come from agricultural backgrounds, however, their guests do not always share that likeness. Because the gin is surrounded by agriculture, with cattle and sheep across the road, lends to great conversations.

“If we’re not telling the story, then who is?” Shelley asked.

Shelley and Lauren have spent many hours at events educating guests on farming in West Texas. They will answer any questions guests have from genetically modified organisms use to water conservation.

As agriculture continues to progress, the Kitalou Gin will become more important to preserve. With the advances in agriculture small gins will become obsolete making Kitalou that much more important.

Mother Daughter Team

“We’re not only a good mother-daughter team, but good partners,” Shelley said.

They can each relate to their customers. Lauren was recently a bride and can understand their needs while Shelley understands the mothers and their perspective. Having their different perspectives helps with problem solving and creating the shared vision of the bride and her mom.

“We take the burden off the families backs and handle everything so they can sit back, relax and enjoy the day,” Lauren said.

Shelley and Lauren encourage their clients to be as creative as possible when dreaming up their big day.

“We’ve already been creative with restoring a gin, now it’s their turn,” said Lauren.

Education Through Collaboration: The story of beef breeds through history

Ribbon cutting ceremony at the NRHC for the Cattle Breeds exhibit. From left to right: Mark Hartsfield - Hartsfield design, Dr. Ryan Rathmann - Ph.D. Associate Professor at Texas Tech University, Heather Hocker - CH Foundation, Julie Hodges - NRHC Helen DeVitt Jones Endowed Director of Education, Tom Watson - Ranching Heritage Association Board President.

collaboration combining the arts, sciences and history came together on the Texas Tech University campus to curate a museum exhibit with the goal of educating a wide variety of audiences on the beef cattle industry.

Julie Hodges, the Helen DeVitt Jones director of education at the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Texas, wrote a grant to the CH Foundation, which strives to increase human services, cultural and educational opportunities for Texas residents in the South Plains, proposing a public exhibit of the History of Beef Cattle Breeds in collaboration with Ryan Rathmann, Ph.D., John W. and Doris Jones Professorship Holder: Beef Cattle Biology, Livestock Judging.

“I thought, ‘What a cool concept,’” Hodges said. “I don’t know a lot about cattle breeds, but I did a little digging around and thought I’d put a lesson plan together that could be fun. The more I dug, the more I thought, ‘This is a cool story.’”

With ideas in mind Hodges reached out to Rathmann in order to collaborate with an expert in the field.

Hodges said the exhibit evolved into two timelines with text material, and a visual storytelling component that includes life-size cattle from different eras of history beginning in the 1700s through present day.

Rathmann is heavily involved with Texas Tech’s livestock judging team and conducts research in beef cattle nutrition and reproductive physiology. He said that while it is difficult to tell such a detailed history in a certain amount of words, the visual storytelling component allowed them to do so.

“That’s why I like the life-size cattle through the different eras, because you just sit there and you look at the image,” Rathmann said.

As an avid enthusiast of beef cattle breeds, Rathmann took an immediate interest to this educational project. He said he had a goal of sparking interest in a broad audience of people who would potentially walk through this exhibit, with hopes of deepening their understanding of how breeds evolved through the years.

“I judged a lot of cattle shows, but in my own opinion, I think in the past couple decades we have done, as cattle breeders and livestock exhibitors and judges, a really poor job of keeping the identity of each individual breed,” Rathmann said.

Rathmann said the exhibit portrays the strengths of the different breeds and reflects a time when there was a demand for so many different breeds.

Rathmann emphasized on the fact that different breeds evolved due to unique strengths, and how they thrived in different environment, or were demanded in different markets.

Hodges said one of the biggest challenges was designing the exhibit in a way where a second grader could understand the content while remaining interesting to seasoned ranchers.

“I don’t know that we did it 100 percent, perfectly, but we sure did have a lot of fun trying,” Hodges said.

Julie Hodges is the Helen DeVitt Jones Director of Education at the NRHC.

Hodges said, as a rule of thumb, museum designers have roughly 30 seconds to capture a person’s attention and then only one minute to convey the information. They might get five minutes if the audience is really interested. Hodges said she has enjoyed watching seeing the different demographics of people experience the exhibit.

“I really hope that everyone can find something in there to take home with them about the beef cattle industry, and to get a feeling of, ‘Wow, this took a long time to get where we are today,’” Hodges said.

Not only does Hodges want to instill a better understanding of the industry in her audience, but she said she wants them to leave the exhibit with a reason to smile.

“Anybody in the beef cattle industry has a favorite breed, and so it’s kind of like your favorite ice cream flavor,” Rathmann said. “It’s like going through this ice cream exhibit. It excites you.”

Hodges said the exhibit benefited from Rathmann’s expertise in advances in marketing, technology and grading systems that have impacted what the industry currently looks like. Which leaves the audience with the ability to think and question, ‘What is next? What will the cattle of 2040 look like next?’

Dr. Ryan Rathmann and Julie Hodges worked to curate an exhibit at the NRHC that would be both educating and entertaining in a visual way.

