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Private College to Big College

Cindi Hazelton from Quincy, Massachusetts, decided to take a leap of faith when moving from her small, private school to a larger out-of-state school.

Receiving a Bachelor of Science in Biology at Eastern Nazarene College, Hazelton enjoyed every aspect of the small college. But then came the time to decide on where to go to graduate school. Making the big move to New Mexico, she discovered to attend Texas Tech University.

“I was pretty on the fence about going back to graduate school,” Hazelton said.

She said she did not pick Texas Tech for any particular reason, but since moving to New Mexico, she said she enjoyed the area a lot.

“All the pieces just fell together,” Hazelton said.

Loving all of the people and her advisors, Hazelton knew Texas Tech was a good choice. She said her advisors made her feel comfortable about having a different background and experience than what she was applying for.

Being the only graduate school she applied to, Hazelton said she loved the fact that Texas Tech was big and had a lot of funding for her research. She said she did not regret only applying to Texas Tech, and that her classes are fun and easy.

Hazelton said she would recommend undergraduate students to consider Texas Tech’s natural resources management graduate program.

“I enjoy being at Tech,” Hazelton said. “I think there’s so much it has to offer. There are so many classes, workshops and different groups to be a part of.”

There is so much that goes into picking a university to pursue a master’s degree. Hearing about Hazelton’s experience will give everyone a good insight into what it is like choosing Texas Tech for theirs.

All the pieces just fell together.

Cindi Hazelton

All Roads Lead Back to West Texas

Fenton and her three kids
Fenton’s 9-year-old daughter, Ella Jane, enjoys gymnastics and robotics; her 8-year-old son, Hays, enjoys being a cowboy, baseball and cub scouts; and Lane, Fenton’s two-year old daughter, enjoys making noise and running around the house.

A recent high school graduate from a rural West Texas town stepped onto the Texas Tech University campus in fall of 2000 – the turn of a new century. She knew three things: she loved agriculture, she enjoyed politics, and she had absolutely no idea what she wanted to be when she “grew up.” Yet, there she stood, meeting with her academic adviser, “all grown up.” 

The Beginning

Carmen Fenton, of Amarillo, grew up around agriculture in White Deer, Texas. Fenton was an area FFA officer and was highly involved in extracurricular actives. After graduating high school, she was uncertain about studying agricultural communications at Texas Tech University.  

“To be honest, I wasn’t really that jazzed about going into agriculture,” Fenton said. “I felt like it was all I had ever done.”

While Fenton was uncertain about studying agricultural communications, Cindy Akers, Fenton’s adviser, eased her uncertainty. 

“When I got to Tech and started digging into ag com,” Fenton said, “I realized this is something I could make a career out of.”

During Fenton’s senior year, ambition turned into opportunity. While she enjoyed agricultural communications, she still had a passion for policy and was eager to pursue her interest. Akers recommended she apply for the congressional internship through Texas Tech.

“I have always loved politics,” said Fenton. “The congressional internship program at Tech really just married the best of both worlds for me.” 

Four Congressmen 

After completing her internship under Congressman Randy Neugebauer and graduating from Texas Tech in December 2004, Fenton continued her time in Washington, D.C., where he was hired on to work in Congressman John Carter’s office as his staff assistant and later his scheduler.

After three years in Carter’s office, Fenton moved to the Oklahoma delegation to work for Congressman Tom Cole as his press secretary. At the time, Cole was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. 

Fenton’s time with Cole was short lived when Carter offered Fenton a job as his communications director. 

It was an offer Fenton could not turn down, so she went back to work for Carter, and stayed there three years. In 2008, she decided to take a small step back from policy and move to Austin, Texas, where she worked for Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association doing public affairs until 2013. 

By this time, Fenton was married, had two children and her husband was in law school. Together, she and her husband, Jason, decided it was time to move closer to home. 

 “After moving back to Amarillo, I went to work for Mac Thornberry,” Fenton said. “That was the fourth U.S. congressman I worked for.”

After two years in Thornberry’s office, the director of communications position at Texas Cattle Feeders Association opened.

“The job was a good fit, and I have been there ever since,” Fenton said. “It’s been quite a ride.”

Back to West Texas

Ross Wilson, TCFA CEO, said he knew Fenton from her time working for Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association as head of their communications in Austin. Wilson admired Fenton’s great work ethic and the energy she brought to the table. 

“I can truly say there is no other profession I would want to dedicate my life’s work to.” 

Carmen Fenton

“We did our best to keep up with Carmen after she moved back to Amarillo,” Wilson said. “When Carmen was ready to get back into a full-time career, we had an opening, and we were exited to hire her on.”

TCFA represents the cattle feeding industry in three states: Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. As the largest cattle feeding region in the country, TCFA producers market more than 6 million cattle each year.

With Fenton’s creativity and eager spirit, she hit the ground running. 

“Since the day I started, until today,” Fenton said. “the nature of the organization has changed drastically.”

Due to the advancement in technology, today’s consumers want to know the exact origin of their food. Naturally, feedyards face some challenges other agriculture organizations may not encounter.

“Typically, when consumers are asking questions about how animals are treated, factory farms, animal antibiotics, etcetera, a lot of those questions are directed at feedyards,” Fenton said. “It’s not always easy to paint that positive picture for consumers.”

It is Fenton’s goal to be transparent with consumers and to talk about how beef is produced modernly and efficiently in feedyards. She said people want to know how their food is raised and it is her job to tell them. 

“I want people to know that what we produce is safe and healthy,” Fenton said. “It’s good for you, it good for me, it’s good for my family, and you should feel good about eating it.”

Fenton and the TCFA team have modified communication efforts at TCFA by developing a more user-friendly website, creating a prominent presence on social media, starting a TCFA blog, and updating all communication platforms to better meet the standards of modern technology. 

Along with the help of TCFA’s communications coordinator, Madeleine Bezner, Fenton is also responsible for developing an annual magazine, designing brochures and other printed media, writing press releases, taking photos, traveling, and helping organize annual events. 

“Carmen contributes many things to TCFA – hard work, loyalty, creativity,” Bezner said, “but most importantly, she contributes a passion for storytelling.” 

One of the greatest challenges of Fenton’s position is developing a working relationship with producers, feedlot workers and TCFA members to develop a consistent, transparent message throughout all communication platforms. 

“Inherently, people in agriculture aren’t very comfortable talking about themselves – they just want to do their job,” Fenton said with a chuckle. “Well, like it or not, it is now part of their job.”

One of Fenton’s favorite parts of her job is drawing back on her previous job experience to bring a level of expertise to the office pertaining to legislation and policy. She said she feels like her position has allowed her to marry all of her interests – beef production, communications and policy. 

“There is nothing else that I would rather do – really,” Carmen said. “I can truly say there is no other profession I would want to dedicate my life’s work to.” 

Out of the Office

When Fenton is out of the office, she can be found at baseball practice, Cub Scout events, gymnastic meets, robotic team meetings and chasing her two-year-old with her husband. While Fenton has a lot going on in her life, she always strives to balance her time between work and family. 

“Ever since I met her, Carmen has really always been ‘Super Mom,’” Wilson said. “I’m happy she came back to West Texas, and I think she is, too.” 

Captain Comedy

Sitting in an office surrounded by taxidermy, maps of Texas and legal documents, Captain Aryn Corley gives a flawless impersonation of Superman amidst countless jokes and belly laughter that can be heard down the hall.

Originally from San Angelo, Texas, Corley moved to Levelland, Texas, five years ago. Here, he works full-time as the Texas Game Warden Captain for Region 6, District 2 of Texas and teaches Wildlife Law in conjunction with CASNR. Corley has a part-time gig as well. He is a stand-up comedian, and his humor never turns off. Corley said he has always had a sense of humor and the inability to stop making jokes ever since he was a boy.

“I was almost voted the funniest person in my senior class of high school,” Corley said. “I lost by one vote!”

Corley loves making people laugh and regularly couples that with his love of law enforcement in order to maintain sanity despite the stress of the job.

“Getting to put my time and energy into making people better, it’s just totally worth it.”

Captain Aryn Corley

What many people do not realize is game wardens are state police officers and first responders. Game wardens are often in more extreme situations than other first responders when on the job. Game wardens are called for disaster relief, murder cases, drug cases and to act as border patrol agents in high-risk areas.

Corley became a game warden captain in 2015. He said this is the career he wants to retire from.

“Humor and levity certainly help in a high stress job,” Corley said. “In a way, you could say I’m a dopamine dealer.” His team agrees, including Drew Spencer. a Texas game warden stationed in Lubbock and Crosby counties.

“Corley, in general, makes us realize our job is fun,” Spencer said. “He isn’t always business, so it helps us stay calm, relaxed and not so serious.”

Corley said his favorite part of the job originally was ‘catching bad guys doing bad things’. Now it is seeing personal growth in the people he interacts with. Whether it is watching his own team hit their milestones or taking kids on youth hunts, it does not matter to Corley.

“I never get tired of sharing that experience with that person,” Corley said. “Getting to be involved in that is indescribable.”

Corley said he believes comedy offers a conduit of sorts for relationships and experiences. He said connecting with your audience, whether it is a crowd of people at a comedy club or a team member that had a hard day, with humor allows you to be entertaining while providing an experience they will not forget.

“Getting to put my time and energy into making people better,” Corley said, “it’s just totally worth it.”

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.”

A Blooming Tradition

Texas Tech Seal and Tulips
At the beginning of spring, Tech students are greeted with tulips.

When Texas Tech University students return from spring break they are greeted with the beautiful sight of red and yellow tulips marking the beginning of spring. Every November, tulips are planted all over Tech’s campus in preparation for the following spring.


“The tulips are just another way to show our Red Raider spirit.”

Lauren Ottmers, a sophomore agricultural business major from Boerne, Texas, says the tulips brighten up campus.

“The spring is my favorite time on Tech’s campus, because of the tulips,” Ottmers said. “The tulips add an extra pop of color to the campus that other campuses don’t have.”

Charles Leatherwood is the managing director for grounds maintenance at Texas Tech. Leatherwood attended Tech 38 years ago and worked his way up from a student assistant to his current position.

“We take a lot of pride in our grounds, because to me, we’re the first step in recruiting students, faculty, and or staff,” Leatherwood said. “We’re the first thing they see when they drive on campus. That’s why we work so hard on our beds and everything else.”

Last November, it took 98 crew members two weeks to plant 58,600 tulip bulbs across Texas Tech’s campus, including 8,300 golden and 50,300 Appledoorn varieties. These tulips grow anywhere from 14-18 inches tall, with a large flower head and strong stem. Golden and Appledoorn tulips are the most weather resistant of all garden tulips, standing up to the high winds and cool winters of West Texas.



“As soon as the soil temperature warms up enough,” Leatherwood said, “that’s when they start coming up.”

The planting and maintenance of the tulips if founded by an endowment set up by Debra Montford. The wife of former Texas Tech Chancellor, John Montford.

“Mrs. Montford set up an endowment for campus beautification,” Leatherwood said. “We get a few dollars off of that every year, and the rest of it comes out of my annual plant budget.”

Tulips are purchased from the Netherland Bulb Company located in Eastern Pennsylvania. New bulbs are planted each year, as they are too difficult to store on campus.

Spring tulips are one of many traditions, dating back to 1982, that people enjoy and look forward too every year on Texas Tech campus.

“The tulips are just another way to show our Red Raider spirit,” Ottmers said.

Loving Animals to the Very End

Allison Andrukonis in the dog kissing booth at the Lubbock Animal Shelter holding a shelter dog.
Allison Andrukonis in the dog kissing booth at the Lubbock Animal Shelter holding a shelter dog.

