Graduate internships provide new learning experience

By Olivia Norton

The summer of 2013 brought a new kind of challenge and opportunity for two animal science graduate students.  Levi Trubenbach and Alyssa Word, both seeking a master’s of science, jumped at the chance to gain hands-on experience in the form of an internship with Cactus Feeders, a large scale cattle feeding operation based out of Amarillo, Texas.

Collaboration between Dr. Mike Engler, Cactus Feeders president and member of the Department of Animal Science External Advisory Council, and Dr. Jason Sawyer and Dr. Tryon Wickersham, both associate professors, put the idea for a graduate intern position in motion.

“Dr. Sawyer and I, thought Levi and Alyssa would do a good job based on their performance as master’s students,” Wickersham said. “An opportunity tot work with Cactus Feeders would benefit their individual programs.”


Left, Justin Gleghorn, business analyst, Alyssa Word and Levi Trubenbach, graduate students, and Kevin Hazelwood, vice president and director of employee development.

Taking a step outside of the classroom of Texas A&M isn’t the normal procedure for graduate students. However, these new internships provided a chance to explore a relevant sector of the beef cattle production system

Each of the three-month internships was tailored to the specific purpose and knowledge base of Trubenbach and Word. The Cactus Feeders professional staff, chief operating officer, and director of research coordinated with Wickersham and Sawyer in order to utilize the skills of the two students in a way that would meet direct business needs, benefit each student, and further both their academic and professional careers.

“After hearing from the students about their individual career goals, our team refined the program to meet their needs,” said Justin Gleghorn, a representative for Cactus Feeders. “In the end, we arrived at two very distinct projects that took advantage of the student’s individual education and experience while broadening their business and professional experience.”

Trubenbach was chosen to create a decision support tool to assist Cactus Feeders in making cattle procurement decisions. Word focused on the development of a database containing Cactus Feeders research details and assisted in multiple ongoing research projects at Cactus Feeders.

“I spent a lot of time analyzing large datasets. The tasks involved with manipulating these massive files really taught me how to utilize computer functions that are highly applicable to my own data,” Trubenbach recalled. “I also learned a lot about the macroeconomics in the cattle industry. We spent a lot of time discussing variables that could potentially have a large impact on sustainability.”

After completion of the internship, Trubenbach was able to see the benefits of such a unique opportunity. “The internship broadened my perspective on the industry as a whole,” he said. “We typically focus on the sector of the cattle industry in which we have the most interest, but Cactus Feeders gave me the opportunity to focus on an area that I did not have experience in.”

Trubenbach and Word returned to Texas A&M with new experiences that have made a noticeable impact on their performance back in the classroom.

“Upon their return, both students are better able to see and share the relevance of research conducted at Texas A&M and in the information presented in class,” said Wickersham. “Seeing beef cattle production from a ‘real world’ perspective has allowed them to have a more complete view of how their research and results can impact beef production.”

All parties involved were able to see tangible results after each internship, and collaboration between the Department of Animal Science and Cactus Feeders will continue in the future. “Both internships were certainly a success from our point of view; the students were top quality and produced excellent work,” Hazelwood said. “The professors were committed to the students’ success and engaged around our needs, and we will definitely continue to develop programs that benefit both Cactus Feeders and the Department of Animal Science.”


Olivia Norton 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 or (979) 845-1542.

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