With hopes of gaining support from an outside entity in order to continue the exhibit into a part two, Hodges and Rathmann would like to tell the story of the meat packing industry. They are hopeful to take a step in returning confidence to beef consumers through this method of storytelling.

Hodges said this was her first big exhibit to complete on her own. Calling it her “first baby,” she wanted to collaborate with someone on campus with the knowledge to do it.

“I hope it’s the beginning of more,”

Hodges said.

The Power of a Professor

Dr. Courtney Meyers has been described by her colleagues and students as a highly motivated individual who is passionate about what she does.

“I am a bit of a workhorse,” said Meyers, associate professor and graduate studies coordinator for the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications at Texas Tech University. “I have a pretty strong work ethic, and I set high expectations for myself and my students.”

Her high expectations have led to a great deal of success. Meyers is a highly decorated faculty member who has received many prestigious awards, including the Texas Tech President’s Excellence in Teaching Award, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s New Teacher Award, and the Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Teaching Award.

Persistent Past

Meyers has touched the lives of many since her arrival as a newly hired faculty member at Texas Tech in 2008. Dr. Cindy Akers, professor and associate dean for academic and student programs for the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, knew Meyers as a master’s student at the University of Arkansas. They have since maintained a friendship as colleagues at Texas Tech.

“When she was first hired I was put as her faculty mentor,” Akers said. “But now I would say we’re just good friends. I respect her and now look to her for advice; the roles have kind of changed.”

Meyers said she is grateful for the relationships made with people she has impacted through her time as a professor, and appreciates their recognition of all the hard work she puts into being the best she can be.

“I never set out to be a teacher so I could win awards,” Meyers said. “But it is empowering to know that I can be the type of teacher that is worthy of that recognition.”

Passionate Present

Dr. Meyers recently received Texas Tech University’s 2018 Integrated Scholar Award. Dr. Scott Burris, professor and interim department chair of the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, said being an integrated scholar means the research the professor conducts on their own time is integrated with the lessons they teach in the classroom.

“It’s a pretty big compliment for someone to be recognized for that distinction,” Burris said. “She works really hard, and she makes sure the work is done well.”

Meyers spends much of her time preparing new and exciting ways to engage students in their coursework.

“I often say that teaching is like medicine or law in that we practice at it,” Meyers said. “We are never fully developed as teachers. There are always things we could do a little bit better or a little bit differently.”

Her efforts do not go unnoticed by the students she teaches. Paisley Cooper, a senior agricultural communication major, felt so strongly that Meyers has such a positive impact on the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications she nominated her for an on-campus award in 2017.

“From the first day I met Dr. Meyers as an incoming freshman, I could tell that she dedicated her day-to-day life to help students like myself succeed,” Cooper said. “Dr. Meyers is a critical part of why our agricultural communications program is nationally recognized. Our department owes a lot to her leadership and expertise because it simply doesn’t get any better than her.”

Cooper is one of many students Meyers has had a positive impact on. Meyers said being able to influence the lives of her students makes her excited to see what they can accomplish.

“Perhaps they got a paper back that they did really well on when they didn’t expect to, or they get a job that they didn’t think was possible, but someone along the way encouraged them to do so,” Meyers said with a smile. “That motivates me to get up and come into work every day and do my part to be a positive influence in their life.”

It is empowering to know that I can be the type of teacher that is worthy of that recognition.

Favorable Future

While all the awards Dr. Meyers has received in the past are nothing short of prestigious, her work ethic proves there will be even greater accomplishments in the road ahead for her. Burris said Meyers has helped the department in more ways than he could explain.

“It’s easy to see why she has such a meaningful impact here,” Burris said. “Students like her, love her and enjoy her, but even more than that, they value and respect what they gain from being in her classes. That’s way more important than being liked.”

Respect is a common theme among those who know Meyers personally. Cooper said one of the aspects that makes her so different from other professors is her attention to fine details.

“Dr. Meyers doesn’t skip the little things like learning each student’s name and working to build a relationship with each of us,” Cooper said. “She strives to be more than just a professor, but also a mentor and a helping hand. Dr. Meyers is always looking to improve her teaching tactics and form her lectures and assignments to fit the evolving skill base that is needed in the industry.”

Having taken on the role of both teacher and learner of a new curriculum, Meyers said one of her goals to improve the future of her classes is to make sure they are exciting and compelling. She said if she is bored as a teacher, she knows her students are bored, and that is something she never wants to happen.

“A lot of my time is invested in trying to remain up-to-date on the latest technology, trends, and best practices my students need to know,” Meyers said. “I also need to know what is happening in agriculture and how that can relate to their work.”

Akers said she has enjoyed seeing the growth and development Meyers has made in her professional career.

“I think she always wants to push the envelope and doesn’t want to stick to the status-quo,” Akers said. “She’s always looking to make things better. We have seen a lot of changes because of her competitive nature.”

Meyers said she knows she has a competitive spirit, which has led to so much success in her field of work.

“It’s not that I’m competing against anyone, it’s that I’m competing against the former version of myself,” Meyers said. “I always want to do better. If in that pursuit that I get recognized, that means that the work I put in and the energy spent was worth it all.”

