Dairy Science Grads See Bright Future, But Also Challenges

8/24/2013 7:00 AM
By Hayley Potts Virginia Correspondent

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A dairy science degree is a valuable asset, according to recent graduates of the dairy science department at Virginia Tech.

Parker Welch of Chestertown, Md., a 2011 graduate, said, “It is always good to be differentiated from your peers when applying for jobs, and since there are only a few dairy science majors left, I absolutely think it will help students find jobs in the industry today.”

“The possibilities are endless”, said dairy science senior Erin Klingensmith of West Grove, Pa.

Recent and upcoming graduates’ ambitions range from attending veterinary school, managing a dairy farm, working for national dairy publications, being a nutritionist, working for a bull-stud company, working for a milk processor, or even attending law school.

Klingensmith plans on attending vet school following graduation and eventually wants to own her own vet practice while living on a farm.

Brent Ashley, a senior from Felton, Del., plans on attending vet school and law school back-to-back following graduation. For those who doubt a dairy science degree can earn you a spot in law school, Ashley said a dairy science degree “makes you more attractive because of the rigorous course work you have completed along with the uniqueness of your major.”

And dairy science graduates seem to be in high demand. Upcoming graduate Amy Schmitz from Allentown, N.J., said: “It is really great to hear about graduates who have multiple job offers and actually have to choose which job they would like. I don’t think many degrees offer that kind of luxury.”

But many also have concerns about job location and having the ability to pay off student loans. A lot of graduates try to find a job close to their home because they are afraid to apply for jobs farther away, which could limit their opportunities.

Welch, who was recently appointed associate editor of Holstein World, said the question to ask when applying for a job is: “Do you want to be in a certain location or do you want to find a job that you are interested in? Because it’s not always easy to be able to have both.”

Earning enough in scholarship money to attend graduate school is a major concern for students planning to attend vet school or law school. It’s also a concern for undergraduate students entering the workforce after graduation.

“Graduating means more bills and student loans. Knowing I will be employed after graduation helps with the financial fear, but it is still a huge worry,” Schmitz said, adding that she’s excited to be taking a full-time position with a 300-head seasonal grazing dairy in southwest Virginia, where she is currently working part time. “There is a lot of opportunity there and I can’t wait to keep learning from them.

“Take advantage of everything dairy science has to offer from day one,” Schmitz added.

Tyler Boyd, a 2013 Virginia Tech graduate from Parrotsville, Tenn., attended Virginia Tech for two years after graduating from Vanderbilt University with a biology degree. He got a dairy science degree because he knew he wanted to work in the dairy industry, but lacked the educational background.

Recent graduates also recommend taking internships to find “your niche” in the dairy industry and to get lots of hands-on experience outside of the classroom.

Boyd, who recently began working for World Wide Sires in Visalia, Calif., said: “Take advantage of all the opportunities available. Employers know the value of these extra efforts and are aware of the value of not only your degree, but your experiences as well.”

“Plan well, start early, and be patient. Find companies you would like to work for and research who they hire,” Welch said. “The hiring process doesn’t happen overnight so it is never too early to start looking.”

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