Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Cattle Girl Takes on the Swine Industry

Seeing all these posts about World Pork Expo going on this week sure makes me sentimental...

Probably a little known fact amongst my cattle friends is that one of my first jobs (an internship) and my first communications project was working for the National Pork Producers Council to develop the educational curriculum and training for the Youth Pork Quality Assurance Program.

I have always been a cattle girl. Never in a million years would I picture myself working in the swine industry, or doing anything really related to a pig.

When I was a sophomore in college at Texas A&M, I had one of those great opportunities where you get to step out of your comfort zone...and that ends up making you a better person in the long run.

When I worked as a student worker at TExas A&M, everyone in the department knew I had a thing for communications, writing and design...even though I was an animal science major. I worked in the Extension Animal Science office and our swine specialist, Dr. Jodi Sterle, offered me an opportunity to take on a communications project with her focusing on Pork Quality Assurance.

I remember telling her -- I know NOTHING about pigs! She assured me...she could handle the technical stuff about the pigs if I could handle the design and writing. So we teamed up, and it became one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career...opened many doors...and ultimately helped put me in a position to be the professional I am today.

I started out the project by getting a $500 scholarship from Texas Pork Producers Association to work on the project. Dr. Sterle and I created the youth program based on the adult PQA program, except adapting it to young people. We totally created the curriculum from the lesson plans, to activities, to the training materials and everything else you could imagine. We made the program fun -- crossword puzzles, word searches, hands on activities, all things that a kid would enjoy. One of my favorite activities we came up with was the injection site demonstration -- where we practiced giving injections on different fruits, then cut open the fruit to see what it looked like on the inside. We were so creative :)

Once the program was finished, Texas Pork Producers offered me another scholarship to keep working with the program. Dr. Sterle and I had the opportunity to go to several meetings and conduct "Train the Trainer" programs. For a young college student, it was awesome flying across Texas to put on these programs. Little did I know that at the time I was gaining valuable public speaking skills, and gaining travel experience as well, and making lots of connections.

After a year, the Texas program was getting lots of attention, and National Pork Producers came to us and wanted to take our Texas program and implement it nationwide! This meant another scholarship for me...$1500 a semester this time! It also meant trips to Des Moines, and meeting with the high level officials of NPPC to develop the program. Again....I didn't realize it at the time, but I was learning how to handle corporate meetings, client presentations, and working in a team.

After about a year of working with NPPC, the program was approved. Pork producers asked Dr. Sterle and I to come to World Pork Expo to present the program as it's official launch. Again, a free trip to Indianapolis (where it was at that time) and another scholarship as a WPX intern.

I will never forget how excited I was to see MY NAME as the author of this great educational program.

After the success of the PQA program, naturally I wanted to take this experience and apply it to beef cattle. Because of this experience -- and others -- I was able to get a job at Michigan State with the Michigan Cattlemen's Association working on the Five State Beef Initiative and help with their BQA Training. I got to meet the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and I was able to earn more than $10,000 in scholarships.

Just for fun, I googled "Youth PQA Program" today and found that the program is still alive and well and still using most all of the materials Dr. Sterle and I created! What an honor!!!

All in all, it was my first complete marketing and communications program. It laid the foundation for my career today. And all because this Texas cattle girl was willing to step outside of the box and do something different!

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