By Olivia Norton ’16
For Nessie Early, pursuing new and enriching experiences is nothing out of the ordinary; however, an opportunity to travel to Rome, Italy, has proven to be one of her most rewarding journeys as a student at Texas A&M.
Early received a bachelor’s in animal science in May 2013 but wanted to learn more, a desire that led her to an internship with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations this past fall. A highly prestigious internship, Early was up for the task thanks to her agriculture roots, leadership experiences and Aggie education.
Growing up on the central coast of California in the small, ranching community of Shandon, Early developed a passion for the animal science industry at a young age. “My mother was always involved in some type of livestock production or animal science related research, and I grew up heavily involved in FFA,” Early said. “The decision to pursue that field of study following high school wasn’t a difficult one.”
After attending California Polytechnic State University her freshman year, Early spent a year traveling as the National FFA Secretary in 2008-2009, two weeks of which were spent at Texas A&M University.
“After spending time with the A&M students, even for such a short visit, it was hard not to fall in love with the school and all of its spirit and traditions,” Early recalls. “When I thought about the direction I wanted my future to take, I saw myself at Texas A&M.”
Upon returning home, Early took the necessary steps to ensure that all roads led to beginning an undergraduate career as an Aggie. In the fall of 2010, Early entered the Kleberg Animal and Food Sciences Center for the first time as a student and found herself surrounded by more than just peers and professors.
“Transferring into a program that prides itself in being one of the largest animal science programs in the country was a little daunting,” Early said. “But it was immediately apparent that the faculty here would go above and beyond to ensure the success of students just like me. I felt right at home.”
Early wasted no time engaging in the culture of Texas A&M, both in and out of the classroom.
“Because I spent so much time with FFA, I wanted to see what was out there beyond the agricultural sector A&M is so widely known for,” Early said. “ I dove head first and took advantage of the organizations and opportunities I thought would help me reach my potential and make my time here purposeful.”
Early was involved in organizations such as MSC Leadership and Empowerment of Aggie Females, Alpha Zeta, MSC Hospitality, Aggie Relay for Life, where she served as a director, and Big Event. It wasn’t the leadership positions or hard work that Early found to be the most rewarding part of her time in these organizations. Through these, she saw the heart of Texas A&M.
“People know that A&M strives for certain values, such as service, but I really saw that it was more than just words up on the MSC and that students really hold each other to these standards,” Early said.
As Early approached graduation, she decided to take advantage of another close-by opportunity and applied for graduate studies in animal nutrition under the direction of Dr. Tryon Wickersham, animal science associate professor. Early then set a goal to begin her graduate career with a different kind of experience. Having spent two summers in Washington D.C. as an intern, she sought to broaden her animal science experience on a much larger stage in Italy.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, housed in Rome, approached the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as it was in search of a qualified Aggie to intern for the Animal Production and Health Division beginning in the fall of 2013. Luckily, the deadline for applying for this first-time, unique experience had been extended and the email explaining these details peaked Early’s interest.
“As I looked more into the internship and the mission and values of FAO, they seemed to align with my passions and line of study within the animal science world,” Early said. “It would begin after my last semester of undergraduate work so I felt the things I could potentially learn while in Rome would give me a more diversified set of experiences to bring into my graduate career.”
“I got a call the day after I interviewed saying that I had been chosen. I remember being so nervous. That made it real; I was actually just a few months away from living in Rome and interning with the FAO.”
The FAO facilitates sustainability and agricultural growth within countries around the world. Early was placed within a team of 12 individuals from diversified backgrounds – France, Australia and Germany being among their countries of origin.
An opportunity like this was a once-in-a-life-time chance for Early. The prestige of being selected as the only representative from Texas A&M at FAO was recognized by numerous faculty members including Dr. Chris Skaggs, professor of animal science, San Antonio Livestock Exposition Chair and associate dean for student development.
“She represents the ‘best of the best’ students at Texas A&M University. Not only is she an outstanding leader but a very mature and gifted young lady. There would be no hesitation sending her to represent our university on such a large scale. If anyone could make a lasting impact with her time in Rome, it’s her,” Skaggs said.
Early spent eight hours a day building her animal science knowledge by researching problems and issues relevant to the United Nation’s dealings in animal science from an economic standpoint.
“I was fortunate because my team focused on livestock policy and sector analysis which included the animal science side, my strength, but I was also strongly involved in the economic impacts on each country, which was one of the area’s I grew in the most.”
Early was directly involved in numerous projects such as developing possible ways livestock production could lessen greenhouse gas emission. By exploring the different options, Early was exposed to a wide range of agricultural systems coming from each of the different countries around the world.
“I was very fortunate to see these projects in action,” Early said. “Each country brought a different perspective to the table which allowed me to see the impact animal science has from a much broader perspective.”
The diversity found in addressing different projects from a global standpoint brought with it new challenges for Early.
“One of the projects I was heavily involved in dealt with looking at options to feed urea and nitrates to livestock as a means to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. I researched how much is safe to feed and the methods of feeding such supplements. The biggest challenge came when it was time to determine how to apply our findings to different livestock systems across the globe. I found out very quickly, everyone doesn’t feed livestock like we do in the United States.”
Early gained more than practice using research and presentation skills during the internship. One of the most valuable takeaways from an international internship was the realization that agriculture, and more specifically animal science, is a global market.
“I came away from Rome with a more grounded sense of my role in agriculture,” Early said. “To be able to understand our vital, future role in the agricultural sector, from students to international economists, is to understand other countries and cultures and what animal science is to them. My FAO internship shed light on that subject that I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere.”
Early returned to the Department of Animal Science this spring to begin her master’s program. Her focus will remain on the steps that must be taken to continue to better international agriculture.
“I saw first hand the opportunity we have to continue to enhance and grow our livestock production and the impacts that it has on each country. We, as ambassadors of agriculture, are gaining a hold on the things we do well or could improve upon to provide a safe and reliable product to the world through animal science. My time in Rome and the experiences I gained showed me these are the things I would like to focus on for the rest of my life.”
Olivia Norton ’16 is a sophomore animal science major from Texarkana, Texas.
For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-1542.