Bender, Edwards create opportunities for learning
Ten Sleep – On the Lazy T Ranch south of Ten Sleep, BJ Bender and Christopher Edwards have found an opportunity to continually learn more about the agriculture industry and find their niche in Wyoming.
“I’m originally from California,” says Bender, noting she came to the University of Wyoming (UW) looking for an education in range management. “UW has the best range program in the county, and the school is really affordable for out-of-state students.”
In addition to hearing many good things about UW, Bender knew attending school in Laramie was the most economical choice for her education, so she moved to Wyoming and jumped into the ag industry.
“I was a kid raised in suburbia in California,” she says. “My parents let me do 4-H, and my involvement snowballed into owning every animal I could get my hands on. I love agriculture, so I came to Wyoming. I knew I wanted to spend my life working in a career where I was physically engaged in managing animals and natural resources.”
Edwards, however, was born and raised in Laramie.
His parents worked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Wyoming State Vet Lab, but he says, “I didn’t grow up on a ranch.”
After participating in FFA and more, Edwards went to college for a degree in engineering.
“I learned pretty quick I didn’t want to be an engineer, so I transferred to the range management program,” he said. “Not only were the people much nicer to work with, I really enjoyed the information.”
Through college, both Bender and Edwards knew they had a number to things to learn before jumping into a career in the ag industry, so they took advantage of as many opportunities through internships as they could.
“Because I didn’t grow up in ag, I didn’t have a lot of the experience doing things like running tractors, doctoring cattle and whatnot,” Bender explains, noting she had to look for those experiences in other places. “I learned about animal systems, plant systems and more in class, but there’s only so much we can learn from a book.”
She adds, “Getting time on the ground at ranches was important to me.”
Bender worked on a different ranch for each summer during college, and then she worked with the UW Plant Sciences Department as a graduate student assistant.
“I did some research and some practical work, as well,” she says. “I was lucky to work with a lot of progressive ranchers who didn’t do everything traditionally. They pushed the boundaries.”
Bender comments, “I value the experiences I had working in different aspects of agriculture because it taught me how everyone does things, rather than just one ranch or one family.”
Edwards took a similar track. He started by getting involved in the Range Club, where he took advantages of opportunities to travel and learn.
“At that point, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Edwards says. “Today, I think I want to stay involved in vegetation management and range management.”
In college, he took on a wide array of internships and job opportunities, working for Brian Mealor, who was then with UW Extension, Scott Miller at a local irrigation district and more.
Students at UW have infinite opportunities, Bender says, to get involved in internships.
“The College of Ag allows students to pick from so many job and internship opportunities,” she said. “They send e-mails to students constantly about available positions, and that’s how I got involved in everything I did.”
Edwards said, “The experiences I got from College of Ag internships really helped me to get out and realize what’s available. There are so many jobs out there, and internships opened my eyes.”
Working in a variety of positions has allowed Edwards to interact with a wide array of people and learn a variety of skills.
“I’m a jack of all trades and master of none, but I’ve been able to learn a lot to bring all this information together for my job today,” he explained.
Today, Bender and Edwards both work on Lazy T Ranch as range managers, but they explain that they do whatever they need to do to help keep the ranch running.
“We do a lot of things to help the rangelands, including fence building, forest management pasture management and more,” she comments, explaining that she is involved in many aspects of the ranch.
“I like learning new things every day and improving the skills I already have,” says Bender.
Edwards appreciates being involved in the agriculture industry because of the people he has had the opportunity to meet and learn from.
“There are always new ideas mixing with old ideas, and we’re slowly figuring out how everything works,” he says. “We’re honing in on the best way to graze and raise crops and cattle, but it’s always a moving target, and there’s always something new to learn in ag.”
For Bender, experience was her best teacher.
“Anyone who wants to get involved in ag should just start getting experience,” she comments. “I didn’t always get paid, but going to help people was the best way to learn. I made friends, I built contacts and I got as much experience as I could.”
Edwards encourages students to take advantage of a variety of jobs and to learn from more than one person.
“Doing different things allowed me to see what was out there and available,” Edwards said. “I took advantage of lots of different opportunities and learned a lot.”
“Honestly, I took the opportunities available to get out of the bubble I grew up in, and that’s what set me on the path I am today,” she says.
Saige Albert is managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.