Dairy Education Opportunities

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 By Heather Smith Thomas.

There are many educational opportunities for students to learn more about a career in dairying; a number of colleges provide dairy classes and hands-on learning experiences.  Here is a sampling of some of the programs available across the country.


On-farm internships are a great way to help young people learn more about dairying and prepare them for a career in the dairy industry.  Pennsylvania has an intern program in which The Dairy Excellence Foundation, the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association provide $3,000 grants to support their on-farm internship program each summer. This program provides on-farm learning experiences to the next generation of dairy professionals and managers in Pennsylvania.

Ryan Parker is a student at Delamare Valley University majoring in dairy sciences, and completed an internship the summer of 2023.  He didn’t grow up on a dairy, but spent time working with dairy cattle during the past six years.  In high school, he enrolled in an agriculture education program and needed to pursue an SAE (supervised agricultural experience). He found a job at a local dairy farm and discovered his passion.  This past summer he expanded his knowledge with an on-farm internship at Tauer Dairy in Hanska, Minnesota where the dairy team milks 250 cows in a double six herringbone parlor with free stalls.

Another intern on scholarship is Cameron Goodyear, who has lived on farms since she was 11 years old.  Now beginning her sophomore year at The Pennsylvania State University where she’s studying ag education, Cameron wanted to gain experience on a different type of dairy operation than she was familiar with and decided to complete an on-farm internship.  She was paired with Eleven Farm in Elliottsburg, Pennsylvania.

This is a small dairy and Cameron was the only employee, so she was exposed to all aspects of the operation throughout the internship, including the farm’s robotic milking technology. She was responsible for feeding, bedding, scraping, and helping with fieldwork. Learning the differences between traditional milking parlors and a robotic milking system was an exciting learning curve that she enjoyed. As Cameron continues her college education, she plans to keep gaining on-farm experience and is working as an employee on Eleven Farm during her fall semester.

Washington State University

Knott Dairy Center (Pullman, Washington) is a Washington State Dairy of Merit affiliated with Washington State University.  It serves as a teaching and research laboratory for students as well as being a functional dairy–typically milking 180 cows twice daily with the milk going to Ferdinand’s (WSU’s creamery) to be made into WSU’s Cougar Gold cheese and other dairy products. Students can participate directly in the operation of the dairy and Ferdinand’s.

The students pasteurize the milk for use in Cougar Cheese and Ferdinand’s Ice Cream.  Many of the students are in the School of Food Science and will later work as scientists for major food manufacturers. Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe sells the traditional cans of cheese along with ready-to-eat pieces and a variety of ice cream products like shakes, sodas, sundaes, and cones, prepared and served the same way they have been for more than 50 years.  Many generations of WSU students have worked their way through college serving ice cream.

Dr. Amber Adams-Progar (an Extension dairy faculty member) says the Knott Dairy Center was started because dairy production in Washington State ranks in the top 10 of all states for dairy production.  “We have a purebred Holstein herd, all registered.”

The dairy provides hands-on learning opportunities for students. Several classes take place at the dairy, and students get a chance to work with calves, learn about milk quality and practice milking the cows, perform physical exams on cows, and learn about reproduction, etc.  It also helps them apply what they learn in the classroom.

Knott Dairy developed the first hands-on cooperatives for students.  This Cooperative University Dairy Students group (CUDS) is an organization that manages and owns a herd of about 35 cows at the center, and the members are responsible for all aspects of herd care.  This co-op was started about 46 years ago with a group of 6 students who came from dairy backgrounds.  “They pooled some money together to start the co-op, bought about 20 cows, and started making the management decisions for those cows,” she says.

“The co-op owns the animals so the members have a vested interest.  In the beginning, each founding member put in $100—and if the co-op had enough funds at the end of the year, they got their money back, but if the co-op lost money and didn’t have enough funds, they didn’t get it back.”  It was still an investment in learning.  Today the members are not asked to put in money, but a time commitment.  Responsibilities include milking, feeding, calving, monitoring herd statistics and chore shifts, and each member holds a position relating to different areas of the dairy industry. “This was the first co-op of its kind in the U.S,” Amber says.

The dairy provides employment for many students in addition to four regular employees.  About a dozen students serve as part-time employees and usually work 8 to 12 hours each week.  Some of these students want to go to vet school and their time at the dairy shows that they have done some hands-on work with large animals.  Some of them want to go into dairying.  Usually, they work at the dairy in their 2nd or 3rd year of college, and after they graduate, they leave, but there are always new students coming in.  Some stay to work at the dairy during the summer.

South Dakota State University

In the heart of the upper plains of the Midwest, is Brookings, South Dakota. A town of 24,000 in population, Brookings is ranked as one of the safest college towns in the U.S. and is home to South Dakota State University, where Cookies N’ Cream ice cream began. Brookings’ location in the far central east of the state, is a short 15-minute drive from Minnesota and between one to three hours from Iowa and Nebraska borders. It’s nestled in the soft rolling hills of farm ground, livestock operations, and a thriving dairy industry along the I-29 corridor. The significance of Brookings’ location in the upper Midwest has proven valuable for dairy producers and processors, particularly along the I-29 corridor.