Walking through the doors of the freshly cleaned animal shelter, Allison Andrukonis’ ears filled with barking dogs. Passing dogs row by row, she selected the one lucky dog of the day. Today, a trip to the ice cream shop was on the menu for this special pup. 

Andrukonis grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, where she received her undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech. Then she made her way to Lubbock, Texas, where she received her master’s degree in animal science at Texas Tech University in May of 2018. Currently, Andrukonis is a doctoral candidate in the department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech.

Shelter dog took a trip to get ice cream.

“My study focus is compassion fatigue and moral injury in animal care workers,” Adrukonis said.

Through her doctoral program, Andrukonis is accomplishing her childhood dream of helping animals. Andrukonis said she knew from a young age that she had a calling to help animals.

“I knew I had to dedicate my life to help the animals that helped me, Andrukonis said. I believe shelter animals are the ones who need it the most because none of them have homes.” 

Andrukonis is working with the Lubbock Animal Shelter and Adoption Center where she is studying the mental effects on humans that care for and subsequently euthanize the same animals. 

For Andrukonis’s research, she performs a variety of tests such as, physiology measures, heart rate variability, salivary cortisol and blood pressure before, during and after euthanasia to compare to the caring-killing paradox. The paradox showing quantitative investigation of the psychological ramifications of euthanasia‐related work that results in stress on all aspects of life.

“I research animal shelter employees who euthanize regularly, animal shelter employees who do not euthanize regularly, pet hotel employees, university personnel who harvest livestock, and veterinarians,” Andrukonis said.

Andrukonis says she could not have made it this far with her research without the help of others. 

“I knew I had to dedicate my life to help the animals that helped me.”

Steven Greene, Lubbock Animal Services Director, said Andrukonis had been a valuable volunteer outside of her research. She helped create the shelter’s vaccination program, writing her own grant for the city that was approved, and taking out the dogs for ice cream every Thursday.

“She has been a wealth of knowledge in shelter management,” Greene said.

Andrukonis believes through all the adversity in life, pets are always there for you and that is why she feels like she needs to help animals through her research and volunteer work.

“It is like a dream, I get to play with puppies all day,” Andrukonis said.

Meat Science Professor Focuses on Opportunities for Students

Dr. Dale Woerner provides assistance to graduate student Blanchefort Djimsa.

ale Woerner is known for his excellence in meat science, but more importantly, known by the passion he has for his students.

Woerner, a researcher in meat science was awarded the Cargill Endowed Professorship in Meat Science Sustainability in the Texas Tech Department of Animal and Food Sciences in August 2018.

“Cargill wanted someone in the industry that was known for conducting research, and for training,” Woerner said. “I was fortunate enough to earn the position.”

Woerner spent the past 13 years at Colorado State University where he earned his doctoral degree, was an associate professor, and coached the meat judging team. Being a professor and the meat judging coach was not enough for Woerner, he also served as a member of Colorado State’s Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence, and the university’s Center for Meat Safety and Quality.

Woerner touched the lives of many during his time at Colorado State. Taylor Horton, a meat science graduate student at Texas Tech, followed Woerner from Colorado State where she had him as a professor and judging coach.

“When I met Dale, I was a freshman, washing dishes for a graduate student.” Horton said. “He took the time to come ask me my name, where I was from, and then remembered that the next time he saw me. I feel like that just says a lot about who he is because he cares about the individual so much and he is very vested in the individual and how he can help them achieve their goals.”

“The sky is the limit…”

Woerner said he is thankful for the relationships he made at Colorado State that motivated and helped him to be where he is today.

“Both my wife and I are originally from Texas, so we wanted to move back to be closer to family, and as alumni, we are also extremely excited to be back at Texas Tech,” Woerner said.

Woerner was chosen in 2018 as a Texas Tech Distinguished Alumni in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in 2018. Tracee Murph, coordinator of alumni relations for CASNR, said the distinguished alumni award recognizes and honors graduate, whose achievements and careers have greatly represented the college and to the professions associated with agriculture and natural resources.

“To be chosen as a distinguished alumnus is a huge honor for any individual,” Murph said. “With his research background and previous successes at Tech and Colorado State in meat science, Dale Woerner’s nomination was clearly considerable.”

Being the first holder of the Cargill Endowed Professorship, Woerner hit the ground running. Woerner said the endowment professorship has allowed him to equip the laboratory to a higher level, and to be more capable of doing more for the industry.

“Cargill’s goal in sustainable meat science is to improve the way we produce meat, but also making sure there is a supply of individuals to work in the industry,” Woerner said.

Dale Woerner beams with pride as the first Cargill Endowed Professorship recipient.

Woerner said the level of education a student can receive in classrooms, nationwide is comparable, but what Texas Tech does exceptionally well and that Cargill and others in the agriculture field recognize, are the extracurricular opportunities.

Horton said before following Woerner, she knew Texas Tech’s animal and food science program was very prestigious.

“I think Dale represents the program as how it is known,” Horton said.

Woerner said the extracurricular opportunities, such as Texas Tech’s meat judging, market animal evaluation, and quiz bowl teams, help drive student’s interest in meat science.

“I believe that is what Cargill recognized years ago, and why they decided to make a contribution to Texas Tech,” Woerner said.   

Recently, Woerner met with Texas Tech’s Department of Hospitality and Retail Management, which has an interest in joining forces with the animal and food sciences and wildlife management departments to meet a new demand for people to manage hunting lodges. Hunting lodges are looking for individuals educated in food production as well as the animals being hunted on their properties.

“If you told me before I came to Tech seven months ago that I would be talking to someone about processing and cooking meat for a wild game hunting operation and working with chefs and people who manage hotels and restaurants, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Woerner said.

Woerner said students are offered to specialize and find something they are passionate about and make it a career.

“This is huge,” Woerner said. “The sky is the limit; your career is completely chosen by what you do here.”

Woerner has a passion to open new opportunities for not only his students, but students from other colleges at Texas Tech.

“You always hear those management strategies that it’s not just about getting the right people on the bus, it’s about finding them the right seat,” Horton said. “Dale is excellent at that.”

Woerner said by interacting and supporting his students as much as he can is how he plans to make a difference.

“I hope in the future, I broaden opportunities not only in the college of agriculture, but for other colleges at the university,” Woerner said.

Quality Over Quantity

Madison Ainsley, senior animal science student, gives a welcoming smile in front of the Texas Tech University entrance.

t is a feeling you simply cannot put into words. An overwhelming sense of home where a student feels like anything is possible. It is a feeling that cannot be described through an email, letter in the mail, or phone call, it just needs to be experienced. Texas Tech University has a strong reputation of giving students the feeling that this is exactly where they need to be when they step on campus. 

After Madison Ainsley, a senior animal science student, first visited Texas Tech College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources she knew it was exactly where she needed to continue her college education. 

“The CASNR community made it feel like it was their privilege to have me, and that was such a cool feeling,” Ainsley said. Without the students, CASNR would not be a successful program as it is today. Professors know it is their job to nourish and guide students so they are able to become the best version of themselves. 

“The saying that it takes a village to raise a kid was really true for me,” Ainsley said. “There were multiple people in my life who influenced me and helped raise me, and when I started walking around the agriculture department that is exactly what I felt, the village.” 

CASNR’s faculty and students make special efforts to ensure potential Red Raiders, and current students, feel welcomed and wanted. The people who make up CASNR want potential students to feel the way they felt when they first visited Texas Tech. Each faculty member and student holds a unique role within CASNR, which makes it a successful program. 

Mark Miller, professor in meat science, food processing and preservation for the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech, said all he had to do when Ainsley came to visit Texas Tech was paint her a picture of what it was like to be here. 

“We want to pursue excellence, strive for honor, serve unselfishly, and know our teams are only as good as all the people on it,” Miller said when asked what he tells potential students when recruiting.  

After being a student at Texas Tech for three years, Ainsley has been able to witness the other side of the recruitment process and watch CASNR reach out to potential students. 

“It’s not because they want numbers or money,” Ainsley said. “It’s because they want the best, high quality kids.” Transferring from Texas A&M University after her first year, Ainsley has experienced being recruited by top-notch universities. When Ainsley was asked how CASNR’s recruitment process was different from others, she said she believes quality over quantity is what Texas Tech is doing, and that is what CASNR recruits. 

“Their growing numbers, in my opinion, is only proof that more kids want to be a part of such a successful program,” Ainsley said. One of Texas Tech’s strongest recruitment strategies is the ability to respond quickly.

“CASNR does an awesome job of being able to get acceptances back to students faster than any other university,” Miller said. 

CASNR recruits their students, like Ainsley, by giving a personal touch. Showing students they are cared for and wanted at a university with over 36,000 students is the best feeling when a student is about to move away from home. When Ainsley finally decided to visit Texas Tech, she said she felt cared for and wanted. Ainsley said as soon as she stepped onto Texas Tech’s campus, Miller took her under his wing and made her feel like she was already a student in CASNR.  

“I spent an entire year at a different college, and I would say at least 50 percent of my time I was still at that other college, I felt like I already belonged at Tech because that is how much people cared,” Ainsley said. 

Madison Ainsley with her guns up.
Madison Ainsley, senior at Texas Tech, throws her guns up in front of the animal science building where she has spent her time studying the past three years.

As a new student at a huge university like Texas Tech, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the large number of students. Being understood and known by professors is a high priority for many students, which is why the CASNR community takes time to develop a relationship with their students. 

“To be able to know them, their story, their family and their needs is what I love most about the CASNR community,” Miller said. “For a professor to be able to listen to their students personal goals, desires and dreams is what makes the CASNR community so special.”

Being a part of a family like CASNR is exactly what a potential Red Raider needs during their time at Texas Tech. The sense of belonging a student has when surrounded by a community who is always raising the bar is an indescribable feeling that pushes each individual to be their best. 

“They are the kind of people I aspire to be like,” Ainsley said.

“They foster such a positive environment that allows for each individual to grow on their own level and become a star in their own way.”

CASNR doesn’t expect you to fit a mold. They do not expect you to look or act a certain way. They want each individual to come and achieve their personal goals through their own methods. 

Miller said when he is able to speak as highly about his students as he does, it makes all the hard work worth it. 

“I don’t have to work ever because I get to work with amazing students,” Miller said. 

Having students like Ainsley and professors such as Miller is what makes CASNR, CASNR. 

“CASNR students have a high degree of integrity and honesty and at the end of the day, they want to be the best,” Miller said. “They have a big heart and are unselfish.”

Planning the Fire: Dr. Verble’s Prescribed Burning Class Blazes a Trail

The prescribed burn class has their very own fire engine which they take on trips to conduct prescribed burns.

Throughout history, fire, in its physical form or just its idea, has developed a bad rap. Never mind the fact it provided warmth and a heat source to cook for ancient people, but do mind the devastation it can cause. The Texas Panhandle fires in May 2017 that took the lives of seven still burn in our memories. Driving down the road and seeing “EXTREME WILDFIRE DANGER,” on one of TXDOT’s big message boards brings chills to our spine as we think of the lives, livestock and spirit lost, but somehow simultaneously strengthened.

Fire is not all bad though –indigenous people who first inhabited the Americas knew that. After leaving their hunting and gathering ways and transitioning to a more agrarian lifestyle, they realized the importance fire served in helping their lands sustain the vegetables and grains they relied on. These days, producers carry on this knowledge and frequently conduct prescribed burns. A prescribed burn is a fire intentionally ignited and organized to follow a predetermined plan in accordance with National Environmental Policy Act.

Burning Brighter and Brighter

Dr. Robin Verble, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resource Management at Texas Tech University, understands and addresses the fears people have in regard to fire, but stresses how to conduct prescribed burns safely and effectively.

“People are fearful of fire outside of a fireplace,” Verble said. “It’s always scared people because it has the potential to cause loss of economics and loss of life.”

