Earn by Doing
Early each morning as the campus first begins to stir, Tori Pedersen, a third-year animal science major and agricultural business minor, makes her way to Cal Poly’s Animal Nutrition Center to make the feed for the various animal units managed by the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.
The state-of-the-art feed production facility, designed for teaching students, produces the feed needed for thousands of chickens, more than 250 swine, hundreds of cattle, dozens of horses and the recent addition of 100 turkeys — all living on campus.
We have a fun team that gets everything done, and everything about it feels comfortable but challenges me at the same time.
— Tori Pederson
Pedersen is one of more than 400 students who are employed at the college’s 15 food and agriculture production units on campus — learning firsthand the intricate details of managing and operating the units.
She was recently awarded an Earn by Doing Internship – allowing her to work up to 20 hours a week, gaining paid work experience that complements her classroom learning. The internship is being sponsored by Pacific Elements, a leading provider of custom animal feed and mixes, who donated to the internship program to provide hands-on experience with students like Pedersen.
The program is twofold: it provides students with hands-on, industry-specific experience that helps them be ready to make an immediate impact in their careers following graduation. It also ensures that the daily maintenance and operations of the college’s food and agricultural lands and facilities are well managed.
“Cal Poly was always my dream college, and I knew I wanted to work at an animal or agriculture unit,” said Pedersen, who works at both the Animal Nutrition Center and the Meat Processing Center. “We have a fun team that gets everything done, and everything about it feels comfortable but challenges me at the same time.”
Pedersen, who grew up in Escondido, California, had little experience with agriculture until high school, when she joined FFA to raise a lamb as part of a scholarship program. “I joined FFA my freshman year, and I was skeptical at first, but I quickly grew to love agriculture, and I’ve never looked back,” Pedersen said.
Today, Pedersen is the student manager at the Animal Nutrition Center, helping to train other students in the daily operations. She operates the computer system used to make the feed, runs the heavy equipment such as forklifts and a hay squeeze to move supplies, and makes sure that everything is running smoothly. When other agricultural units on campus need a helping hand, she assists out there too.
Brian Larson, who manages the Animal Nutrition Center, relies on a workforce of nine students to feed thousands of animals daily. The Swine Unit alone requires up to 900 pounds of feed a day, while a ton of pellets will feed the horses at the Equine Unit for several weeks. Nutritionists at each unit formulate the recipes, and the students at the Animal Nutrition Center assemble it, using high-tech, mechanized equipment. “I describe it like making a cake,” Larson said. “You start with the foundation, like corn and soybean meal, and then add the micro-ingredients specified by the nutritionists.”
Larson beams when he talks about his current student employees. “My job is to train the students,” Larson said. “I let them do things and learn as they go. I want them to think, ‘I can do this’ no matter what obstacle is put in front of them. I want them to graduate and be successful.”
Students are willing to work weekends and holidays, knowing that the animals must be fed.
“I am extremely grateful for this opportunity,” Pedersen said. “In this pandemic, so many people are either at home or doing classes virtually. The fact that I still get to go on campus and work and learn firsthand how the industry operates is not something that all students get to experience, but at Cal Poly, we do.”
Alumni-Founded Company Gives Back
When Kevin Swager (Dairy Science, '97), Fred Kerr(Animal Science, '73) and a group of investors launched Pacific Elements — a Turlock, California, company that manufactures custom premix feeds for the dairy, beef,poultry and pet food industries — in 2006, they did so with a deep-rooted understanding of the industry.
Swager has long ties to agriculture, growing up on a family farm in Chino, California. “My family had all immigrated from Holland with the desire to live the American dream,” Swager said. “Like many families arriving in America, their beginning was very humble. Hard work, persistence and risk-taking paid off.” Swager decided a good plan was to further his education and was accepted to Cal Poly in dairy science. “I was the first of my family to attend college and earn a bachelor’s degree,” he said. After graduating he entered the dairy feed industry.
When the entrepreneurial opportunity arose to start Pacific Elements, Swager and Kerr, who had previously worked together, decided that the risk was worth the effort to launch the new business. “We put together a proforma and presented it to our bank, borrowed the money and opened our doors that summer,” Kerr said.Years later, the company is a leader in the industry.
Swager and Kerr’s time at Cal Poly shaped their futures,and now the company is giving back by donating to the Earn by Doing Internship Program, which funds student work experience at the college’s on-campus food and agricultural production units and departments. “Pacific Elements would not exist today if it wasn't for Cal Poly,” said Swager. “We are very thankful for that.”
Kerr added, “Cal Poly changed my life without question,not only from a Learn by Doing standpoint, but by the friendships I made that have lasted a lifetime.” Kerr has long served on the Animal Science Department’s advisory council and continues to work closely with the college.
Swager and Kerr decided to invest in the Earn by Doing Program knowing that students involved in the program gain the knowledge, technical skills, accountability and work ethic that equips them to enter their fields prepared to meet future challenges.
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