Since the establishment of the Dairy Science Department in 1907, the region’s dairy industry has largely shaped the land grant university’s academic programs to accommodate the demands for transferable skills in dairy cattle husbandry, milk processing, marketing, safety, quality, and handling.

Today, the Department of Dairy and Food Science consists of three separate majors: dairy production, dairy manufacturing, and food science, providing a full cow to cone experience. Undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a dairy production major are exploring the varying levels of impact nutrition, lactation, genetics, physiology, and management play in the overall health and performance of dairy cows and their calves. SDSU offers a dairy production degree with a pre-veterinary track for students seeking to specialize or standout in their career as a veterinarian. The department’s second major is dairy manufacturing, the only of its kind in the country. To best describe this major, it’s focused on the dairy-specific food development, processing, and handling within the food industry. Dairy manufacturing complements a broad range of dairy industry jobs across the country including dairy product processors near SDSU’s campus including Bel Brands, USA, Agropur, Inc., Valley Queen Cheese, AMPI, and Wells Blue Bunny, to name a few. Like the department’s third and final major, food science, dairy manufacturing is focused on the art of making the highest quality dairy-based food products, ingredients, and equipment while learning the safety protocols, mechanical operations, and business perspective of managing a food processing plant. SDSU provides a dairy production and dairy manufacturing double major option for students interested in the full cow to cone experience and diversifying farm operations to include a creamery or retail business.

Spring of 2023, a grand total of $175,000 in scholarships was rewarded amongst all 58 of the Department’s undergraduate students, thanks to the generous donation of our alumni and industry partners. Moreover, in-state tuition has been extended to neighboring states, many of which with growing dairy industries as well, including Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota (reciprocity), Wisconsin, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota.

Department of Dairy and Food Science’s recruiter, Cheyenne Edmundson shares, “Graduates of the program have a 100% job placement in and beyond South Dakota, with starting salaries reaching $70,000 or more. Our acclaimed teaching and research professors support students reaching their career and academic goals by connecting them with industry internships, fellowships, research projects, and alumni. More importantly, our instruction takes a hands-on learning approach utilizing state-of-the-art facilities housed within the department and on campus, including the Davis Dairy Plant and Farm.

Our facilities play an important role in the success of our students by serving as a supplement to their course work, providing them on-the-job training highly sought by employers, and an opportunity to have on-campus work experience making the University’s beloved dessert SDSU ice cream and delicious cheddar cheeses. Cheddar cheeses are sold year around but packaged specially by SDSU Dairy Club’s annual Holiday Cheese Box fundraiser. The Dairy products judging team has a long history of intercollegiate dairy milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice cream evaluation accolades spanning across the country. If you are eager to put your senses to the test for the greater good of quality dairy-based products, join the products judging team to grow your professional network and ability to differentiate quality and safety standards.”

Hope Lewandowski, a member of the class of 2024, double majoring in dairy production and dairy manufacturing, shares her choice in pursuing her studies at SDSU, “The faculty and staff in the Dairy and Food Science Department are exceptional. I had a strong interest in science and animals prior to joining SDSU. My most memorable experience is winning first place Cheddar Cheese as a Dairy Products Judging team, and now as an assistant coach to the team.”

Roots remain tied to the farm at SDSU’s Dairy Research and Teaching Facility. The farm oversees 150 milking Holstein and Brown Swiss cows. Course work, dairy cattle judging, and dairy challenge bring students out to the farm to learn by doing and seeing the livestock and operations firsthand. Any student studying at SDSU is welcome to work on the farm or at the dairy plant on campus and seek opportunities to collaborate with graduate students in research projects and industry networks.

According to dairy production student (Class of 2025), Makenna Skiff, “I grew up immersed in the agriculture industry, specifically Dairy, so I knew I wanted to have a career in agriculture. I always enjoyed doing chores on the farm and learning all about dairy from my grandparents, which is what drew me to study Dairy Production. The scholarships offered through the Dairy Department were a major deciding factor as well. As I stepped on campus for my tour, I felt like I was home.”

SDSU’s Dairy and Food Science department is proud to be creating unique and personal academic paths and experiences that support students towards their overall career vision. The department is well-rounded in academic programs showcasing the full “cow to cone” experience and acclaimed faculty with applicable research and industry experience to aid students in landing that dream internship, fellowship, and career post-graduation and later as they grow in their professional career. Regional and national industry leaders have been instrumental in supporting hands-on learning facilities and ensuring the next generation of dairy herd specialists, product development researchers, and overall industry leaders start off with a firm foundation and a home base at South Dakota State University.

Dairy Farmers Of America Scholarships

Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) is a dairy marketing cooperative owned by nearly 15,000 members on nearly 9,000 farms in 48 states.  As the leading milk marketing cooperative and dairy foods processor in the United States, DFA employs nearly 19,000 people.  The DFA also offers internships and scholarships to young people.

DFA interns get more than just school credit; they get experiences, connections and a paycheck.  Interns learn the ins and outs of the business, attend company conferences and events and participate in department meetings and team brainstorming sessions.  Intern positions are available in a variety of office settings as well as manufacturing plants, labs and field positions throughout the United States.

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