As Zach Duncan transitioned to Kansas State University (K-State) to pursue his master’s degree, he knew his time in the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) would be vital as he furthered his education.
Duncan earned his bachelor’s degree in animal sciences from MU in 2018.
“I grew up fairly close to Columbia, so I always knew that I wanted to go to the University of Missouri,” Duncan said. “I was always a big fan. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study when first arrived, but thought animal sciences made sense with my background.”
Duncan grew up on a cow-calf operation in New Cambria, Mo. His parents owned a livestock market as well.
“Animal sciences seemed like a logical fit, and I’m so glad that I made that decision to pursue a degree in that field,” Duncan said. “I really fell in love with it.”
Duncan’s time in CAFNR was highlighted by numerous hands-on learning opportunities, including the Loewenberg Beef Cattle Management Internship during his junior year. That position was focused on cattle herd management, where Duncan and four other CAFNR students handled the day-to-day operations of a Salers herd donated by CAFNR alumnus Bruce Loewenberg.
Duncan also held an undergraduate research assistant position during his senior year. He worked with Eric Bailey, assistant professor in the Division of Animal Sciences and state beef Extension specialist.
“The coursework in each of my animal sciences classes was obviously incredibly important and everything was so well taught,” Duncan said. “All of my professors were so good at not only teaching the science, but making it practical with real-world examples. The faculty is second to none. They really helped prepare me for my next steps.
“As far as the research, it was amazing to be able to have those experiences as an undergraduate student. When I did make the decision to go into graduate school, those experiences really gave me a leg up and prepared me so well to continue my education.”
It was Bailey who helped Duncan connect with K-State. Bailey earned his master’s degree and PhD there.
“I can’t thank Dr. Bailey enough for not only giving me great learning opportunities as an undergraduate, but also helping me after graduation,” Duncan said.
Duncan’s master’s research at K-State focused on ruminant nutrition. Specifically, Duncan researched the effects of prescribed-fire timing on grazing cattle performance, as well as forage biomass accumulation, native plant composition and root carbohydrate concentrations in the Kansas Flint Hills.
Because of his strong research project at K-State, Duncan was recently honored as a 2021 recipient of K-State’s Larry Corah Graduate Student Award. He was given the Outstanding Master Student Award, which also includes a $1,000 scholarship.
“It was really cool to receive this award; I honestly didn’t expect it,” Duncan said. “There are so many great graduate students here, so it’s a really nice honor.
“When I originally came here, I wanted to continue to have good research experiences and learn more about conducting important research. It’s been really worthwhile, and I’ve appreciated the experiences I’ve had.”
Duncan is currently working on his PhD at K-State. That work is focused on evaluating alternative fiber sources, co-products and bunk management strategies for growing beef cattle.
“My master’s work was a bit heavier on the natural resource management side of things,” Duncan said. “With my PhD work, I’m working more on the animal side. I’m definitely excited to continue to dive into the work.”
The CAFNR Career Services office recognizes career development as a lifelong process and is committed to helping students think about their future and work to make that future a reality. CAFNR has been incredibly successful in that regard as 99.2 percent of CAFNR graduates report a successful career outcome, such as employment, continuing education or military service, within six months of graduation. Also, 85 percent of CAFNR students are employed in a field directly related to their degree program after graduation.
For Duncan, he said he is hoping to take an industry job after earning his PhD.
“I want to take everything I’ve learned and apply it in an industry setting,” Duncan said. “From my freshman year to now, I never dreamed I would be in this position. That’s the great thing about CAFNR – everyone really cares about you and wants to see you succeed. I appreciate their guidance and willingness to help you reach your goals.”