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Colleges offer several education opportunities for young people desiring ag career

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Today there are many educational programs that can be of help for young people who hope to find a career in various agriculture industries. A growing number of colleges and universities across the country now offer courses in agriculture, animal science, ranch management, etc.

Dr. Steven Paisley, Extension beef cattle specialist at the University of Wyoming (UW) says there are a variety of majors at the University of Wyoming that could be useful for someone going into an ag career.  

Plenty of options

“I have a son who is a college senior right now, who has been going through the decision-making process most young people are doing at this point, trying to figure out what might be the most helpful foundation for an ag career,” says Paisley.

“We tell our students unless they have a specific goal already in mind, they don’t necessarily have to pick out one job or focus at first. We encourage our students to take a variety of courses. Maybe they want to go into ranch management or a range management job or are considering going back into the industry in some professional capacity, and in those cases, there would be certain courses that would be helpful, versus going on to graduate school or taking pre-vet courses,” he continues.

There are all kinds of options, but if a student can narrow it down to whether they want to go back into the industry, stay in academics or go on for additional professional education, this can help determine what courses they should take.  

“If a student wants an advanced degree, they need to focus on upper division biology, science and mathematics, with more rigorous course work, rather than applied-type courses like beef production, sheep production, dairy, etc,” Paisley explains.

Internships provide opportunity

Paisley also encourages students to do internships.  Nearly every ag company and many ranches offer internships.  

“This is a wonderful opportunity for students to get a feel for that segment of the industry, if it’s something they are interested in.  This may help a student narrow it down,” he says.

Internships also provide the opportunity to develop relationships and improve the students’ odds of finding a job afterward. The people they intern for can recommend them or may want to hire the student themselves.

“Here at our university, we have a limited coursework schedule, which makes it a bit challenging to do the internships. Students can’t skip a fall semester because that would put them back an entire year. I have a son who wants to go into ag, and we encouraged him to do an internship every summer. He has really benefited from it. It’s been a good experience for him to be a part of different aspects of the industry and observe different management and leadership styles. The internships have been an eye-opener for him,” says Paisley.

“Our son has done internships with large commercial cow/calf operations and with seedstock operations. There are also internships in ag lending, and nearly every aspect of the industry has opportunities for internships. Many of them are paid jobs, and the student usually gets some credits toward his/her degree for doing an internship, as well,” he adds. 

“The internship is great for a student, because they are not fully employed. It’s just a couple months during the summer, so even if it’s something they are not enjoying they can endure it for that period of time,” he continues.

 Internships give students the opportunity to stick their toe in the water and see if it’s really something they want to do or not.

“Our students have built some long-term, lifetime friendships through these internships, which many of them would not have gained otherwise.  The university also helps match the student with a particular internship,” Paisley explains.

“There are many outfits looking for interns. I get a lot of e-mails sent to me directly, asking if I know of any students who would be interested in this or that. If I know a certain student who might have that particular interest, I forward that e-mail to the student,” he continues. “We also have an internship coordinator through the college, for all departments. We post the internship requests on the college website and they get posted, though if I know someone who would be a good fit, I share it with them directly.”

One of the reasons UW gets so many requests for interns is most companies realize kids from the western states and from rural communities, who have a rural background, have a good work ethic.  

“These students have an appreciation for good husbandry. There is a high demand for young people who know how to work and who are motivated and self-driven,” he states.

Paisley also recommends students visit with their teachers and professors.  

“They can help a student problem-solve and prioritize. In many cases their teachers also have some contacts or some opportunities they can tell a student about,” he says.

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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