Many educators agree that the best way for students to learn is by doing.
In 2008, the New Mexico State University Dairy Extension Program, along with several other land-grant university partners in the Southwest, took that concept to a whole new level with the creation of the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium.
“We were looking to provide more hands-on education, and realized that having an 80-cow dairy on campus wasn’t relevant to our industry when our average herd size in New Mexico is about 2,500,” says Robert Hagevoort, Extension dairy specialist and associate professor at NMSU. “Producers in the area said, ‘Why don’t you come to my dairy? Why try to get cows on campus if my dairy can be a classroom?’ So the concept became, instead of bringing the cows to the students, why not bring the students to the cows?”
The Consortium program spans six weeks in the summer, and Hagevoort says it covers everything from reproduction and nutrition for dairy cows to dairy management and dairy safety. Students in the program visit area dairies daily for hands-on lessons, and then utilize classrooms at Clovis Community College for lectures.
“Five days a week, plus Saturdays, we’ll be having field trips, going to feed plants, anything that is ag-related,” Hagevoort says. “The students have tests and quizzes too. Everything is graded, so they can take the class for credit at their home universities.”
Since its beginnings, the Dairy Consortium program has seen impressive growth – so much so that Hagevoort thinks it could expand to other regions. “The first year we started, we had 18 students. The last few years, we have admitted between 50 or 60 students on average, and they’re divided into two different sessions, beginner and advanced,” he says. “Students have attended from all over the U.S. – about 52 different universities. In order to instruct dairy management reflective of other areas across the U.S., we want to see if we can replicate this program in other areas like the Midwest or California and take that same group of students to spend learning time in all areas to provide as broad a program as possible.”
Most importantly, Hagevoort says that the Consortium is providing the best possible opportunities for future careers in New Mexico’s dairy industry. He says that two out of three students in the program – or 66 percent – end up working somewhere in the dairy industry, either on a dairy or in the allied industry. “This program is very practical. I really feel it’s starting to play a unique role,” Hagevoort says. “We’re connecting students with their potential employers. These companies have really seen the value in sponsoring the program and have been able to hire students directly coming out of the program.”
Beverly Idsinga, executive director of the Dairy Producers of New Mexico, agrees, noting that the program is valuable to the state’s entire industry.
“This is a very hands-on program that teaches students all aspects of modern dairy farming, from farming practices to environmental stewardship to political impacts,” she says. “I believe this program is a huge asset to the dairy industry, as it has trained hundreds of people about modern dairy farming, the majority of which end up in agriculture.”