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Defining a Future

Young agricultural scholars journey to the Noble Research Institute for a summer internship like no other

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Morning crests over open range, and golden light reveals a herd of cattle in the distance making their way down a rocky bowl. Behind the long, dusty line are the silhouettes of four cowboys on horseback. Their work-gloved hands wave straw cowboy hats, driving the herd.

The stock treks up the ridge, and hundreds of beasts kick up clouds of earth. Finally the herd passes, and two of the cowboys slow their horses to a walk as they come closer. One horse dips his head to nibble green grass as his rider booms Welcome to Middle Creek Ranch!

Yates Adcock has managed Middle Creeks 15,000 acres for 25 years. He works daily to care for the land and its 800 cow-calf pairs, 50 bulls, and 150-head goat herd. Among Adcocks full-time hands is one of the Noble Research Institutes Lloyd Noble Scholars in Agriculture, a young, quiet man who is clearly not having the usual summer internship.

Logan Jackson, an animal science junior at Texas Tech University, left Lubbock for a summer in Dustin, Okla., as Adcocks right-hand man. His faded jeans tucked into tall cowboy boots and the clanking of spurs the only sound the student makes, his constant smile says theres no place hed rather be than on horseback, learning from Adcock.

Ive been saddled since 5 a.m., said Jackson, a grin spreading across his face. Working with Yates has been an unbelievable learning experience. Hes given me his confidence and trust to help handle this ranch. Ive never done anything like this before, but now I want to make a career out of it.

From the office to the field

Jacksons defining educational experience at Middle Creek Ranch is a recurring theme for the Lloyd Noble Scholars in Agriculture who make their way in Ardmore each summer (more than 100 applicants vie for a coveted spot in Nobles summer internship program). These hand-picked scholars conduct real-world agricultural research and projects on the Noble Research Institutes campus or participate in unique, on-ranch experiences with some of the regions top commercial producers.

Yates Adcock and Logan JacksonYates Adcock, left, manager of Middle Creek Ranch, and Logan Jackson string temporary fencing.

The Noble Research Institute provides each student with an experience meant to challenge them, solidify their passion for agriculture and shape their career goals, said Billy Cook, director of the Agricultural Division. For the scholars, this is not just a foot in the door, but a chance to stand in the boots of Noble Research Institute consultants and researchers, truly living the life of a professional. Each scholar is provided a mentor or team of mentors who offer individual guidance and support throughout the three-month program, imparting knowledge and sharing years of experience.

As a mentor, I get the opportunity to hopefully have a positive impact on somebodys life, said Adcock, who has co-sponsored a scholar since 2007. The quality of the interns we get through the coordination with the Noble Research Institute has been unparalleled. These young people are passionate, serious and have an excellent work ethic. The real blessing to me, my family and the staff is the friendship we form with them. The closeness we build and maintain develops into a lasting relationship. Im still a mentor to them years later.

Nearly 200 miles away at Nobles Ardmore campus, Austin Miles has experienced the same awe-inducing opportunities, just in a different setting. Miles wore coveralls and sipped steaming coffee from a mug emblazoned with the Noble Research Institute logo. He sat behind a desk, pecking at his keyboard, his name proclaimed outside the entrance of his very own office. If a visitor didnt know better, the 24-year-old graduate student from Texas A&M would seem like a bona fide consultant, not a summer intern. The atmosphere here at the Noble Research Institute is unlike anything Ive experienced before, Miles said.

Previously, Miles served as an agricultural policy intern in Washington, D.C., where he found himself more likely to be brewing coffee and making copies rather than consulting with agricultural producers. As a scholar, I have a solid mentor-intern relationship, and Im doing real work that matters, he said. I really enjoy having my own project. It gives me autonomy, but I also communicate with my mentor every day. The interaction is open with all of the consultants and researchers here.

Changing course

The open communication with colleagues is a key component as each scholar adopts a research project tailored to their chosen field of interest. The scholar collects data, works through obstacles and draws conclusions about some of todays most pressing agricultural issues. At the end of the summer, they will present their findings to an auditorium of professional peers. Theres no busy work here. I have a substantial project that is vital to the Noble Research Institutes overall research goals and agricultural producers in general, said Ashton Williams, who is working in agricultural safety. I know my final presentation and the data Ive collected will be utilized by other professionals working in the field, and thats gratifying.

