September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Uphoff is a first-year student at Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minn. She has spent the past four weeks learning the skills needed to manage a large dairy herd as part of an internship program required through the college.
"These four weeks have been a positive experience for both of us," said Lisa Groetsch.
Together, Lisa and her husband, Steve, milk 240 cows near Albany, Minn.
The Groetsches weren't actively seeking an intern. In fact, they were advertising for a full-time herdsperson when Uphoff called inquiring about the chance to work on their dairy.
"I knew it wasn't an internship, and I couldn't take a full-time position, but I thought it was worth calling about," said Uphoff. "When I graduate, I want to work in the dairy industry before returning to the home farm, so the herdsperson position fit well for me."
While training an intern would cost the Groetsches time that could be spent elsewhere on the farm, they both decided it was an offer they couldn't pass on.
"Steve and I talked it over and realized what a great opportunity the internship could be for us and the student," said Groetsch.
By the time her four weeks were completed, Uphoff was able to gain valuable experience working on a large-scale dairy. She applied the knowledge she learned in the classroom to real-world situations, such as herd management and working with robotics.
"Steve and Lisa are great teachers," said Uphoff. "Because of the internship, I feel like I'm heading in the right direction."
Likewise, with Uphoff interning at their dairy for a month, the Groetsches were able to improve their employee-management skills.
"We have to remember as employers, that we want to give our employees an experience that may improve their skills for the next job they have," said Groetsch. "It's not always about us."
Returning to classes, Uphoff will be one of 100-some students who will have spent the past month interning on their home farm or another dairy nearby.
Of the 230 students enrolled in the agriculture department at Ridgewater, nearly half participate in an internship each semester. As students, they are required to complete a minimum of two internships throughout their college career.
"We always run the fall internship during peak harvest," said Wade Gustafson, dairy instructor at Ridgewater College. "This way, dairy farms are busy getting ready for winter and the students have more than enough work to do."
"This is not a free trip home," said Gustafson. "We have a procedure that each student must follow in order to receive credit for their internship."
Students are not required to work on a farm. In fact, they are encouraged to explore other avenues of the industry to meet their internship requirements.
Lucas Plamann, an agricultural business major, just completed a fall internship with Select Sires.
"I have always had a deep interest in dairy cattle and genetics, so I figured this would be a great way to combine two interests into one," said Plamann.
Plamann was one of three Ridgewater students who interned with the AI company this fall.
For the past four years, Select Sires and Ridgewater College have had a partnership to allow students to experience a different face of the dairy industry.
"We created this program so that students may gain a perspective of people who serve the industry," said Chris Sirgudson, general manager at Select Sires. "It's important for students to create relationships with other professionals and become comfortable working with them."
Both on-farm and off-farm internships have the same requirements in order for the students to receive credit for their work.
Every student must sit down with their parents, or employee, to create a list of 10 goals they will be capable of accomplishing within the time given.
The set of goals can vary depending on what the students want to achieve. In years past, Gustafson said the goals have varied from learning how to drive a tractor to taking an AI course to improve the farm's breeding strategies.
"Nothing is set in stone," said Gustafson. "The list of goals depend on what the students want to accomplish and what the parents or farmer are willing to teach."
Gustafson is one of 12 instructors in the department that supervise the internships.
During the internship, Gustafson receives a weekly report of the students' goals they have been accomplishing and what they have been learning about the farming operation or business.
Once during the four-week period, an instructor will pay a visit to the farm or business where the students are interning. At this time, they are able to see the daily responsibilities of the students and the progress that is being made.
"I spend the visit touring the farm, talking with the student and farmer, or parents, about the farming operation," said Gustafson.
Often times, Gustafson will discuss the options available for the student to return to the farm if they are interning at their family's dairy.
He says it's important to know what the student's responsibilities will be once they return. For example, if it's a small dairy, there can only be so many people working with the cows and specific roles need to be created.
"Those are things that need to be considered before returning home," said Gustafson.
While Uphoff has plans to eventually return home, she found it most valuable to take an internship off her family's farm to gain experience working for someone else.
"This program really encourages kids to try other things and deal with bosses other than their parents," said Uphoff.
Groetsch agreed with Uphoff's decision. Before returning to the home farm, it's critical for students to take these internships to understand what it's like to work for someone else.
"It's important for employers to understand what it's like to be an employee. I think that helps them be a better employer," said Groetsch.
Gustafson has also found that there is no other opportunity that better prepares a young adult for the real world than an internship.
"The great thing about this program is that it's completely hands-on," said Gustafson. "Students spend an entire month on a farm, doing it all. There's absolutely no match that compares."
"Internships expose students to a business perspective they wouldn't receive in the classroom and prepare them for a job after graduation," he said. "That's what is really fantastic."
In the Groetsches' case, they are appreciative of Uphoff's call and hope that other students and dairy producers may have a similar experience as they had this fall.
"In order for the agriculture industry to continue, we need to be willing to train the next generation," said Groetsch.
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