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Major gift of $2.5 million to UW supports future of Wyoming ranching

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

A Wyoming ranching couple’s $2.5 million gift to the University of Wyoming (UW) will empower the university’s Ranch Management and Agricultural Leadership (RMAL) Program, fueling impactful change and supporting future leaders in ranch management and agriculture statewide.

The transformational gift was given by Art and Catherine Nicholas, Wyoming ranchers and investors who own Wagonhound Land and Livestock near Douglas. It creates the Wyoming Ranching Excellence Fund at the UW College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources (CALSNR) and was doubled to $5 million by a state matching investment from the Wyoming Legislature.

“Wagonhound Land and Livestock is thrilled to partner with UW with our investment in the RMAL Program,” says Andrea Nicholas Perdue, chief executive officer (CEO) of Wagonhound Holdings. “As stewards of the land and advocates for sustainable agriculture, we are excited to contribute to the cultivation of future leaders in the industry.”

The Wyoming Ranching Excellence Fund will support students, faculty, program ambassadors, industry engagement, a yearly Ranch Managers Summit and more.

The RMAL Program

Initially launched in 2021, the multidisciplinary RMAL Program provides future generations of ranchers and agricultural producers with in-depth, hands-on programs to honor the tried-and-true, while developing technologies of tomorrow – steeped in history, yet leading the way to the future. 

Since its inception, the RMAL Program has received significant private support.

“I am honored and excited UW is the recipient of such an impactful gift which will promote the success of our faculty, students and communities working in ranch management and agriculture,” UW President Ed Seidel says. “We are beyond grateful to Art and Catherine for their generosity.”

The nature of ranch management and agricultural leadership today requires professionals to have an integrated understanding across a broad array of disciplines while demonstrating strong interpersonal skills allowing for effective teamwork, collaboration and development and retention of talent – all of which are addressed in this program. 

The program provides a practical, real-world, multidisciplinary education to Wyoming’s students and professionals in ranch management and agricultural leadership. It seeks to integrate classroom learning with practical experience and to connect students with producers and industry professionals. 

The program also facilitates an annual seminar series called Ranching in the West.

“This generous gift from Art and Catherine burns the Wagonhound brand on UW’s RMAL Program in perpetuity,” says Kelly Crane, interim dean of UW CALSNR. “This partnership provides the capacity and incentives to deliver a truly exceptional ranch management program at UW.”

Students within the program learn animal science, rangeland management, agricultural business and economics, agricultural communication, organizational leadership and political science. They also are prepared as employees, managers and leaders through courses which address communications, conflict, ethics, collaboration, human resources, policy and much more.

The program draws on courses in existing UW departments as well as program-specific courses, such as public policy and regulatory considerations for ranch and rangeland management, integrated ranch and rangeland problem-solving and planning and leadership and collaboration strategies to address contemporary challenges in agriculture.

“This collaboration underscores our, and UW’s, commitment to innovation, education and the continued prosperity of Wyoming’s agricultural heritage,” Nicholas Perdue says.

The program meets the needs not only of students, but also members of the larger community within the state who are engaged in ranch management and agriculture. It offers professional development for current ranch managers and agricultural leaders, a bachelor’s degree in ranch management and agricultural leadership and graduate degrees and advanced certifications. 

The curriculum is guided by experts – ranch owners, agency professionals, agribusiness leaders, industry executives, elected officials, academics and UW alumni.

Each level of education – certification, bachelor’s or master’s degrees – is designed to incorporate workforce development, practical experiences, research-based technical knowledge, real-world problem-solving and making connections with industry leaders throughout the West.

For example, students working on their bachelor’s degrees complete three internships with government agencies, working ranches, nonprofits, private organizations and/or associations important to Western livestock agriculture.

Complementary programs

UW also offers many other ways for ranching and agricultural professions to meet, network and exchange information and best practices which complement the RMAL Program.

For example, the Ranching in the West Seminar Series is held at community colleges throughout the state. The series includes a one-day leadership summit and is attended by professionals and students alike. The series offers insights into how Wyoming ranches, businesses and agencies are dealing with real-world challenges.

“With this gift, we also embrace the challenge to ensure our program reflects the Wagonhound ranch’s unwavering commitment to excellence, innovation and success,” Crane says.

These seminars are open to both UW students and the public and offer a preview of topics to be addressed in the undergraduate program, including public land partnerships, energy development, family-run businesses and water management.

The idea for the RMAL Program began in 2018 at the UW Partnership Summit which took place at the Wagonhound ranch. Its goal was to enhance the relationships between UW and Wyoming ranchers and land managers so UW could be more responsive to the needs of the industry. 

It was a venue for UW leaders to listen to the contemporary challenges and opportunities facing ranchers and ranch managers.

This program also builds on the RMAL Center launched in 2021 with funding from Farm Credit Services of America and the state of Wyoming.

“Art and Catherine’s gift, matched by the state, stands as a testament to the enduring commitment to excellence in ranching and agriculture,” says John Stark, president and CEO of the UW Foundation. “Thanks to this partnership, we will cultivate a legacy of leadership, sustainability and prosperity for generations to come.”

Wagonhound Land and Livestock 

Wagonhound Land and Livestock is a 300,000-acre ranch raising Red Angus and Quarter Horses, located south of Douglas on Wagonhound Creek. The ranch also includes farm, outfitting and guest operations.

The Nicholases have owned the ranch since 1999. Their brand, which dates back to territorial days, is the quarter circle, bar, quarter circle. The couple has an expansive Western art and book collection, and they support the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association. 

Art serves as a director emeritus on the board of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the investment committee of the American Quarter Horse Association. Catherine is a director of the American Quarter Horse Foundation and serves on the board of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. They both have a background in investing.

Art grew up on a cattle ranch in Nebraska and, while in the Navy, he moved to San Diego, Calif., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Diego State University. He has over 40 years of experience in investing, co-founding Nicholas-Applegate Capital Management and serving as chairman and CEO. Before this, he was a portfolio and bank manager.  

Catherine has over 30 years of experience as an investment analyst and portfolio manager. She founded Nicholas Investment Partners, which is advised by Art. Previously, she served as global chief investment officer for Nicholas-Applegate Capital Management. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration, cum laude and her Master of Business Administration in finance, both from the University of Southern California.

The Nicholases also have supported the UW rodeo team and the American Heritage Center.

This article was originally published by UW News on May 14.

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