Beyond the Barn: Dairy Challenge Provides Real World Experience for College Students – Frankie Tiberio, Vita Plus
The North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge (NAIDC) is a two-day competition between teams of North American universities’ dairy science students. Each four-person team receives production and management data from a selected farm, visits and evaluates the dairy operation, and develops a presentation for the producer, including recommendations in areas such as transition cows or parlor management. The teams’ presentations are evaluated on the analysis of the farm data and their recommendations. The two days also include a banquet and social hours where students have the opportunity to network with various industry professionals. At the career fair, students can bring their résumés and speak with company representatives about job and internship opportunities.
As an undergraduate student, I participated in both the Dairy Challenge Academy and the national competition, and I think the most beneficial aspect was the networking opportunity. I was able to build relationships with the industry representatives helping our team and those contacts led to interviews and job offers when I was near graduation.
In relation to my career, the choice to work in the dairy industry stemmed from being employed by the dairy cattle research farm at the University of Illinois. After working on the farm, I chose to change the focus of my degree from veterinary medicine to dairy cattle production and management. Being involved in Dairy Challenge opened my eyes to the multitude of careers within the dairy industry and helped confirm that I had made the right choice in switching career paths.
After participating in the contests, I found that I had a strong passion for helping producers identify areas of opportunity on their operations and leading them to practical solutions. This eventually led me to me work at Vita Plus in a nutrition consulting role. Not only did Dairy Challenge help point me to my career, but it also helped to gain practical experience.
Dairy Challenge taught us the proper approach for visiting and evaluating a dairy farm. We practiced biosecurity, followed proper safety procedures when approaching silage bunkers and entering pens, asked open-ended questions, and learned important dairy management software skills that I use daily in the field. We developed skills in accessing each area on a dairy operation, what signs to look for that would indicate an opportunity for improvement, and how to present those opportunities to the producer in a professional manner. In addition to farm evaluation skills, Dairy Challenge taught us to work as team to accomplish a common goal. Teamwork is an invaluable skill that I continue use and improve upon as a Vita Plus employee owner.
I continue to be involved in Dairy Challenge because I truly care about the future of the dairy industry and believe students who participate in this contest will play a large role in that future. This competition has been significant in my life and career path and, by volunteering with the competition now, I hope that I can have an impact on students who find themselves on a similar journey.
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