Five Michigan State University animal science seniors competed in the 10th annual North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge March 31–April 2 in Hickory, N.C.
The MSU team earned the second highest award, a reserve platinum award, which included a $100 scholarship for each team member: Melissa Erdman, Minden City; Sarah Fraley, Sandusky; Jillian Holdwick, Harbor Beach; and Allan Mergener, McMillan. The aggregate team of MSU student Hannah Tucker, Elsie; Mason Amundson, University of Wisconsin–Madison; and Dallas Carabeau, University of Vermont; earned a gold placing. MSU Department of Animal Science associate professor Miriam Weber Nielsen and specialist Elizabeth Karcher coached the MSU team.
Platinum award winners were the teams from California State University–Fresno, Cornell University, Penn State University and the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. Other teams achieving reserve platinum awards were from the University of Alberta, the University of Idaho and Washington State University.
This year's competition attracted 127 university students from 30 schools across the United States and Canada. It was organized by North Carolina State University and Virginia Polytechnic University.
The innovative two-day competition assigns students to aggregate teams to facilitate the growth of team-building skills. The event challenges contestants to analyze dairy operations by recalling basic dairy management principles and their practical application. In addition, students are tested on their organizational, time management, data analysis, public speaking, leadership and teamwork skills.
Tucker said that her experience with the NAIDC gave her much needed insight into today's industry.
"You can learn all about how things work in a classroom, but the knowledge that you gain from being on different farms is something you'll never forget," she said. "I was able to work with an aggregate team and this allowed us to incorporate different practices from across the Midwest into our evaluation, which is something you have to be able to do in the real world."
On day one, each student team received information about one of four working dairy operations. Armed with production and farm management information, teams conducted a walk-through of their assigned dairy farm before having an opportunity to interview the farm's herd managers. Team members evaluated the information collected from the interviews, on-site inspection and farm-generated reports to develop a farm analysis and presentation that included recommendations for improving animal nutrition, reproduction efficiency, milking procedures, animal health, housing and finances.
On the second day of the competition, teams presented their findings and recommendations to and fielded questions from a panel of five judges that included dairy producers, veterinarians and industry representatives. Team ratings were awarded based on the strength of the analysis and recommendations.
Erdman shared that preparing and competing in the NAIDC was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that better prepares her for a career in the dairy industry upon graduation in May.
"Preparing for the NAIDC allowed me to learn in a setting that I thrive in: hands-on and active learning. Words cannot describe how much I have learned over the past few months," she said. "The NAIDC was not only a wonderful learning experience about dairy, but it also increased my confidence in public speaking and overall as a communicator. I am a better team player and able to work within groups at ease, both of which are valuable skills as I start my career."
Teammate Mergener agreed, saying the entire Dairy Challenge experience, including meeting students and faculty members from other universities and networking with industry sponsors was one of the most enjoyable and memorable learning opportunities of his college career.
"The National Dairy Challenge competition was an opportunity for me to directly apply knowledge gained over the course of my undergraduate animal science career to real life problem-solving situations."
"I feel more prepared now to enter the real world because I can relate back what I came across during my dairy challenge experiences and those of the farmers I met and worked with," added Tucker.
The host dairy farms for the 2011 NAIDC were Beams Dairy Farm (John Beam III and John Beam IV), Eaker Dairy Farm (Rusty and Cameron Eaker), Piedmont Jerseys (Corey and Bridgette Lutz) and Gar-Mac Farm Inc. (Gary and Sharon MacGibbon).
The NAIDC consists of four regional intercollegiate dairy management competitions – Midwest, Northeast, Southern and Western – and a national contest. Designed by dairy industry representatives and university faculty members and specialists, the event is supported financially through industry donations and coordinated by a volunteer board of directors. The first NAIDC took place in 2002 at MSU, and since that time has helped prepare more than 3,000 students for careers in the dairy industry. The 2012 NAIDC will take place March 29–31, in Roanoke, Va. The four regional contests will be scheduled for late fall 2011 and winter 2012.
For more information about the NAIDC, visit www.dairychallenge.org.
For more information about the MSU Dairy Challenge program, contact Weber Nielsen at [email protected].