Hands-on and Diverse Learning: Animal Sciences Youth Leadership Academy 2023

Since 2016, the Animal Sciences Youth Leadership Academy has introduced high school students to diverse college and career opportunities in agriculture

The Animal Sciences Youth Leadership Academy welcomed 17 high school students to campus from May 31–June 3 to learn more about animal science career opportunities.

A partnership between MU Extension, CAFNR and the MU Division of Animal Sciences, the four-day academy allows students to network with industry leaders, provides hands-on lab and farm learning opportunities, and introduces students to MU animal sciences faculty and campus life.

“We try to cover our very diverse and dynamic agriculture industry in Missouri,” said Marcia Shannon, Animal Sciences professor and state swine Extension specialist, who runs the program with David Hoffman, MU Extension livestock field specialist. “It exposes the students to the diversity of what the degree can offer you. Most of them come in and they’re beef cattle kids, or they’re destined to go the pre-vet route, but sometimes the camp opens up new ideas to them through hands-on activities.”

Students are also divided into groups based on their interest in hot topics in animal agriculture, such as antibiotic usage and sustainability, to develop an informative skit presented at the end of the week with the help of an MU Animal Sciences faculty mentor. Students presented their skits in a variety of formats, from Jeopardy! to a court case, to inform the MU faculty judges about their topic. Each member of the winning team received a $500 scholarship to attend Mizzou. This experience helps the campers expand on their existing knowledge of the animal agriculture industry.

“We go to the Columbia Farmers Market every single Saturday,” said Nicholas Van Schyndel, an attendee from Mexico, Mo., “and I love being able to communicate to the public about what we do on our farm, and this was a great opportunity for me to be able to go in and learn what the problems are in our industry. Not only what’s on our farm, but what other people are having problems with.”

Dakoda Eisenbath attended the academy in 2022 and returned as a counselor this year because of the impact the academy made on her college choice.

“I had planned to attend community college and use my A+,” said Eisenbath, incoming Mizzou freshman. “But attending the academy showed me the benefits of attending Mizzou for the connections to animal science and agriculture industry professionals that I wouldn’t have access to in my hometown.” Eisenbath’s decision was also influenced by the hands-on lab experience provided at the academy and led by MU Animal Sciences faculty and staff. “When I’m a freshman I’ll already have connections to staff who can help me in my college career.”

“This program shows kids one of the most positive things Mizzou has to offer,” Shannon said. “It’s big, but once you get into your major it feels small.”

Since the Academy began in 2016, 99% of attendees have attended some kind of higher education, with 82% majoring in ag programs and 40% of all attendees becoming Mizzou students. While not all the students pursue a degree in CAFNR specifically, Shannon says the impact on the industry is still valuable.

“We want these good kids, who are smart and who love science, to take those jobs and stay in agriculture,” said Shannon. “But even if they become dentists or doctors or vet techs, they will still be good advocates for the agriculture industry.”