Wyoming Youth – Our State’s Greatest Resource!
By Doug L. Hixon, Head & Professor of Animal Science, University of Wyoming
It seems like only yesterday we were celebrating graduation and saying “so long” to our newest alumni. It is exciting to watch these young people mature in their thought processes and problem-solving skills during their time on campus. However, as someone who has developed an understanding and appreciation for genetics in my previous life as a Beef Cattle Extension Specialist, I know that these good kids come from “good stock!” They have a good pedigree! It was never more evident than in what many observed at the Wyoming State Fair a couple of weeks ago. They are “well rooted” in agriculture. As mentioned, my first 20 years in Wyoming were spent working with beef cattle producers across this great state. I learned way more from them than I was ever able to give back to them. I’ve always told my friends from other states that every place has good people, but Wyoming has more than their share! We can never get too many good young people in our program and we are very grateful for the excellent students the state of Wyoming sends us. There is simply no substitute for good people!
Labor Day has arrived, and we are already two weeks into another school year. Yes, we have a new group of enthusiastic young students joining our academic programs. They help keep all of us who are more chronologically enhanced feeling a bit younger, at least. One of the things I enjoy most about my position in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Wyoming is the opportunity to meet with visiting parents and potential students and convince them to join our program. Our program has a foundation consisting of a faculty and staff who are well-trained, conscientious people and who want to assist students in meeting their educational goals. Our ANSC Department has developed a Student Learning Outcomes assessment program that we believe is extremely important for success after their formal education is completed. In other words, we want to determine what these students will get from our program besides grades and a degree. As a department we believe that successful graduates must be able to communicate. Obviously, written and oral communications are extremely important as are listening skills (my wife says I fail miserably at the latter). These items are embedded in our University Studies Program as well as our ANSC courses. Secondly, we believe that students should receive a depth of knowledge within our Animal and Veterinary Science discipline. There are several core courses in which we require students to earn a minimum grade of C for graduation from our program. This is not a problem for most students but it is not unusual for one or two students a year to repeat a course in order to graduate. Thirdly, (and I would contend that this is true of any person that you would deem successful regardless of their profession), they must be able to critically evaluate information, solve problems and enlist help as needed. That is what life is about and the more we rely on computers, the more important good judgment and people skills become. We very seldom find solutions to problems working alone, whether in individual businesses or as an industry.
Our student numbers continue to be strong. We have had a combined curriculum with Veterinary Science for about the past 15 years. Students major in Animal and Veterinary Science (ANVS) and concentrate in one of seven different options—Business, Production, Pre-Veterinary Medicine, Range Livestock, Communications, Meat Science and Food Technology and Animal Biology. We believe this provides a broad-based education with flexibility when our graduates enter the job market. Our numbers of ANVS majors have topped the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the past two academic years with 209 ANVS majors a year ago. This is a 45% increase over the past five years! Our numbers appear strong again this fall. Just a week ago today I had the honor of welcoming new students enrolled in our Animal Science 1000 class which basically introduces these young people to life at the University of Wyoming. You might be interested to know that about 75% of these first-year students were from 16 states other than WY (an education at UW is a great value when you compare it to other land-grant institutions across the country) and a similar percentage were female! Although I used to think that the gender shift was due to the impact of the energy industry in Wyoming, I note that this is a national trend. Young males are simply opting for different career choices; this I find to be somewhat of a concern.
It is an exciting time for young people with an interest in animal agriculture. As I’ve shared with you previously, various organizations, including the American Meat Science Association, project that we must double meat production in the next 40 years just to keep up with our expanding global population. For young people graduating from college now, this timeframe will encompass their entire careers and has to bode well for anyone with an interest in animal agriculture. The fundamentals are in place for economic benefits whether one wants a career in livestock production, in an allied industry, in meat science and food technology, in research or as a veterinarian.
The future will be full of challenges but the challenges will not be insurmountable. Change will happen and at an ever increasing rate due to available technology. We just need to turn loose these good young minds who can communicate, who have a broad science-based knowledge of animal agriculture, and who can evaluate information and solve problems by collaborating with their colleagues! But then again, it is just like hiring a new faculty member or any new employee: give them what resources you can, get out of their way and let them do their job! Our future is in good hands!