Outside the hearth, the practical and beneficial uses of fire abound. It allows nutrient-filled new vegetation to spring up from the ground. The rejuvenating effects of fire also help to aid producers in improving soil quality. Prescribed burning also prevents dreaded wildfires. Without vegetation to burn, a spark will lack the fuel to spread, or be met by new, green plants which lack the dryness necessary to be a viable fuel source.

Verble, who is a native of French Lick, Indiana, is teaching the next generation of fire starters to responsibly utilize its power in her courses, NRM 3323 and 5323. Despite the fact the class isn’t specifically required to complete any degrees within the department, it is undisputedly the most sought after course offered among NRM students. She already has a waitlist filled with prospective students for 2019.

While no pre-requisite courses must be satisfied in order to take the class, Verble’s approval is required. Approval is gained through an application designed to help gauge a prospective student’s goals and intentions should they take the course, and more importantly, their dedication to the measures of safety required.

“I want someone who is really excited about the safety and the work,” Verble said. “It’s about 90 percent of what we do.”

People are fearful of fire outside of a fireplace.

A Legacy of Excellence in Fire Ecology

The class didn’t start with Verble’s arrival at Texas Tech in 2014. Dr. Henry Wright, who pioneered plethoras of modern fire ecology theories and practices, developed the course after he began teaching at Tech in 1967. He is and will be forever hailed for his hands-on, experiential learning approach. His legacy and expertise still shine through the course.

“I am teaching this class with the ‘Henry Wright spirit,’” Verble said. “We’re getting out and burning, both with private and public landowners. We’re giving students hands-on experience in range burning.”

Dr. Robin Verble
Dr. Robin Verble loads up the fire engine in preparation for a burn exercise.

A Family Atmosphere

Verble’s passion for teaching others about fire ecology began during her time at The University of Southern Indiana. While there, the instructor of introduction to fire ecology course taught lessons on wildland fire. Wildland fires are non-structure fires that are not prescribed and take place in a rural area. Her interest didn’t grow solely in the lecture hall, though. At the same time, she was beginning to learn about the concepts that would shape her career, her then-boyfriend and now-husband, Seth Pearson, had just joined a fire crew. Together, they would talk about the innumerable new things they were learning and studying.

The fire ecology network spans far beyond Verble and her husband, who is currently a wildlife biologist in Ralls, Texas. In addition to the prescribed burning course, she also helps organize a trip to send upper-level students who are interested in a career in fire on an expedition across the country, where they develop industry contacts while using different methods to burn. Verble said conducting a prescribed burn is an art – everyone does it a little differently, depending on the regulatory entity supervising the burn and background of the person burning.

“Fire is one of those super family atmospheres, where I know somebody who knows somebody,” Verble said while laughing. “We tend to stay really close-knit.”

Goals and Objectives

In addition to working toward familiarizing students with the basic concepts of prescribed burning, planning and fire management, a secondary goal of the prescribed burning class is for students to gain certification through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Type II Wildland Firefighting program. After receiving this certification, students are better qualified to work for a forest or park service.

One of the steps necessary to gain Type II certification is passing the “arduous pack test,” that requires students to complete a 3-mile hike in 45 minutes, all while carrying a 45-pound backpack. First-year graduate student Courtney Jasik, from Mertzon, Texas, recently took and passed the pack test with five seconds to spare.

“I’ll be so sore tomorrow,” said Jasik, as she powered through the third and final mile of the hike. Jasik, while keeping an open mind in regard to where her career will lead, she dreams of working as a rangeland management specialist.

“It’s extremely challenging, but also reminds me of how important fitness is in most [natural resource management] pursuits,” Jasik said.

Classmates prepare to travel to the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Roby, Texas to conduct a prescribed burn.

Blazing a Trail

Many students who take the course aren’t ditching their rubber-soled boots and leather gloves on the last day, though. Students who show initiative, interest and talent often stay on another semester to be a teaching assistant for the class.

“I think most of the time [students] take the class and fall in love with it,” Verble said. Students often seek not only summer internships, but full-time careers in fire ecology and firefighting.

The spring of 2018 proved to be another tumultuous season with the constant risk of a disastrous wildfires burning ominously bright. Much of Tech’s next generation of land conservationists will go through Verble’s class. As students within Texas Tech University’s Department of Natural Resource Management, they will employ countless practices, including prescribed burning, to be dedicated stewards of the land.

Now, if we could just get some more rain.

New Kids on the Block

4 female professors standing in hallway

In 2015, a study published in the Journal of Applied Communications recognized Texas Tech as the No. 1 agricultural communications program in the nation.

The Texas Tech ACOM program faculty took this No. 1 accomplishment as a challenge; how could they continue to produce top-tier graduates while staying up-to-date with the demands of the industry? As a result, they began brainstorming about innovative ways to keep their program on top. Thus, the idea of a “block” structure was born.

Building the Block

The faculty of the ACOM program came together and decided this block structure would be the best way to help transition students from college life into a career. Four ACOM faculty members teach the block: Courtney Meyers, Associate Professor, Erica Irlbeck, Associate Professor, Courtney Gibson, Assistant Professor and Lindsay Kennedy, Instructor.

Modeled after the agricultural education structure, the ACOM block is a unique and innovative learning experience through a combined course structure of four classes that includes campaign development, magazine production, advanced layout and advanced web design.

“The block is a set of four courses that the students have to co-enroll in,” Irlbeck said. “We have integrated our courses to make it feel like the students are communicating for an organization, and we try to make it as true to the industry as possible.”

After working in the agricultural industry for 10 years, Lindsay Kennedy joined the Texas Tech ACOM faculty in September 2015. Kennedy was able to provide her industry experience and perspective into the new course structure as well as an understanding of what employers are looking for in recent graduates.

“We wanted to put students in that real-world environment before they were actually in that environment,” Kennedy said. “When they go through the hiring process, they can speak from experience more-so than just having the basic classes.”

Kennedy said a goal of this course structure is to help students understand the “big picture” concepts and how all these skills can be used when developing strategic, cohesive communications initiatives.

What is the Block

The four ACOM faculty members teach the block, each using their unique skill set and expertise. Each course is meant to complement the others, just as it would be in a work setting environment.

Advanced Design Principles for Agricultural Communications is taught by Dr. Courtney Gibson. This class provides an in-depth examination of design principles and theories, design applications and design topics relevant to the agricultural industry. Students learn how to create effective design pieces for agricultural audiences and further utilize the Adobe Creative Cloud software.

Agricultural Communications Campaigns is taught by Dr. Erica Irlbeck. This course, better known as “campaigns,” covers the principles, practices, and applications of general marketing as it pertains to developing communication campaigns for a company or organization. This is a service-learning course where students work with an actual client to create and implement an integrated marketing campaign.

Convergence is Agricultural Media is taught by Dr. Courtney Meyers. This course is designed to focus on creating a real-world, practical working experience using computer-based electronic production tools to prepare students for a career in agricultural communications.

Development of Agricultural Publications is taught by Kennedy who is a doctoral candidate. This course examines each student’s ability to integrate various skills obtained in previous courses into one product with an emphasis on the computer software applications commonly used in agricultural publishing. To produce The Agriculturist magazine, the course is designed to provide all students the opportunity to have their writing, advertisements, photographs, and artwork published in The Agriculturist.

The Advanced Design Principles for Agricultural Communications course works closely with the Development of Agricultural Publications course by creating and designing layouts and creative components for the stories that make up the publication, The Agriculturist. The Agricultural Communications Campaigns course works closely with the Convergence in Agricultural Media course by teaching students how to utilize certain media tools to help create and examine a communications campaign.

Students in the block are required to work together for multiple group projects throughout the course of the semester to simulate a real-world working environment.

Gibson explained how each class in the block works together and the benefit this structure gives to students.

“Writing skills tie in with your design skills that tie into your web and video skills, and you can use all of those to do effective messaging in reaching your audiences,” Gibson said. “We want you to be these truly prepared employees, going out into the world with this really cool skill set and experience.”

Going Forward

Jim Bret Campbell is the executive director at the National Ranching Heritage Center and a ’96 ACOM Texas Tech alum. He explained in a career, students must be prepared for a wide variety of environments. He said the transition from college life is hard but with this new block experience, it will be an intense application of the skills that students have been leaning for the past four years, getting them ready for the real world. This last semester for students now notches up the intensity, which will be beneficial to students when they begin their careers.

“It’s really an advantage giving students an experience that combines all classes together,” Campbell said. “It’s something that employers will take into consideration.”

It’s really an advantage giving students an experience that combines all classes together.

Campbell said employers in the industry are looking for people to contribute to their specific organization. With students who have been through this agricultural communications block, they are ready to bring fresh ideas to any company and have the willingness to learn in any situation.

Throughout the semester, students in the block are required to work together in different teams for various assignments and projects. Although some say it is overwhelming at times, there is a method to this madness. Irlbeck worked in the industry for eight years before joining the ACOM faculty at Texas Tech. She said this block experience gives students a realistic expectation of what the real-world is like.

“Knowing that people are depending on you is an important factor,” Irlbeck said. “Students are able to see first-hand working relationships.”

Meyers has been on the ACOM faculty at Texas Tech for 10 years. She explained how each professor expects a lot from students in this block structure and how the block is truly preparing students for the 21st-century workforce.

“I hope our students who go through the block become the leaders in the organizations who hire them,” Meyers said.

Dr. Scott Burris, professor and associate chair of the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, said Texas Tech’s ACOM program has always been on the leading edge.

“The agricultural communications program is really a jewel of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources,” Burris said. “This program is absolutely something that has bolstered the reputation of the university.”

Texas Tech University has always had a strong, innovative agricultural communications program since the 90s, and it seems there is no slowing down. By keeping up with the demands of the industry, the new ACOM block seeks to produce graduates who are ready to face the transition from college into their careers.

“I continue to be excited about the growth of the program,” Campbell said. “The admiration and respect I see all across the country speaks volumes about not only the instructors, but also about the students as well.”

Raider Wardens

Texas Tech University, South Plains College and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department cooperatively worked together to develop the Bachelor of Science in Conservation Law Enforcement, a one-of-a-kind exclusive degree program that can only be obtained from Texas Tech.

Robert Cox, Ph.D., associate professor for the Department of Natural Resources Management and primary advisor for the conservation law enforcement students, said the program is making an impact in the wildlife management industry.

“We have been seeing an increase in the success of getting students in the program to the game warden academy, which means that Texas Tech graduates will now start being farmed out across the state as game wardens, managing the interaction between people and wildlife,” Cox said.

The program requires an associate’s degree in criminal justice from a two-year institution, such as South Plains College. Once students have completed their associate’s degree and begin the conservation law enforcement program at Texas Tech, they then take a series of wildlife courses, such as wildlife management, wildlife anatomy or waterfowl management. Cox said students in those courses learn how to observe, manage and identify wildlife species.

“Think about a game warden,” Cox said, “let’s say they come across a deer carcass. They need to know how to identify what kind of animal that is, how old the animal was, how it was killed, or whether it has evidence of disease, and those are the kinds of things they are learning here.”

The program features courses taught by game wardens in the region. The game wardens instruct students in the conservation law enforcement program on how to be a game warden.

Ride-along hours are required for the program in order for students to get a real experience of the daily life of a game warden. The program prefers the ride-along hours be with a current game warden, but students can complete their hours with any law enforcement official, such as city or state police or even a justice of the peace. Cox said students soon realize law enforcement involves a lot of downtime and paperwork with brief moments of excitement.

The distinguished Texas Game Warden Training Academy is a very competitive program with only 15 to 20 cadets being accepted each year out of hundreds of applicants. There is a rigorous application procedure that includes testing, a series of interviews, background checks, and physical and psychological evaluations. He said Texas Tech generally has one or two students accepted into the academy annually, and most applicants apply for several years before they are accepted.

