By Olivia Norton
Animal nutrition played a vital role in Tryon Wickersham’s life growing up around his parents’ cow-calf operation. Little did he know, a move to Texas following high school in Colorado would bring him to Texas A&M to pursue a degree in that very subject of livestock production.
While Wickersham has always been partial to the agricultural world, he began his career at A&M on a different path.
“My parents asked me to apply to Texas A&M when we moved to Texas and I got in,” said Wickersham. “I actually started off in agricultural engineering. After one semester, I chose to move into animal science because I did not like engineering too much.”
Back to his roots, it didn’t take long for Wickersham to realize this was the path he was meant to be on. “I was interested in ruminants when I started school so I took Dr. Wayne Greene’s honors nutrition course, a course I now teach, and that solidified my interest in nutrition,” Wickersham recalled.” I knew by the time I was a sophomore that I wanted to be a professor at Texas A&M.”
His decision to pursue graduate studies was greatly influenced by the impact certain animal science professors had made during his four years in the Department of Animal Science. “While at A&M, I worked for Dr. Gordon Carstens and got a lot of exposure to graduate school and graduate students. Accordingly, I knew graduate school would be a good fit,” Wickersham said. “Dr. Chris Skaggs was also instrumental in me becoming a professor. His ability to push me beyond myself showed me the tangible effects of pouring into a student’s life.”
Wickersham received both his master’s degree and doctoral degree from Kansas State in ruminant nutrition and returned to the Texas A&M family in 2006, this time as a faculty member. His position in animal nutrition has become a place where his interests, passions and job collide.
While he does teach the undergraduate Principals of Animal Nutrition course, the majority of his time is spent working with and mentoring his graduate students. “It is amazing, getting to individually work with a person for a number of years. You can really see them grow and you can impact their lives,” Wickersham said. “Graduate students are why I do this job. Big classes don’t work for me because I like individuals and want to see them succeed.”
While Wickersham and his team have numerous projects running, current graduate students’ projects include feeding algae to cattle, differences in nitrogen metabolism between bos indicus and bos taurus cattle and feeding ionophores to grazing cow/calf pairs to look at adaptation in the calves and performance in cows. Wickersham is trained in the supplementation of protein to cow calf pairs and grazing cattle.
Because of the readily available facilities and capacity at Texas A&M to facilitate research of this kind, Wickersham has found a collaborative partner in Dr. Jason Sawyer. “Since I have been at A&M, the research has become a lot broader,” he said. “Dr. Sawyer and I have different backgrounds but similar enough interests to enable us to do a lot of different things as far as our graduate students’ research goes.”
Success in the classroom and achieving research goals are expected of Wickersham as a member of the animal science faculty, but it is the extra mile he is willing to go for his students that peaked the interest of COALS Council. In 2011, they nominated Wickersham for his first teaching award, the Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award for Teaching at the College Level. “This award is very special to me particularly because the nominations normally come directly from each department, but the students in COALS were able to submit my nomination,” Wickersham recalled, “which was really neat because that recognition is coming directly from students.”
Since 2011, Wickersham has gone on to receive the Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Honor Professor, the Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement for Teaching at the University Level, and the Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Award for Teaching College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
By winning the Association of Former Students university level award, Wickersham’s time at Texas A&M has come full circle. “You receive a watch for winning and I remember noticing the same watch that I now have on a few of my professors when I was a student,” he said. “The student recognition that came with this award is the most rewarding.”
He credits these awards to being surrounded by students who want to be in the classroom and his ability to teach a subject that he and the students are passionate about.
Outside of his office, it is no surprise Wickersham doesn’t find himself far from cattle, as he lives on his parents’ cow/calf operation outside of Bryan with his wife Erin and five-year-old daughter Katherine. If you catch him on a fall Friday afternoon, once the grade book and lab have been closed, fighting Texas Aggie football will be mentioned, no doubt, as that is one of his favorite events to take part in.
While Wickersham travels from state to state or to the country of Georgia this winter to learn about their beef cattle industry, he always looks forward to time in Aggieland surrounded by motivated students and graduates. Wickersham recognizes that his journey to Texas A&M and back again “taught me the value of being passionate about your subject, your students, and your students’ success.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-1542.