Like Jackson at Middle Creek Ranch, Williams is a part of another special collaboration between the Noble Research Institute and the Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention & Education, which works to improve safety in agriculture.

Williams, an animal science major from the University of Arkansas, recalled how an unexpected twist in her scholars project has now redefined her future. She arrived expecting a summer job with menial tasks, loosely related to her goal of becoming an

agricultural economist. Instead of filing audits and answering phones, Williams was given a project focused on risks associated with ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) used on ranches and safer alternatives. The project has altered her post-graduation plans, and Williams is now open to something she never considered before a graduate degree in occupational safety and health.

Beyond the new graduate focus, Williams discussed the variety of opportunities shes experienced. Prior to her interview, she had artificially inseminated cows, met the Ardmore Fire Marshall as part of the Noble delegation to discuss fire safety in a new building, and swabbed laboratories for radioactive isotopes. There is no day-to-day routine, Williams said. There is a huge variety and so much potential for learning. This experience will set me apart from other graduate school applicants.

As for Miles, he, too, finds the path ahead leading into new venues. Once bound for the suit-and-tie world of politics, Miles has now changed course. I never thought I would work for a non-profit, and now I cant imagine working anywhere else. Miles said. I havent had a job yet that had so much emphasis on mission and family. From their large producers to the scholars, the Noble Research Institute is here to help people succeed. Its about people and relationships. I value being a part of that.

Nicole Farless, a wildlife scholar, said her experience has been similarly diverse and rewarding, reaching across disciplines and showing her the intertwined web of agricultural activities. Im going to school so I can have a career working in wildlife, but my experience as a scholar has prepared me for much more, opening more doors of possibility, Farless said. I have worked in plant and soil science, agricultural consulting, and pest control, and Im even helping with a livestock management workshop. Its like nothing I expected.

More than interns

As for Jackson, the day at Middle Creek Ranch ended much like it began by Adcocks side. The pair sat down at a dinner table filled with the farms crew. In between recounting the days events, herd health recommendations, laughter and slices of homemade pie, Adcock inquired about Jacksons thoughts on his internship.

Jackson talked about his expectations and how his current experience has exceeded everything from work opportunities to his relationship with his host. Adcock smiled and agreed, saying he never calls his scholars just interns. Instead, they earn a different title family.

Austin MilesAustin Miles, a graduate student at Texas A&M University, evaluates warm-season forages in a Noble Research Institute grazing trail. Following his graduation and time as a Lloyd Noble Scholar, Miles accepted a full-time research position at the Noble Research Institute.

2012 Lloyd Noble Scholars in Agriculture

Name: Nicole Farless
University: Oklahoma State University
Major: Natural Resources, Ecology and Management
Project: Testing plant species to determine the effects of new enzymes

Name: Logan Jackson
University: Texas Tech University
Major: Animal Science
Project: Narrowing down Middle Creek Ranchs goat density population, determining effects on land

Name: Kristin Jones
University: Oregon State University
Major: Graduate studying Forest Ecosystems and Society
Project: Surveying of Northern Bobwhite quail populations and statistical analysis for the white-tailed deer study

Name: Sarah Mays
University: Tarleton State University
Major: Wildlife Management
Project: The effects of prescribed burning on pest populations and vegetation sampling through very-large-scale aerial imaging

Name: Austin Miles
University: Texas A&M University
Major: Agricultural Leadership Development
Project: Studying animal performance on cereal rye and its impact on stocking density, animal growth and growth of the pasture.

Name: Jess Price
University: Oklahoma Panhandle State University
Major: Agricultural Business and Animal Science
Project: Economic challenges of producers, including cattle cycles

Name: Nick Richburg
University: Texas Tech University
Major: Agricultural Economics
Project: Testing different nitrogen-based fertilizers on a bermudagrass plot

Name: Cassie Warren
University: Texas A&M University
Major: Horticulture
Project: Hoop-house study of tomato and pecan growth

Name: Audra Wilburn
University: Texas A&M University
Major: Animal Science
Project: Surveying commercial producers to determine drought-related management practices

Name: Ashton Williams
University: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Major: Animal Science
Project: Studying potential safety improvements for ATVs, RTVs and UTVs for agricultural operations