Preston Kleman, a 2014 Texas Tech graduate from the conservation law enforcement program, is a Texas game warden in Lamb, Bailey, and Cochran counties. Kleman said the program helped him in unique ways that cadets from other programs did not experience prior to entering the game warden academy. Kleman said he had already been introduced to a large portion of the material they went over in the academy because of the thorough curriculum in the conservation law enforcement degree program.

Conservation law enforcement students sit in on a classroom session focused on force training and tactics when dealing with non-cooperating individuals.

“Not everybody had a criminal justice or wildlife degree in the academy,” Kleman said. “Some of the others had teaching degrees and came from varying backgrounds. I had more exposure to the varying types of experiences game wardens endure than most of the other people in the academy because I was in conservation law. It really stands out to the instructors. It shows you’re interested and you want it.”

Kleman stressed the importance of criminal justice and conservation courses. He said game wardens spend most of their time doing criminal justice work, but the conservation courses come in handy when working on biology or conservation-related duties.

Ride-along hours were a major benefit to Kleman. He said getting to see game wardens in the field doing their duties was a major help while in the academy. During his time, his instructors would give him test scenarios and he would have to figure out how to handle them.

Conservation law enforcement has greatly influenced my future in the game warden profession.

Baylie Halbakken, a senior from Levelland, Texas, said majoring in conservation law can be tough and daunting at times, especially when looking at hiring rates and the probability of being accepted into the game warden academy. However, he believes the program offered by Texas Tech is a major assistance to the participating students, and he believes students who complete the program are at a higher-level than others applying for the game warden academy who do not have the specialized degree.

“Overall, it’s a lot of fun if you take a step back and really look at what you are getting involved in because we get to put our hands in a lot of different things as conservation law students,” Halbakken said. “We get to see the wildlife aspects of it, we get to see changes in animal populations, we get to do and participate in prescribed burns, and we get to participate in the law enforcement aspect of things. We are pretty much covering an entire gamete of areas of expertise that we get to participate in on a daily basis.”

Major Ron VanderRoest instructs a night class once a week for the conservation law students.

Halbakken said it is the instructors of conservation law enforcement, such as Captain-Major VanderRoest, who have been the most helpful for students in the program. Some instructors are currently in the profession and get to teach the students about what it means to become a game warden and how to be a better game warden. The instructors can also give insight into the process of getting hired, what the job entails, and the ins and outs students could potentially want to know about the career they may partake in.

“Conservation law enforcement is a highly beneficial program,” Halbakken said. “If anyone is looking into it, they should be proactive and look into it now.”

Moving Up, Expanding Out

The Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech University is considered one of the nation’s premier animal and food sciences departments in the nation. Equipped with state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities as well as widely recognized faculty and staff. AFS has recently felt unparalleled growth in student enrollment.

Since 2013, the Department of Animal and Food Sciences has experienced an unprecedented 45 percent growth in undergraduate student enrollment, dwarfing the total enrollment growth of the university, which usually only sees a 3 percent average increase in undergraduate enrollment each semester. The student increase in AFS over the past five years is one of the largest growth margins by a department on campus.

The department’s faculty and staff have seen first-hand the continuing enrollment progression. Michael Orth, Ph.D., is chair of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech.

“We’ve gone somewhere in the 400-500 student range to 684,” Orth said. “In particular, if you look at the last four years, our new enrollment was about 150 students four years ago. Three years ago, it was 170 students. Last year, it was 200 students. Now, in this current year, it is over 280.”

Reasons for Growth

The Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech was ranked among the top 20 in the country, according to GraduatePrograms.com. The department is equipped with four multimedia classrooms, five specialized teaching and research labs, the largest retail meat cooler on a university campus, and a retail store. Additionally AFS is staffed with faculty members at the forefront of research in topics, including food safety, muscle biology, nutrition, and breeding and genetics.

According to Orth, there are three major reasons why the department has experienced such large enrollment increases: the annual youth camps and activities hosted by the department, the emergent companion animal program, and the implementation of a veterinary school associated with Texas Tech.

“We have livestock, horse and meat judging youth camps, so we have a lot of youth on campus,” Orth said. “In April, we have a lot of local contests here for 4-H and FFA. A lot of kids get exposed to the department. We feel like when people come to Texas Tech, that’s one of the best recruiting tools. If kids come here and they have a good time, they’re more likely to come back.”

The new companion animal program within the department serves as a non-traditional route for pre-veterinary science students who may come from suburban or urban backgrounds, as well as students who may not have an interest in a livestock-centric animal science degree. Orth said the program has given an opportunity to a set of students that comes to the department looking to do something a little different with diversified learning and research opportunities.

Students gather in the atrium to socialize, complete classwork or eat from Cowamongus, the restaurant housed in the animal science building.

Another opportunity students may seek through the Department of Animal and Food Sciences is admission to the forthcoming veterinary school in Amarillo. In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed a budget allocating $4.1 million to the creation of a Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine.

“I really think that just the idea that we might have a vet school has increased the popularity of our program,” Orth said. “And really for getting into vet school, the best major is animal science because of the animal background and teaching that you get.”

Although the overall growth of the department is recognized as a testament to its success, building and program limitations are being brought to the forefront of concern.

“It’s been great to see the growth in the department, but right now we are basically busting at the seams,” Orth said. “We need more facilities. We need more space. That’s becoming a critical issue because if we keep growing at say a 15-20 percent clip, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Right now we are basically busting at the seams.

With the increased student enrollment, faculty and staff are faced with an ongoing lack of available classroom space, office space and teaching laboratories. The overall scarcity of room is becoming a challenge in maintaining the hands-on nature of the program and its production courses.

Nick Hardcastle is a doctoral student in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences. He graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in animal science from Texas Tech and has seen the department grow over the years.

“It’s just crazy to see how much growth animal science has had,” Hardcastle said. “The classes I started off in at Tech only had like 20 people in them, and now that I’m teaching them it’s just these massive classes with like 50 to 60 kids.”

When it comes to maintaining small class sizes to promote student engagement and interaction, faculty and staff, including Orth, have to ask difficult questions.

“As many classes as we can have a laboratory or a hands-on component, and that just gets more and more difficult when you get really big,” Orth said. “Where do you do it? We only have one teaching lab. In the fall we have to ask, ‘Do we meet on Saturdays? Do we meet in the evening?’”

With the increase in undergraduate enrollment, the department is developing new extra-curricular opportunities to engage a wider range of students. Recently, the academic quadrathlon team was restarted and went on to win the southern section competition in 2017. Other opportunities for students include a wider range of study abroad programs, the potential for an animal welfare team, and wool, horse, livestock and meat judging teams.

Hardcastle was a member of the 2013 Texas Tech meat judging team and a coach on the 2016 Reserve National Champion meat judging team.

“I think now that there are so many more students in the department, we’re also seeing a lot more interest in our judging programs,” Hardcastle said. “Our teams now have like 20 kids compared to the eight or nine that other teams have. A lot of those kids end up staying and getting a master’s, too, so the graduate program is seeing growth from that, too.”

As the program and the agriculture industry continue to grow and new opportunities become available to students, the Department of Animal and Food Sciences expects to see continued growth in undergraduate student enrollment, Orth said.

“You know, you’re always going to need food no matter what, and it’s always an important thing,” Orth said. “The animal and food science areas are global industries. You’re interacting. You’re importing, you’re exporting, you’re working with several different countries. It’s expanding.”

Horse statue outside of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences overlooks the doorway students enter for class.

5 Things Ag Comm Majors Want You to Know

Have you ever wondered ‘What the heck is agricultural communications?’ Have you ever asked someone what exactly ag comm people do? As an agricultural communicator, I get asked both of these questions frequently. We have a big job and play an important role across many industries.

According to the Texas Tech Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, agricultural communications prepares students to communicate and advocate for the agricultural industry. Students learn a variety of written, verbal, visual, photography and technological skills. The University of Georgia Career Center stated, “The agricultural communications major prepares students to report agricultural information to consumers, farmers, agribusinesses, commodity groups, and governmental agencies.” We hold positions such as: marketing, sales, management, journalism, media, photography, public relations, advertising, web design, graphic design and communications. Honestly, we can do it all.

I often hear people asking questions about ag comm majors. I think we are one of the most misunderstood majors you can find. Agricultural communications degrees are not found at every university, so we are really quite unique. There are so many stereotypes of ag comm majors out there, and I want to help people understand who we are and what we do. To all the people who have questions, here are five things all agricultural communications majors want you to know.

1. Texas Tech is the #1 ag comm undergraduate program in the nation.

Forget the yellow brick, follow the ag comm Road! Texas Tech University has great faculty, and our ag comm professors are the best in the field! Photo credit: Saicy Lytle

A study done by the University of Arkansas named Texas Tech the number one agricultural communications undergraduate program in the nation. THE NATION. How cool would it be to say you are a part of the number one program in the nation?

2. No, we don’t talk to animals.

We love animals! Talking to them would be a little weird though. Photo Credit: Phere

We all get asked the same question. “Do you talk to cows?” No, we talk about cattle, but not directly to them. People often assume agricultural communications prepares students to be animal whisperers, which is not the case. At first, I thought people were joking, but no, people actually think our curriculum involves learning agricultural animals’ dialects.

3. We are the go-between in the agricultural industry.

As the gate is between lands, so communicators are between producers and consumers. Source: Free Images

Agricultural communicators are the gateway between the producers and consumers and we help both understand each other. Lots of agriculturists use very technical terms that the average consumer would not understand. As a communicator, our job is to help relay that information in a comprehensible manner. We are the liaison for the average person, to help them get the information they need, in a way they understand.

4. Life isn’t always easy as an ag comm major.

Dirty Hands
Ag comm majors like to get their hands dirty, too! Source: Pxhere

We aren’t an “easy” major; we actually have a very important job. We serve an integral part in the way our industry works with others. Without the work we do, consumers wouldn’t get their answers as easily, and no one would be there to help the agriculturists relay their knowledge back to the consumers. We like to take on challenges just like everyone else, and even get our hands dirty from time-to-time.

5. We aren’t limited to what jobs we can do.

A study done within the Texas Tech Department of Agricultural Education and Communications found about one third of the respondents had jobs in marketing, advertising or public relations. One tenth of the respondents worked as executive directors or in some other administrative role. Others said they work in legal and financial services, education, and some in university admissions.

Job Categories
This chart shows some of the specific jobs our alumni had in a recent study. Source: Texas Tech Department of Agricultural Education and Communications

Of these job categories, the most common company categories was non-agricultural related businesses. While a majority of agricultural communicators do work within the industry, this study goes to show that you can do a multitude of things with the degree. If an agriculture position doesn’t interest you, that’s okay – there are still plenty of options out there.

Company Categories
This graph shows the various companies that some of Texas Tech agricultural communications alumni have gone in to following graduation. Source: Texas Tech Department of Agricultural Education and Communications

Another study completed within the department researched how much money ag comm graduates make. The study found that the mean salary for first year graduates with a bachelor’s degree was $31,326. Of these respondents, 91 percent completed an internship in college, and 26.7 percent of those received full-time jobs from their internships. This certainly isn’t the highest paid position, but we have a very rewarding job!

As you can see, agricultural communications students have many talents. From job opportunities to being the industry liaison, many doors are opened when you have a degree in agricultural communication.  For information about the degree offered at Texas Tech, please visit our department website.

Conservation of Land & Heritage

Dan and Tom Griffin stand strong on their family ranch in front of angus cattle.