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Pipeline to Success

Today in the agricultural industry there is a growing importance for qualified individuals who understand the industry and all its moving parts. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is helping fill that void with leaders who are well educated about the industry.

In the fall of 2017, the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University selected its first cohort for the Matador Institute for Leadership Engagement, a program that has been long in the works.

The idea for a leadership program for students within the college was on the table for years, according to Steve Fraze Ph.D., who was the CASNR interim dean during the CASNR MILE development and played an instrumental role in starting the program.

CASNR wanted to give students an opportunity to develop leadership skills that would set them apart as they enter the workforce.

“This program will create a pipeline of trained young agricultural leaders,” Fraze said, “who are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and understanding of the issues and challenges facing our industry.”

Lindsay Kennedy, MILE program director and a graduate of the TALL program, along with Fraze, began talking with key individuals outside of Texas Tech. These individuals were supportive of a possible leadership program, and many of whom were also TALL graduates.

It is unique. The MILE program offers students an experience different than a lot of the other activities we have within the college.

Many aspects of the MILE program were designed with the Texas Agriculture Lifetime Leadership program in mind. The TALL program focuses on getting participants out of their comfort zones and experiencing different sectors of the agriculture industry. These are two important factors of the MILE.

“It is unique,” Kennedy said. “The MILE program offers students an experience different than a lot of the other activities we have within the college.”

Kennedy said she hopes the MILE program will be a trademark of work ethic, professionalism and the leadership ability of CASNR students. The program aims to give students a broad understanding of agriculture and its key issues while teaching students to advocate for the industry.

Developing a network is also a key goal for the MILE program. Students will have the opportunity to meet and network with people involved in every aspect of agriculture, including livestock, crops, conservation, and policy

Selecting the First Cohort

Once the program was developed, CASNR began accepting applications for the MILE program’s first cohort. Selected applicants then participated in an interview with the MILE advisory committee, which is comprised of industry leaders and CASNR personnel.

“We wanted the cream of the crop,” Kennedy said. “I was really impressed with the quality students who applied for our first cohort.”

Tanya Foerster, advertising director for Capital Farm Credit, is a member of the advisory board for the CASNR MILE program and participated in the interview process.

“Wow, what a hard job to have,” Foerster said. “They were very highly qualified individuals, and it was really hard to narrow it down and pick a group. I was very impressed, and it made me feel good to be an alumnus of Texas Tech and [CASNR].”

Fourteen students representing five of the six CASNR departments were selected to be in the first CASNR MILE cohort.

Each cohort will run for three semesters and will require participants to enroll in a MILE-specific course each semester.

During their time in the program, students will tour farms, ranches, livestock facilities, processing facilities and will ultimately travel to Washington, D.C. and Austin to meet with federal and state policymakers and agencies. MILE members are also required to complete an internship during their cohort.

“You can put slide shows up all day,” Kennedy said, “but when you go and stand in a field and talk to somebody and experience the different areas of ag, that’s when you develop an understanding for how all those segments fit into our industry.”

The MILE program is also geared to teach students professional and communication skills, including dining etiquette, understanding social etiquette, and possessing communication skills are essential when advocating for a cause.

Heath Hadley undergoes media training regarding controversial topics in agriculture. Photo courtesy of CASNR MILE.

Maggie Pipkin, a sophomore agricultural communications major from Spearman, Texas, is a member of the first MILE cohort.

Pipkin said she applied for MILE because of the variety of professional development opportunities offered through the program. Students are required to wear business professional or business casual anytime the cohort meets.

During one of the first MILE meetings, students learned the tips and tricks of table etiquette. They also received resume and cover letter critiques from professionals at the Texas Tech University Career Center.

“The etiquette dinner was extremely beneficial,” Pipkin said, “and one of my favorite things we have done so far. I learned so much.”

Kaylynn Kiker, a junior majoring in animal science with a business concentration from Allison, Texas, said the opportunities CASNR have been extraordinary so far.

“I like that the CASNR MILE is not a base-level leadership program,” Kiker said. “It’s going to take students who already have a lot of leadership skills and build on those.”

Kiker said she knows this program will have a positive effect on her life, not just from the leadership and communication skills she will obtain, but also from the numerous people she will network with in the industry.

Looking Ahead

As the MILE program continues, Foerster said she thinks it is going to be a snowball effect and the application rate will drastically increase.

“The future looks bright for agriculture,” Foerster said.

She said she feels certain the MILE program will be as beneficial to students as the TALL program was for her. Especially since students are given the opportunity to learn about and tour such a diverse range of agriculture industries.

“It is definitely something that is going to broaden their horizon,” Foerster said.

Fraze said he looks forward to seeing what students in the new MILE program will accomplish in their careers and do for the agriculture industry. The success of the program rides solely on the success of the students once in their careers.

Kiker said she looks forward to seeing how the MILE program will grow with the following cohorts.

“I think this program is going to continue to progress as more cohort members go out into the workforce and take on leadership positions in the industry,” Kiker said. “I can’t wait to see what my peers and the future cohort members following us will accomplish.”

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