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The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home

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Though I have travelled quite a bit in my 22 years, I always eagerly come back to the place of my roots - the land of the Kentucky Derby, God-painted skies, Ale-8-One (Google it) and bluegrass music. Kentucky is my home.

I was raised on a beef farm (nothing is called a "ranch" in my neck of the woods) in Kentucky. I loved to ride on the buddy seat in the tractor as a kid with my dad while he mowed, raked and baled during hay season. My little brother, sister and I lived for when Mom and Dad would take us on four-wheeler rides across the open fields after harvest was over. My mom cooked many dinners that consisted of beef that came straight from our field, to the butcher, to our kitchen. Being the carnivore that I am (no veggies, please), fresh beef from our farm is a staple in my own kitchen nowadays.

summer sunriseA summer sunrise from the front porch of my house looking out at the eastern ridge of the family farm located in Frankfort, Kentucky.

I didn't realize how much growing up on a farm influenced me until I reached college. I doubt I would have chosen to study in agriculture if it hadn't been for my upbringing. As a senior ready to graduate from Western Kentucky University in May 2017 (GO HILLTOPPERS!), I mean it when I say I can't imagine myself studying anything but agriculture. My pursuit of a double degree in biochemistry and agriculture with an emphasis in agronomy has been a blast. There have been several completely sleepless nights and countless nights with minimal sleep. But, if I have discovered one thing throughout my time in college, it is that I LOVE to learn.

That is why I came to the Noble Research Institute. As a freshman, I had expressed to my advisers how much I loved learning about the science behind agriculture. The nerdy stuff is my thing. Then came the question from a couple of my professors: "Have you ever heard of the Noble Research Institute out in Oklahoma?" My response: "Oklahoma ...?" But, after a quick Google search, I was hooked. The philanthropy, the education outreach, the intriguing science - I couldn't believe everything that was coming out of this outstanding, incredible, innovative, so, so, impressive (have I made my point?) organization. I was P-U-M-P-E-D.

tara's familyTara's family (from left): sister-in-law, Suzanne; brother, Chris; father, Glenn; mother, Kathy; sister, Tommie; brother, Trevor; and Tara.

Then came the rejection email to my first application. I was bummed. But little did I know that the Noble Research Institute was teaching me even through their rejection. I continued to learn everything I could, work hard and seek out great opportunities. I knew that I wanted to apply again. Long story short, my second application was accepted for this summer's program. Tears of joy literally flooded my eyes and down my face as I was informed of my acceptance via a phone call. That poor lady on the other end. She said, "These are the types of phone calls I like to make!" Then it hit me. "Whoa. I actually did it. I'm going to Oklahoma!!"

Being away from home to travel here and there for a few weeks at a time is no big deal to me. But now, I am Oklahoma bound for a 10-week adventure. Having never been to the south-central region of the U.S., I am all-too-ready to see what the (hopefully) beautiful state of Oklahoma has to offer. I love my old Kentucky home, but here's to experiencing a summer in Ardmore, Oklahoma!

Tara's two lovesTara's two loves: her boyfriend Caleb on the left and her cat Coe in the middle.

PS - I love my cat Coe, blue raspberry snow cones, playing volleyball anywhere anytime, the wind in my hair, reading articles on agricultural and medicinal science, and everything Kentucky.

Tara Watkins is a 2016 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Plant Science from Frankfort, Kentucky.