On the Griffin Ranch, family traditions are a blueprint for decisions about college, livelihoods and ranch management, but are difficult to amend. Tom, Dan, and Ben Griffin graduated from Texas Tech University like their father and are the fifth generation to manage a portion of the family ranch in Borden County, Texas.

Tom and Dan perpetuate stewardship attitudes they learned from previous generations, but have fostered a stronger relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve their conservation practices.

Dropping off the cap

The Griffin Ranch is about 30,000 acres in total and lies right off the caprock, a stunning 250-mile-long geographic border marking the end of the Southern Plains. They also have another portion of the ranch around Channing, Texas.

“You drop off the cap, and it has a lot more character as far as up and down, breaks and creeks,” Tom said. “Every pasture is a little different.”

Tom, Dan and Ben take care of separate portions of the cow-calf ranch. However, the Griffins act as a team during times like branding and weaning and will help each other take care of the ranch regardless of whose “portion” they are working. They treat the ranch as one cohesive family business and “plan to keep it that way,” according to Dan.

The family has been managing the land since 1926 when Thomas Louis Griffin first established the ranch.

Taking back the land

Based on stories from his grandpa, Tom said the landscape was completely different back then. It would’ve looked more like the Rolling Plains with a few short mesquite trees, if any.

“It has changed quite a bit I’d say,” Tom said and chuckled, “but I think it’s always been dry.”

Thomas Lane Griffin, the brothers’ dad, began battling mesquite on the ranch, a struggle that has continued into the next generation. The trees, a problematic invasive species, suppress grasslands and dominate water resources. They are hard to eradicate, but spread easily.

“Whether you get governmental assistance or not, you have to fight it,” Tom said, “or else it takes over. It crawls through and spreads like wildfire.”

Dan and Tom said they administer brush control through aerial spraying, grubbing with a tractor or excavator, and have recently experimented with prescribed burns collaborating with the NRCS.

Firm foundations

“Since I can remember, Dad pretty much took care of the ranch himself with a couple of hands from time to time,” Tom said. “He’s done more on this ranch than we’ve done together.”

Tom explained Griffin Sr. is not resistant to new ideas and management practices, but he is a careful and cautious, especially not wanting to detriment the ranch’s grazing capability.

“He’s seen a lot more drought in his lifetime than Dan and I have,” Tom said. “He has more experience and is still the final say on a lot of things.”

The brothers consider drought a family hardship along with the passing of their grandfather.

“Paw Paw died in 2010,” Dan said, “and then it didn’t rain.”

“Paw Paw died in 2010, and then it didn’t rain.”

Since 1996, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service reports droughts have taken more than $38.5 billion from the Texas agriculture economy with farm and ranch losses totaling $21.62 billion.

Tom said 2014 and 2015 were positive years for the ranch. Since the “worst” drought Tom has ever experienced in 2011 and 2012, the ranch’s populations of quail, deer, and bobcats have skyrocketed, largely due to the conservation work the Griffins do with the NRCS.

NRCS conservation partnership

With their increasing roles as ranch managers, Tom and Dan have brought new ideas to the table by working closely with the local NRCS’s field office to improve the ranch using conservation enhancements through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

The Griffin brothers are able to enroll in NRCS programs as Young Farmer and Ranchers. This incentive gives young families like the Griffins, who are beginning to establish or expand their agricultural operations, a slightly higher cost-share rate on conservation practices and improvement projects.

Dan said the NRCS has helped cost-share projects on the ranch including building fences to help prevent overgrazing, spreading out water sources for cattle, and building a water storage system to save water for drought years.

“Because these improvements are cost prohibitive, we would’ve had to get loans,” Tom said. “The financial assistance from the NRCS makes it easier to do these conservation enhancements.”

The NRCS provides technical and financial assistance but also supports ranchers as an educational resource with a team of district conservationists, water quality and grazing land specialists, and agricultural engineers.

Dan has worked with Matthew Coffman, the NRCS Southern Rolling Plains grazing lands coordinator, to formulate a prescribed burn plan for the Griffin ranch.

“Matt made the entire fire plan, and it didn’t cost us anything,” Dan said. “The prescribed burns have helped with productivity of the grasses and brush control and has made our pastures healthier.”

Dan said working with Coffman and other NRCS staff has sparked his interest to learn more about grasses and how to keep the land productive.

Coffman said he began working with Dan in 2014. He said he is inspired by the large-scale impact on the health of the land from work his NRCS predecessors did nearly 20 years ago.

Coffman said goals for the ranch include building the burn program to the point where the Griffins have applying prescribed burns “down to a science” with a regular rotation of acres and are able to take more control of the process.

“They are just great guys,” Coffman said. “I enjoy working with them, and I can tell they want to benefit their land. They’re working really hard.”

Strong family bonds

Responsible stewardship is one of the many Griffin family traditions that the brothers said is “in their blood.”

Tom said his wife and kids enjoy Texas Tech football games and are able to sit in the same seats that Tom and his brothers did growing up. Tom and Ben were able to get the season tickets their grandparents used to have.

Gloria Griffin, the brothers’ grandmother, still lives at the homeplace and celebrated her 87th birthday in October. Tom said she has plenty of great-grandkids who visit her daily. The brothers indicated their strong ties to their family motivated them to return to the ranch after graduating.

Overall, Tom describes the Griffins as blessed to be able to continue living on the ranch and passing down family traditions and values down to the next generation.

“We grew up riding horses, working cows, hunting, fishing, and going to church,” Dan said. “Visiting grandma next door seem to be about as good a lifestyle to raise kids in as we can think of.”



Transforming Traditional

Students will spend time working in both the Lubbock Animal Shelter and the Haven Animal Shelter to develop an understanding of both public and private sectors of the animal shelter industry.

On a cold winter day in 2014, three Texas Tech animal science faculty members scribbled notes on a napkin in a Lubbock coffee shop. Their goal was to move the department beyond its traditional agriculture focus, by giving it a new and unique dimension.

The Department of Animal and Food Sciences is located amidst vast stretches of farm and ranchland, influenced by the agricultural resources of the West Texas, and dedicated to livestock. The department, true to its agricultural roots, is ideal for students looking for a traditional livestock-focused program.

However, the department is also home to a group of students who do not fit the traditional livestock mold. Because the department’s animal science program lays claim to being the most popular pre-vet option, it has accumulated many students from urban backgrounds who are interested in studying companion animals, which include dogs, cats and horses.

During the fall of 2013, Dr. Michael Orth, chair and professor of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, recognized this growing group of non-traditional animal science students, passionate about animals that do not fall into the livestock category.

“Obviously we have this very rich tradition with judging teams…and an incredible number of national champions,” Orth said. “We have outstanding programs in those areas. But, I picked up that if you aren’t in one of those areas you kind of feel like, ‘Well, what do I do?’”

In two short years and with the help of two other animal science faculty members, Drs. Guy Loneragan and John McGlone, Orth set out to integrate a new, unique area of study into the department that would meet the needs of these students and set Texas Tech above the rest.

A New Concentration

Due to the efforts of the three dedicated faculty, Texas Tech’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences now has a companion animal science concentration within the animal science major. It is one of the world’s first universities to integrate this concentration within an animal science department and is one of the few universities to focus on human- animal interaction.

In the shelter management course, students will use local animal shelter facilities to gain experience with routine medical procedures.

Orth said the addition of the companion animal concentration gives the department a fourth area of research, opportunities for new grant funding, and the ability to cater to students who do not want to go the traditional animal science route.

“It gives these students some opportunities to do experiential learning that they would not have had, and so I think that’s big,” Orth said.

According to Orth, in this concentration the term “companion animal” refers primarily to dogs with some attention to horses and cats. Through hands-on research, students will explore canine well-being, behavior, olfaction, nutrition, training and management, as well as equine and canine human-animal interaction.

Orth said the concentration is broken into two course tracks. Students may choose to follow the general companion animal science option or the pre-vet option with a companion animal emphasis.

The general option is designed for students who want to work with companion animals, but are not interested in vet school. The course track is heavily focused on identifying alternative career opportunities through practicums. The pre-vet option remains true to the traditional pre-vet course track, but allows students to substitute some livestock courses for companion animal courses.

With the knowledge and experience gained through this concentration, students are well prepared for both industry and non-profit jobs in areas such as military dog training, nutrition and shelter management.

Nathan Hall, Ph.D., assistant professor of companion animal science, said many students want to become veterinarians because they know they have an interest in working with companion animals, but with time and exposure to alternative routes, many discover a career better fit for their passion. All courses have been created with the intent to open doors that may not have previously existed for students.

Hall said exposing students to a variety of career options within the companion animal industry is a goal of the program.

“We will hopefully try and spark that intellectual passion that will match with their passion for working with dogs and cats, or horses, or any other companion animal,” Hall said, “so that they can sort of marry those two aspects into a career and not just some sort of job here and there.”

However, students who do choose to pursue a career as a veterinarian will leave the program exceptionally prepared and equipped with a very unique knowledge base.

Sasha Protopopova, Ph.D., assistant professor of companion animal science, said the companion animal concentration exposes undergraduate students to ideas and insights only veterinarians will be exposed to through experience.

“Students will be very well prepared for veterinary school as well as other fields and industries within companion animal science. Students will learn to be critical and forward thinkers, with a community-based mindset.”

Additionally, students are offered the opportunity to study how horses serve as companions through equine mental assisted therapy. Katy Schroeder, Ph.D., assistant professor of companion animal science, said the animal assisted therapy industry is growing exponentially and horses are playing an important role in human health and wellness.

“Horses have a special place in the program,” Schroeder said. “I think horses do get lumped into [the program] as companion animals, but they serve a special role in terms of their connection with human beings.

Schroeder said she will add a mental health component to the equine therapeutic programs already being provided by Texas Tech.

None of them have an animal science degree, but they’ve got an appreciation for animals.Michael Orth

A Thriving Industry

As the largest single segment of American agriculture, it comes at no surprise the cattle industry has over an $88 billion economic impact nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. However, the pet industry also has a hefty impact on America’s economy.

Companion animals have created a multibillion-dollar industry consisting of the products and services created to keep pets alive, healthy and happy. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent approximately $62 billion caring for their pets in 2016. With well over half of the country’s homes owning a pet, the industry is booming and full of opportunity for entrepreneurship and employment.

While the difference between cats and cattle may be drastic, the integration of a companion animal focus into a traditional animal science department has been subtle.

In the shelter management course, a service learning course, students are required to spend two hours per week throughout the semester assisting with various duties at an animal shelter.

When considering the impact of the new concentration, Orth reflected on the department’s motto, “discovering solutions, empowering students, and serving society.”

“It’s the empowering student aspect,” Orth said. “It’s letting them do things and be involved in projects and classes that five years ago they wouldn’t have been able to do if they came here.”

Orth said the addition of a unique area of study took nothing away from the department’s traditional roots, but simply added another piece to the pie.

“We have brought in three faculty members,” Orth said. “None of them have an animal science degree, but they’ve got an appreciation for animals. These individuals bring in some different thinking about animals and how you can interact with students, and different perspectives on things that, quite frankly, the rest of us wouldn’t have. I like that diversity of thought in the department. I think it’s good.”

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From Retention to Prevention

Legako followed her husband back to Tech where she was selected as the newest Academic Specialist for Student Retention.
Legako followed her husband back to Tech where she was selected as the newest Academic Specialist for Student Retention.

The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University has a reputation for taking care of its students. Perhaps that is why the college holds the No. 1 spot in academic retention within the university. Stephanie Legako, the new academic specialist for student retention, plans to use her experience in psychology to help the college maintain its high standards.

“I have to keep retention up,” Legako said. “Currently, CASNR holds the No. 1 spot for retention across all 10 colleges at the university. We are No. 1 in first-year retention, and so I work with professors, I work with students, I work with other staff members in CASNR and across campus to keep students in school.”

