I want to thank the sponsors, organizers, board of directors, and application review committees that make Targeting Excellence and the scholarships that they provide a reality. These opportunities for interaction with multiple industries at Targeting Excellence events are valuable, and the resulting scholarships provided to students are integral to continue studying and improving food animal agriculture.
I am a firm believer in two things. The first belief is in the land-grant university mission of combining research, teaching, and extension efforts to improve agriculture. Here, I define research as the generation of basic scientific information through empirically-based experiments, teaching as the dissemination of scientific ideas, principles, and methods to students to prepare them for careers in agriculture, and extension as the communication of new scientific information to the producers that may utilize it on their farms. The return to the state and national economy through investments in the land-grant university is absolutely staggering, and is one reason why agriculturalists in the United States hold such a distinct competitive advantage in the global marketplace in both the quantity and quality of their products. The second belief I have is that pig farms in this country may improve only when stocked with good pigs and good people. The swine geneticists have bred an exceptional pig, and I believe it is my job to provide the people with the tools and information needed to properly raise these animals to maximize their genetic potential. Together, these two beliefs provide the basis for my work and career goals an academic position as a swine extension specialist.
I believe that a swine specialist’s responsibility is to utilize university resources (namely, interested and dedicated students) to conduct the time, labor, and management-intensive trials that may not be feasible to complete at a commercial level. Many of the most valuable traits, including the ones that I focus on specifically in my PhD research, such as pre-suckle piglet birth weight, sow milk production, and causes of pre-weaning piglet mortality, are not measured, or at least not measured accurately, on farms simply because this data is too difficult to obtain on a large scale operation. This has created a paucity of information in these traits. Therefore, the potential value of filling the informational void by completing good studies in these areas is immense.
Once these studies are completed, and the results are verified, it is imperative that the information be distributed as widely as possible to the most number of people. This can be accomplished either through teaching or extension efforts. The only difference between teaching and extension, in my opinion, is that when the information is provided to students the process is termed teaching, but when the information goes to the producer we call it extension. If we think about teaching and extension efforts as being similar in this regard, we can perhaps take it one step further. Perhaps a lecture hall of students eager to learn more about a discipline and apply the information throughout their careers is the best way to most profoundly make a positive impact on an industry. Perhaps then teaching is the most effective form of extension available. For these reasons, my career goal is an academic position at a land-grant university with an emphasis in swine production, because it is here where I believe that I can make the most beneficial impact on swine production in the United States.
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For questions please call: Rachel Virden 678-448-2368