Calling all interns

Chico State agriculture students snag prime internships

CATTLE CALL <br>Dennis Lee, who has been working with these Black Angus cattle at the Chico State University Farm, is headed to Australia this summer to work on a beef cattle ranch. There, he’ll work with Ythanbrae Angus cattle.

Dennis Lee, who has been working with these Black Angus cattle at the Chico State University Farm, is headed to Australia this summer to work on a beef cattle ranch. There, he’ll work with Ythanbrae Angus cattle.

Photo by Tom Angel

Teacher aid: Chico State ag students credit their professors for helping them secure internships and serving as advisers. The profs take turns coordinating the program, and this year it’s Wes Patton and Annette Levi.

Dennis Lee grew up cattle ranching, and that’s what he wants to do with his life—only in the ultra-efficient, high-tech way of the new generation.

“I’m the only child, so my grandfather took me in and taught me,” he said. “I got my first cow when I was 2.” He was getting paid for bucking hay by age 7.

Eventually, he owned 25 cows on his grandfather’s small Fallon, Nev., ranch. “Those cows put me through college,” the 21-year-old grinned, his bright blue eyes flashing above his checked shirt and sturdy jeans. Working with cattle, he said, “is all I ever wanted to do. It’s a love for the tradition and the heritage.”

Still, the Chico State University junior has a long way to go before he knows all he needs to about the industry—literally. He has secured a coveted internship all the way in Australia.

There, on ranchers Tom and Harry Lawson’s prestigious “bull test performance center,” about an hour and a half from Melbourne, he’ll learn even more about artificial insemination, embryo transfer and how to find out what variables in diet make cattle produce more and better beef most efficiently.

“The day you get there they put you to work,” Lee said, excitedly. “I told my professor, Dave [Daley], I’m taking two notebooks and I’m going to fill them and bring them back.”

By the time he graduates in fall 2002, Lee will be able to bring the latest knowledge about technology and efficiency back to his family’s ranch and, he hopes, convince his “old school” grandfather to apply it there.

From Wyoming to Washington, D.C., and here in the North Valley, students are packing up and heading out to professional-caliber internships.

“We really strongly encourage students to do internships,” said Professor Daley, who is just one of those who have advised students on their internships.

Not only do the students get experience that will help them find top jobs, but they also bring the knowledge back to Chico State classrooms.

They get course units, too, as they return to Chico and report what they’ve learned.

Jen Taylor wants to be a veterinarian, but before she can even get into vet school, she has to put in a whopping 1,400 to 1,600 hours of observing and working with vets.

So, it’s fortunate Taylor, who has commercial cattle ranchers on one side of her family and sheep on the other, is headed this summer to the Lander Veterinary Clinic in Turlock, Calif. There, she’ll work with some of the clinic’s 14 vets in the dairy cattle embryo transfer division, a field she’s already researched extensively through her work at Chico State.

She’ll stay through the summer and fall. The vet clinic has a dorm-type room where the interns live, which ensures that she can be right there when there’s a nighttime emergency, which translates to a learning experience.

"[Being a veterinarian] is the application of what they’re doing with research,” she said. “I’m more of an applied-type person. I like to see it in practice.”

Taylor doesn’t expect to get paid. “They’ll feed me and I’ll be a happy camper,” she said.

Allison Adams is from the south San Joaquin Valley, but this summer she’ll hail from Athens, Ga.

Adams, an animal science major who will graduate next spring, is a bit of an anomaly and an example of the changing face of agriculture in the United States. Her family has no background in farming. “I just started 4-H and FFA in high school,” she said. “I just really had an interest in livestock.

“People call me the lab rat,” she joked. “I’m hoping to be working a lot of cell culture in the lab and doing a lot of embryo transfer.”

Adams will have plenty of chances to get her hands dirty as she works for Pro Linia, whose research is widely known in the cloning industry. She’s eager to meet prestigious researchers she’s only read about, and she’ll even get paid: a stipend for 20 hours of work per week, though she hopes to be around more.

Her focus will be on fine-tuning cloning and genetic techniques used with hogs and cattle. “They want to store elite animal genetics,” she said.

“I’m definitely going to graduate school,” she added, unnecessarily.

Lee, who during the school year works as assistant manager of the University Farm’s Beef Unit, is realistic about what kind of job he wants right out of college. His family’s ranch isn’t big enough to support him, so he plans to work as a manager for a decade or so before raising the capital to buy his own ranch.

“There’s a lot of opportunities in the beef industry,” he said. “You have to find your niche to make it work.”

Daley said the Ag Department works hard to “make sure we tailor the right student for the right internship,” so it’s a good match. But they aren’t handed a list of possibilities; the students have to seek them out—"the same way they’re going to have to find a career or a job later on.”

Daley also said, “Rarely do we send out a student anymore who doesn’t get paid.” At one internship program in Colorado, the sponsor compensates the students based on their performance. If he or she merits an “A” grade, the student’s tuition for the next semester is paid.

Former interns serve as “a network,” letting the college know what’s available, from internships to permanent jobs.

The students agreed that just doing undergraduate work in Chico State’s Ag Department sets them above their peers experience-wise.

Adams said, “A lot of my friends go to other ag schools, and I am getting so much more hands-on experience.”

“The experience I’ve gotten here in Chico in terms of working with cattle and projects is far more than I ever thought it would be,” said Lee, who first attended Lassen Community College in Susanville.

“I finally got my passport, my visa and my plane ticket," said an excited-but-nervous Lee, who was set to fly out on May 23. "It’s one of those opportunities that coming out of high school I never thought I’d be able to go to Australia."