As the academic specialist for student retention, Legako is focused on the advancement, satisfaction and overall success of current CASNR students to meet personal, professional and academic goals during their time at Texas Tech. Additionally, she is responsible for coordinating all student retention activities, including Ag Awareness Week and Winter Welcome. She has also taken on the advisory role of Ag Ambassadors.

Legako received her bachelor’s in psychology from Texas Tech and master’s degree in human development and family science from Oklahoma State University. She said she always felt led to help others but wanted to find her own niche, which is how she became a family therapist. Upon, graduation from OSU, she moved with her husband, Jerrad, to Utah, where she served as a therapist at Blomquist Hale Employee Assistance and lead therapist at Capstone Counseling, both in Logan, Utah.

This past year, Jerrad accepted an assistant professor position at Texas Tech in the Department of Food Science, and Stephanie looked forward to returning to their alma matter. At her previous employer, a spousal support program was offered, allowing spouses to interview for open positions. Upon their return to Texas Tech, Jerrad asked about a similar program to find that the academic specialist for retention position was vacant. Micheal Orth, Ph. D., Chair and Professor in the Department of Animal and Food Science, encouraged Stephanie to apply as her therapist license would greatly compliment the role in the department.

Legako received the job offer and began the position in October. Utilizing her therapist licensing and previous experiences to compliment her role, she plans to highlight and compliment what those before her have completed with a new angle. She has been able to use her experience and knowledge of the Lubbock area to benefit students and promote success in college.

Legako is able to bring a new angle to her role as she holds a degree in psychology and a license in family therapy.

Legako said she believes her ability to work with students in a “one-on-group” manner set her apart from most academic specialist for student retention.

“[Family therapists] are systemic thinkers,” Legako explained. “When you look at somebody like a psychologist or a professional counselor, they work one-on-one with people. Social workers and family therapists work one-on-groups.”

Within her role, if a professor notices abnormal performance or behavior from a student, she is notified. From this notification, Legako meets with the student to help him or her find the best way to avoid academic probation based on his or her individual circumstances.

“I don’t look at a person who’s having a problem with a class,” Legako said. “I look at a person who’s struggling in their system, and so it’s rarely about the classwork.”

She compared students’ success to an injury needing crutches. While one part may be injured, all parts can be affected and initially prevent the body from working in tandem. Similarly, all aspects of a student’s life have to work together to reach success. If one piece isn’t functioning properly, it can mess up the student’s entire success system.

With my skill set, ideally, we’re going to start meeting with people before they fall out, coming at retention from a prevention standpoint.Stephanie Legako

Legako has enjoyed her role within CASNR. She said she likes the family-oriented atmosphere within the department, which is a prime reason why she is not just a therapist anymore. With a young daughter at home, she truly values the family-like atmosphere that CASNR both houses in the office and promotes outside of the office.

“We have a very family feel,” Legako said. “It was so much easier to know that I would be supported as a mom and a wife in CASNR, than as a therapist. It’s just really nice to have the opportunity to be a mom.”

Legako said she enjoys using her skillset in her role as the academic specialist for student retention and feels this has been a good fit for her as she has transitioned into having a family.

Cindy Akers, Ed. D, Professor & Associate Dean for Academic and Student Programs within the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, is enjoying watching Legako excel and improve the college.

“I’m really excited about the addition of Stephanie to our staff,” Akers said, “we have always been one of the highest retention colleges in the university, and I think some of the things that keep retention high is we push involvement, we have faculty advising, but there is that other piece, the helping students understand the resources, and that’s where Stephanie comes in.”

Akers said the department is excited to watch Legako grow in this position and is ready to see where she can take academic retention and her preventative measures for academic probation. Legako has plans to work with the university on lessening student’s time in college while keeping students feeling at home within CASNR.

Legako said the retention specialists before her left a sterling reputation. Following their lead, she wants to continue what they have done by adding her own personal touch to the role. She is currently working on building a peer mentorship program, similar to Ag Pals, to work toward a “trickle-down” retention effect from upper to lower classman. She hopes to see students more engaged to encourage a four-year graduation rate instead of five and six-year graduation rates.

“With my skill set, ideally, we’re going to start meeting with people before they fall out, coming at retention from a prevention standpoint.”

Cotton has a Copy

Biopolymer & Fiber research Institute employee weighing cotton and visually analyzing the sample.
Biopolymer & Fiber research Institute employee weighing cotton and visually analyzing the sample.

Victim to a fashion industry that prioritized quantity over quality, what was once held in such high esteem is now seen as trivial to most consumers. Imitated, an imposter yet a successor: cotton has a copy.

ack in the late 90s and early 2000s the cotton industry started to feel the impact of synthetic materials. With a declining trend in cotton consumption came a multitude of concerns for not just farmers, but for the consumer as well.
“Balance between man-made fibers verses natural fibers, like cotton, is a very delicate balance,” commented Shawn Wade, director of policy analysis and research for Plains Cotton Growers Inc.

Cotton’s Observation

The cotton lint industry has been working tirelessly to change its public perception. It could not wait for research and innovation to take over, updating the natural fiber to modern day society. Tired of public scrutiny on the World Trade Organization’s ruling, cotton used to be king. What this natural fiber was asked to compete with was something that was not even biological. Cotton was anything but meek; cotton had proved tried and true and a reliable staple.

Polyester is a category of polymers that has been defined as long-chain polymers, which is chemically composed of at least 85% by weight of ester and a dihydric alcohol and a terephthalic acid. A few characteristics of polyester would include but is not limited to: an extremely strong and durable fabric, mildew and abrasion resistant, wrinkle resistant and it is quick drying.

In a world trend report over world textile demand, the International Cotton Advisory Committee found that cotton demand in 2010 was 1.7 million tons lower than in 2007. Compared to other traditional fibers, cotton was drastically higher than the other fibers monitored.

“Balance between man-made fibers verses natural fibers, like cotton, is a very delicate balance.”

When comparing cotton and synthetics, there are pros and cons on each side. One is environmentally friendly, but the other is cost effective. With cost playing a huge factor in this equation, China has built a capacity for synthetic fibers. With manmade fibers being highly subsidized, they are prone to overproduce at a high rate. This puts a textile out on the market at a lower price than a comparable, higher quality product.

“The quality and the different parameters of synthetics are much more even running. They are manmade, and so they can be much more perfect. Cotton is a natural fiber. There is nothing perfect about it,” said Steve Verett, vice president of Plains Cotton Growers Inc.

Environmental Awareness

Though cotton may not be perfect, there is research to support why it is sustainably a better option.

“Already, they’re finding that the particles that are coming off in the wash from these knitted performance fabrics are all ending up in the wastewater and they’re finding them very harmful to aquaculture,” said Verett. “Those particles never go away. They are there forever, and maybe not forever but they’ve got the half-life of Uranium, whereas cotton is biodegradable.”

Consumer Perceptions

Verett commented that one thing that amazed him was the consumer interest in where their food is being sourced and how it is being treated but they are not necessarily concerned with there they clothes are being made or how it impacts the economy and environment.

“They don’t even think to consider and ask those same questions about the clothes they wear; that they’re more than willing to wear clothes made out of – who knows – gasoline, and somehow see that as being sustainable,” declared Verett as he passionately spoke out of concern for the public.

Wade said the polyester clothing trend is now nearly synonymous with the 60s. Not one garment was breathable, carried
a decent scent by the end of the day, or was practical in terms of outdoor nor body temperature to wear daily. By gaining market share due to polyesters ease of care, there was a market for working women who wanted an outfit that could handle her long workday and still be able to maintain a cosmopolitan societal image. What those women may not have realized was they could have been wearing, instead, something that would have kept them cooler and more comfortable.

Correcting the Pendulum

One reason why polyester is attractive is because it is easy to care for. No wrinkles and you can throw the garment in a bag and go.

“When Cotton Incorporated came along they were able to take that away…[Polyester companies] were able to take a lot of that back because they did a few things. That’s when we first started doing permanent press cotton or you know wrinkle free cotton,” said Verett.

Verett described the challenges synthetic fibers pose to cotton lint as a pendulum.

“I’ve lived long enough to see, it’s like a pendulum,” he said. “Things tend to kind of correct and sometimes they overcorrect and that’s kind of what’s happened with this deal now. It’s kind of overcorrected.”

While the pendulum has been overcorrected, Verett and Wade both agreed the synthetic industry has done a good job of marketing their product.

“They’ve done a heck of a job in marketing with logos and things that 6-and 7-year-old kids are wearing. They don’t need performance fabrics. But that’s the cool thing. That’s what all their sports heroes are wearing. And, so even though it feels bad, and it may not be that great but that’s the deal,” claimed Verett.

Although cotton has a copy, Verett and Wade believe the lint product is headed toward the center of the pendulum.

History might correct itself but that is for the economy to decide. Cotton or synthetics? That is for you to choose. Check out the fiber facts before selecting your next garment.

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Matadors in Training

It was just an idea. But it wasn’t just one person’s idea. They all saw the need for an in-house communications service. Eventually, the idea grew, and it became what is known today as Picador Creative, a communications service offered by the Texas Tech Department of Agricultural Education and Communications.

What started as a large collection of emails from the surrounding Lubbock community became a program that now hires agricultural communication majors as student interns to create various communication materials for anyone with a communications need.

Picador Creative Project Manager Erica Irlbeck, Ph.D, said the agricultural communications program received numerous phone calls and emails on a weekly basis asking for students interested in designing logos, creating brochures, editing videos, and producing other communications materials.

“This kind of got us thinking,” Irlbeck said, “that we might be able to do something that would create a more formal agreement between the students and the people who ask us for things like this. It would be a good way to give students good practical experience and a good service to the community.”

Housed in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications at Texas Tech, Picador Creative offers graphic design, web design, photography, videography, and writing services. The student-run service has completed projects in all areas since its start in 2014 when they received a USDA non-land grant college agriculture grant that allowed them to start designing.

The Design Process

Evan Johnson, student intern for Picador Creative, creating a client design in the workspace for the communication service.

Internship credit is required for all agricultural communications students before they graduate. Irlbeck said the agricultural communications faculty thought, “Why not have a service that allows students to fulfill that credit, along with gaining experience working and designing for actual clients?”

One of the current interns, Evan Johnson, a junior agricultural communications major from Floydada, Texas, said she was initially intimidated to apply for the Picador Creative internship, but decided to put in her application anyways.

“I was honored to receive the position,” Johnson said. “I was really excited to be able to hone my skills and put them into application in the real world. I’ve been able to really listen to clients and create something that they need.”

In addition to hiring student interns, Picador Creative also has a graduate assistant handles client relations and oversees the undergraduate student interns on a daily basis. The current graduate assistant is Jenna Holt-Day, a second-semester agricultural communications graduate student from Levelland, Texas.

Holt-Day said working for Picador Creative has allowed her to gain real work experience in a field she would like to be in once she graduates from Texas Tech.

“Whenever you are applying for jobs, a lot of potential employers want around two years of work experience,” Holt-Day said. “I think this assistantship can be considered real work experience with the agricultural communications degree that I have. This position puts you in a role you can take with you in your future career.”

This position puts you in a role you can take with you in your future career.
Jenna Holt-Day

Holt-Day said her primary job responsibilities are client relations. She is in charge of setting up the initial meeting once the client emails her and communicating with the client throughout the entire design process. Following the initial meeting, an intern is presented with the job description, and the design process begins. With multiple clients at once, the jobs are divided up among the three interns, allowing them to gain experience in developing materials for print and web.

Former Picador graduate assistant and Texas Tech alumna, Keely Hamman, said teamwork played a major part in getting design pieces ready for clients. Before sending the projects to the clients, the designs have been looked at multiple times by several different sets of eyes to be sure the best work is being sent.

“We were like a family that made really great communication pieces,” Hamman said. “We would always help each other out however needed.”

Building a Client Base

In the beginning, Picador Creative had only one or two clients at a time, but now the communication service often works with four to five clients at once. Past clients of Picador Creative include the National Ranching Heritage Museum, Terry County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation.

Along with working for clients in the Lubbock community, Irlbeck said the interns have been beneficial to the agricultural education and communication department as well. In the 2016 spring semester, the department launched a campaign to promote the new online master’s degree program. Picador interns were in charge of creating content and marketing materials and continue to do so now.

As a graduate assistant for Picador Creative, Jenna Holt-Day often conducts client meetings to clarify what the client is wanting.

In addition to the client base, Johnson said she is also able to apply her experience to promoting her band, the Riley Adams Duo. She said she is able to use the skills she has learned in class and enhanced through her internship to produce social media content graphics and posts to help promote her band, along with contacting other professionals to set up shows.

“I’ve had people comment to me, ‘Wow, you are the most professional musician I’ve ever had contact me,’” Johnson said, “And I’m like ‘Yeah, I learned that through agricultural communications.’”

Irlbeck said Picador Creative is positive addition to the department because it is an outreach into the community and allows students to fulfill their internship credit, grow their portfolio, and be compensated with a scholarship.

“On the student side of this project,” Irlbeck said, “their portfolios when they finish their internship with Picador Creative are pretty amazing. They’ve been able to work with an actual client that has a need, and they’re able to fulfill that need through some sort of creative service, be it graphic design, video, web design, photography, or whatever the client needs.”

From Class to Industry

Picador Creative’s graduate student and interns are able to use what they have learned in the internship and apply it to their classwork, and vice versa. Holt-Day said she is able to implement things she learns in class, allowing her to be able to see how classwork relates to a real business.

With the hands-on experience Picador Creative gives her, Jenna Holt-Day can talk about her assistantship in class discussions.

Hamman, a Jacksboro, Texas, native, said she also saw the benefits of working with Picador while taking classes for her master’s degree in agricultural communications.

“While having the assistantship of Picador Creative while in graduate school,” Hamman said, “I had the unique opportunity to have a backside view of how a communications agency worked and the ideas of that agency that were being taught in class.”

Irlbeck said one of the biggest rewards of Picador is watching the students grow in their abilities in all aspects of the communication industry.

“I’ve seen, just from watching the interns, how their quality of work grows tremendously,” Irlbeck said. “They may not have the confidence when they first come in, but within just a couple of months their design abilities, their confidence, their speed, and their creativity has grown tremendously.”

Johnson said she has definitely seen an improvement in the quality of her work and her confidence in her design abilities since her start at Picador Creative in June 2016.

“I feel a lot more comfortable and confident, especially in my professional skills,” Johnson said. “I am confident in my abilities to write a professional email, and I am confident in my design abilities. I now know I can produce what I say I can produce.”

I now know I can produce what I say I can produce. Evan Johnson

The Canyons Called Them Home

The sun begins to peek over the caprock of the Tule Ranch in Briscoe County, Texas. Cooper Cogdell walks out his front door, coffee mug in hand, ready to face the full day ahead of him. A warm golden glow begins to fill the deep canyons where Cooper heads to gather cattle, living out his dream.

Since Cooper was a little boy, he knew he wanted to be a cowboy like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him. But, he also dreamed of being a Red Raider. While at Texas Tech, Cooper studied agricultural economics and was a member of the Texas Tech Ranch Horse Team. During his undergraduate education, he spent three years on the winning collegiate ranch horse team and coached the team for two years while getting his master’s degree.

“It was probably the most rewarding experience that I’ve ever had,” Cooper said, “The opportunities it presented were something I’ll never give up. The people I met through coaching, and the things I learned while coaching my peers, were beyond beneficial. It was challenging, no doubt. I learned some very good life lessons.”

Holly Cogdell, Cooper’s wife and fellow Tech alum, says her husband definitely used his gifts while coaching the ranch horse team.

“He’s good at teaching people,” Holly said. “He’s good at explaining things, and he’s patient. I feel that being the coach he got to share some of those gifts. He did a good job.”

Cooper worked with many leaders in the stock horse industry including Kim Lindsey and the late Kris Wilson. He credits his experiences with the team to helping him become a better horseman and rancher, which would come to play a larger role down the road.

In January 2013 while Cooper was coaching and finishing out his last year as a graduate student, he and Holly got married. After graduation, the couple stayed in Lubbock and Cooper accepted a job with Plains Capital Bank as a credit analyst.

“I never thought I’d be in an office, wearing a suit every day,” Cooper said. “But, I worked with a lot of great people and learned a lot from that side of the desk.”

Although they cherished their friends and jobs in Lubbock, Cooper and Holly ached to be on the Cogdell family’s historic Tule Ranch where Cooper grew up.

“I really wanted to be a part of that,” Holly said, “a part of raising my future children on the ranch, in the home, but also on the ranch with Cooper. I wanted us all to be together,” said Holly with a grin. “After we got married, all I wanted to do was be a ranch wife. I was just so excited about that. I think I had a very picturesque idea of what being a ranch wife meant.”

Doors opened and closed, not allowing an opportunity for the young couple to move back to the ranch until the spring of 2015.

“We just didn’t have a peace about coming back here yet until April of 2015,” Holly said. “I remember the specific weekend we came home and were helping brand calves. Cooper and I both had the same feeling of ‘It’s time to come home. We’re ready.’ That next week I found out I was pregnant. It was meant to be.”

Cooper is the fourth generation of the Cogdell family to return and continue the family’s ranching legacy.

“I feel like in the population as a whole, we’re definitely seen as a minority,” Cooper said. “There are not many young people wanting to come back and do this anymore, just because it is so hard – the financial burden of it and the resources available.”

Cooper understands why young adults have a hard time returning to the family operation.

I feel like in the population as a whole, we’re definitely seen as a minority.
Cooper Cogdell

“With the estate taxes and other expenses, it’s just so hard to keep ranching anymore,” he said. “A lot of people work all their lives to get to this point. They want to retire and buy a ranch and raise cattle. For me to have the opportunity to come back home after college and ranch as a living, I feel very blessed.”

Cooper saddles as the sun peeks over the horizon.

Cooper and Holly run their own commercial cattle and also have a partnership with Cooper’s brother, Blaze and his wife Lottie, while assisting their father, Dick.

“We’ve been talking a lot about simplifying things,” Cooper said. “Buying more land is expensive. It’s not always easy to make it work. This is why we’ve thought and prayed about it so much, about partnering and trying to be more effective in the way we run a business and the way we ranch.”

Not only have the Cogdell’s been a successful cattle ranching family  for over 100 years, but they also raise their own ranch horses and have produced many great cutting horses for the show pen.

Cooper said one challenge that comes with a family ranching operation is the lack of separation between work and home, making it easy to drag work problems into family problems.

“But we’ve been blessed,” he said. “Our family gets along really well. When we’re working cattle, it is usually just family. Nowadays, we’ve got so many cousins and aunts and uncles. Everybody just jumps in and helps out.”

The original Tule Ranch, founded in 1954, is currently supporting seven Cogdell families. Many evenings you can find a handful of grandkids gathered at their Nana Bette’s home, discussing cutting horses and old family stories, or at one of the aunts’ and uncles’ houses for supper and a highly competitive pick-up basketball game on the caliche drive way. The care and mutual respect that runs through the family is beyond evident, as well as their love for the ranch and the land they call home.

“Being amongst the Lord’s creation, the land becomes a part of you,” Cooper said.

“Especially these canyons. They’ve always been special to our family. They’re so tough on cattle, vehicles, people, and horses, but there’s something majestic about them – just the ruggedness of them. It’s an art form that God created and we get to live in them.”

The canyons that run through the Tule Ranch are considered part of the eminent Palo Duro Canyon.

“The stuff that you experience out here are things you can’t experience anywhere else. Dealing with animals, the joy and pain of life, learning responsibility, and work ethic, you just don’t see that much anymore,” Cooper said.

Stirring a pot of soup on the stove, Holly paused looking down at her 10-month-old daughter, McCrae, playing on the floor.

“I think agriculture, in general, really requires you to trust in a higher power and trust in something bigger than yourself, because you don’t have control of the animals, or the rain, or the grass growing, or any of that,” she said. “All you can do is your very best to be a good steward. It makes you realize that there’s something bigger going on and to trust that God is in control of it.”

I think agriculture, in general, really requires you to trust in a higher power.
Holly Cogdell

The young couple agrees ranching is not where their hope is found, but where their joy is found. No matter how challenging it may get, ranching is what they love to do, and it’s a desire the Lord put in their hearts.

Spurs scraping against the porch steps, Cooper swipes off his hat and shuffles his way inside his simple ranch home. Kissing Holly on the forehead, he scoops up his baby girl and says a silent prayer of thankfulness for the life he feels blessed to live and the dream he gets to live daily.

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Life On The Rodeo Road

A s he backed into the roping box looking under the brim of his Resistol hat, Hunter Cure saw the dust of his competitor, and knew it was his moment to shine at the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2013. He nodded his head and his steer sprinted out of the chute. Before he knew it, the run was over, and he had claimed his first world championship. For the Texas Tech alum, it was a dream come true.

Growing up with a family that owned and managed a grain elevator in the small north Texas town of Electra, hard work was something very familiar to Cure, a 2006 agricultural and applied economics graduate. However, he made his name in the rodeo arena.

Cure began rodeoing at age 13 and has not looked back since. Following in his older brother’s footsteps, he began steer wrestling using the steers and horses his family already had. Steer wrestling proved to be a pretty prosperous hobby that transformed into a career for Cure.

After a successful high school rodeo career, Cure found himself on a rodeo scholarship at Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas. His freshman year proved to be a learning curve, but he had a smooth transition into college. After gaining valuable opportunities, Cure realized there were still areas he was lacking knowledge and experience and decided it was a good time to transfer to Texas Tech to continue his college rodeo career.

Upon transferring to Tech, Hunter bought two acres of land, built a barn and practice pen, bought cattle, and set to work on another successful year of college rodeo. During his first year on the Texas Tech rodeo team, Cure did not miss more than a couple of short rounds throughout the year. He went on to win the southwest regional championship and the national inter-collegiate rodeo championship later in the summer. During his junior year, he was a member of the Texas Tech men’s rodeo team, that placed third in the nation at the 2006 college finals.

During his senior year, Cure bought his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association card. The rather large investment and transition from living in a dorm room to buying land and building facilities in Lubbock proved to be worth it when Cure won the national inter-collegiate rodeo steer wrestling title. He says that his time at Tech was a learning experience and gave him the option to succeed or not to.

“I felt like while it was a learning experience,” Cure said. “It put the ball in your court to do what you want you could either sink or swim for the most part.”

Transitioning from his college rodeo career to the professional world wasn’t easy. It came with many learning curves and took time for him to asses and work through his weaknesses. In 2007 and 2008, he was in the top 25 in the standings, but couldn’t quite break through the top 10 to qualify a the trip to Las Vegas for the Wrangler NFR. However, four years after buying his PRCA card, Cure made his first WNFR appearance, the ride every cowboy works towards.

Cure’s first trip to the finals was another learning experience. Not performing quite as well as he had hoped, Cure vowed that if he ever qualified again, he would be better prepared and have a winning game plan. It took four years of struggling and growing, but through the cowboy’s dedication and determination, Vegas was in sight. Cure returned to the finals in 2013 with a different horse and a different plan.

Going into the finals ranked no.7 in the world, Cure won two rounds and placed in five. He walked off the dirt in Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center after the tenth round of the WNFR with a gold buckle that read “World Champion.”

Soon after the glory of winning the world title, came tough luck. What Cure thought was just a sore back after a day of practice turned out to be a career-halting injury. A pinched nerve led to back surgery, which disabled Cure for the majority of the 2014 summer. Unsure of where his career would go, Cure considered if he was be out of the rodeo world for good.

“That was a huge letdown after feeling like I was on top of a mountain after winning the world in 2013,” Cure said.

However, 2015 proved to be a very successful year. Cure faced trials after recovering from surgery and getting back into the rodeo circuit, but the challenges paid off. He qualified for the NFR again, and brought home another gold buckle to Electra.

“That year was very justifying knowing that I was able to come back after surgery and win the world again,’ he said.

Though rodeo is a full-time job for Cure most of the year, he manages to find time to put his agricultural and applied economics degree from Texas Tech to use in multiple entrepreneurial facets. He started college pursuing a degree in engineering, but went back to his agricultural roots and changed his major to agricultural and applied economics. In May 2006, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree.

Cure and his mother work cooperatively together with cow-calf operations. His mother’s operation is strictly cow-calf with 175 head of Angus cows she breeds back to registered Angus bulls. Cure’s part in her operation is managing the cattle. He has a mix of Hereford cows and white Brahmer bulls he is currently trying to breed to break into the tiger stripe heifer market. Along with his cow-calf operation, Cure has a herd of Mexican steers he contracts out for steer wrestling at most of the major stock show rodeos in Texas.

The last of his entrepreneurial pursuits is a sideline business of appraising land and farm equipment for banks. Through this business, he has the opportunity to meet other producers around the state and see what works in their operations.

Whether Hunter has been on the road rodeoing or on the ranch all day managing cattle, one thing is the same everyday: coming home to a wife and kids. His wife Bristi is also a Texas Tech graduate and now works in the wind energy business. Together, they have two children, Halli, 4, and Hayes, 2. They keep Hunter and Bristi busy and on their toes.

“Kids have definitely changed our way of life, and it’s an ongoing circus act for the most part,” Bristi said.

The couple’s hectic rodeo and work travel often create challenges when coordinating family time. A support system of Hunter’s mom nearby and Bristi’s parents only two hours away they are able to make it work.

“We usually just do a handover in the middle of the night or early in the morning when he gets home, and I leave,” she said.

Cure says it is difficult to balance all of his irons in the fire, but that is just his way of life.

“It’s a juggling act, and I drop the ball every once in a while, but I try to keep them in the air as best I can. There’s no set pattern to it, just work.”

There’s no set pattern to it, just work. Hunter Cure

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Grazing a Gold Mine


Born and raised in Burkburnett, Texas, Keith Easter said he is a rancher/farmer or vice versa. While attending Texas Tech University, he worked for a friend who farmed and ran stocker cattle.

“I had always wanted to run cattle on my own wheat,” Easter said. “That’s all I have ever really wanted to do.”

Once ready, Easter was given the chance of a lifetime.

“I was very blessed to get the opportunity to buy the ranch I grew up on,” Easter said. “My wife says it was God’s hands that did it, and I believe it.”

The ranch came with quite a bit of farming, Easter said. However, he was excited to be in control of his own operation and his source of feed and wheat.

My wife says it was God’s hands that did it, and I believe it.
Keith Easter

Hard Work and A Lot of Faith

Wheat is a cash crop in the region. From mid-fall until late spring, Easter said, wheat provides a good source of protein for stocker calves.

Easter said the great thing about wheat is that it enables ranchers to have an opportunity to have cattle on high protein forage, and do well, through the winter months when warm season grasses are dormant.

“Wheat is a dry land crop, but it is also a cool weather crop,” Easter said. “It is well-suited for our area. If we can get the wheat planted and established early along with some timely rain, it’s hard to beat.”

For farmers and ranchers to depend on wheat for a forage supply, wheat must be planted early. Early planting allows the plants to get a good start before cold weather and short days set in.

“TAM 401” and “Razor” are the beardless wheat being used by farmers in the region. This type of wheat matures earlier, and it has proven to be a good fall and spring grazer.

Easter said once cattle ship in the spring, he starts running the chisel on his ground, to break it up.

Easter uses two four-wheel drive tractors, a chisel plow with a disc, and an air seeder.

“Once you get it broken up enough,” he said, “you are then able to fertilize and sweep the ground through the summer to keep summer annuals from growing up and robbing your moisture.”

The objective is to get the ground in better shape to have a good seed bed in the fall.

Any time after the first of September when there is an adequate amount of rain, he will begin to plant his wheat. If no rain is in the forecast by the first of October, Easter will dry sow his wheat.

“It is all dictated by weather,” Easter said.

While there are many variables, time and rain are key for a successful wheat crop.

Firm, wet ground is desirable for sowing wheat. “You want your moisture, but you don’t want to get it so shallow it’ll dry out,” Easter said.

Wheat: A Rancher’s Gold Mine

Owner and operator of the Wichita Livestock Sales Company, Billy Joe Easter, said he uses wheat as a source for economical weight gain through late fall, winter, and early spring.

Keith and Billy Joe are cousins who both grew up with agriculture. Their dads are brothers who were raised on a farm.

“Our dads’ good reputations have helped both of us in starting and growing our businesses,” Billy Joe said.

Through the years, they have stayed in close contact because of their interest in the stocker wheat grazing.

“Wheat pasture is a very suitable cool-season grazer that one should take advantage of for fall weaning calves,” Billy Joe said.

Along with his cattle auction, Billy Joe runs his own cattle/wheat operation.

“I use wheat to grow stocker calves into yearlings ready to go to the feed yard,” Billy Joe said. “Along with that, wheat allows me to grow breeding bulls for resale.”

If the market allows, Billy Joe said, he will put first calf heifers on wheat to give the young females a better opportunity to breed back and raise their first calf with ease.

Since Billy Joe does not harvest, he plants a wheat and oat mix to improve grazing.

“I want a variety of wheat that puts out lots of leaf,” Billy Joe said, “and is late maturing so it will last longer.”

Depending on moisture, Billy Joe said his cattle will graze on wheat from December until May.

Right now, the expense to harvest wheat for grain is far too high for farmers to take that kind of loss.

By grazing your wheat you’re taking away your harvest expense and in its place selling it in pounds of beef.
Billy Easter

Billy Joe said thousands of wheat acres are strictly used to grow grain outside of Texas.

Local wheat prices may see a slight impact (slightly higher prices due to less wheat being harvested), but globally it does not affect the price of wheat.

“By grazing your wheat you’re taking away your harvest expense and in its place selling it in pounds of beef,” he said.

Billy Joe is thankful to be able to grow his cattle on wheat pasture, which allows stocker calves to spend less time in the feed yard.

“Wheat is giving us an opportunity to make money,” Billy Joe said.

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Legacy Behind The Mask

There is something to say about a legacy. Legacies make their mark on you and are not easily forgotten. Texas Tech University gains a new legacy every year- the Masked Rider.

The Masked Rider was established in 1954 at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., when Coach DeWitt Weaver told Joe Kirk Fulton that he wanted a live mascot to lead the football team on to the field. So, on New Year’s Day 1954, Fulton saddled up a friend’s horse and became the official mascot of Texas Tech University. This was the beginning of one of the biggest legacies in Raiderland.

The newspapers from that day reported that the crowds sat in pure awe and total silence as the mysterious rider and horse galloped across the field. When Fulton made his first appearance as the Masked Rider on New Year’s Day, Red Raider fans stood in disbelief of the magnificent entrance. After that game, the Masked Rider was ingrained as a Texas Tech tradition that is still going strong 62 years later.

From 1954 until 1974, this was a male dominant program. Anne Lynch, the first female Masked Rider, changed the face of the program. Each year, a new rider is selected from a vigorous try-out process that eliminates everyone but the most elite students that the university has to offer.

It is an amazing experience that allows you to meet many people.
Charlie Snider, 55th Masked Rider

The Masked Rider program has been a work in progress over the past 62 years and is still continuing to improve with every rider. In 1994, Sam Jackson, Ph.D., took over the program in regards to horse and field safety. At that time, the program was in desperate need of standard safety protocols because of several accidents that had occurred for both horse and rider over the years.

“Back then, they were just a bunch of cowboys” Jackson said.

Jackson began by regulating the parameters they could run in Tech’s Jones AT&T Stadium, and more importantly, when they could run.    Jackson has also improved the selection process of the horse. Each horse selected has to have a particular temperament to be able to handle the large crowds of people and the intense atmosphere of appearances and game days.

“Safety had to become the No. 1 priority for both the rider and the horse,” Jackson said.

As the program has grown, the involvement with the other spirit programs at Tech has also grown. Stephanie Rhode is the program director for all of the Texas Tech Spirit Programs. Rhode’s involvement in the program has produced a full-ride scholarship fund, record breaking appearances, and participation in all school activities.

“This job has been a blessing because I get to work with the most elite group of students that this university has to offer,” Rhode said. “They pretty much become my kids.”

Because of the high expectations the program entails, a rigorous four-month try-out process is required each year. This process ensures only the very best riders are selected. Try-outs for the Masked Rider position begin with a lengthy application process that checks your background, GPA, driving record, school transcripts, and many references.

After the application process, the selected applicants take a horsemanship assessment. Similar to any other occupation, the basics are required. If selected for the position, Fearless Champion becomes 100 percent your responsibility. The rider must know how to feed and water properly, ensure that no harm comes to Fearless day or night, know the signs of illnesses, and keep his living quarters spic’ and span.

While the application and the test may be easy for some, they also must successfully complete a horsemanship pattern and a truck and trailer driving test. The applicant saddles up Fearless Champion and rides the pattern for a panel of judges. To move on to the truck and trailer portion of the process, you must receive a score of 80 percent from half of the judges on your riding. If you advance, the truck and trailer test is pass or fail.

As the Masked Rider, you are required to take Fearless Champion, the truck and trailer, and yourself to many appearances and events. The extensiveness of these tests is mandatory to ensure that the program is functioning at the highest safety levels possible.

If you have made it through all of the obstacles listed, congratulations! You have now reached the interview portion of the process, which means you are almost to the finish line. The interview is conducted by a large panel of individuals who have a lot of involvement in the program as well as the university.

Charlie Snider, the 55th Masked Rider, said trying out for the program was the longest four months that he has experienced in college.

“It is an amazing experience that allows you to meet many people.,” Snider said.

Snider was selected as the 2016-2017 Masked Rider on April 15, 2016. For the past two years, he has served as a member of the field safety team for Fearless Champion and as an assistant to the rider, which has prepared him for his current role.

“When I was given the reins for the first time and was able to put on the black mask and scarlet cape, I was speechless,” Snider said. “Everything I had worked for over the last few years was right there, and for a while, it still didn’t feel real. It wasn’t until my second week of being the rider that it all sunk in.”

Game days are the most iconic event for the Masked Rider. Although they travel thousands of miles across the state to appearances, there is nothing quite like watching them gallop across the field at Jones AT&T Stadium. For fans, this moment is crucial to the success of the game. It brings chills to your skin, brings you out of your chair, and is a tradition that has made its mark on millions of people. For the rider, this tradition is equally as thrilling.

“Stepping on to the field as the rider was the most humbling and eye opening experience of my entire life. Thousands of people attend each game and most of them wait with anticipation for our short run across the field,” Snider said.

For Snider, the games are an adrenaline rush because of the crazed fans, loud music from the Goin’ Band, and the incredible feeling of representing Texas Tech University at the highest capacity.

The Masked Rider Program has had great success over the last 62 years and it will continue to improve with each new year. There is not a higher honor for a Red Raider than to be selected as the Texas Tech University Masked Rider. As the program continues on, improvements will always be made, records will be broken, but the legacy will run on forever.

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