MSU students gain practical, real-world experience

Farmers Advance

EAST LANSING, MI – A team of four Michigan State University (MSU) students recently earned fourth place at the 2017 North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge Contest (NAIDC) in Visalia, California. Nine teams competed in the 16th annual event, which took place March 30 to April 1.

Representing MSU were animal science students Emily Peacock, of Morley; Raymond Powell, of Williamston; Allison Pung, of Portland; and Marin Western, of Croswell.

The MSU team found itself in a bracket competing against some of the most successful Dairy Challenge teams in the event’s history.  Despite its underdog position, the MSU NAIDC team brought its best presentation to the national stage in true Spartan fashion.

The North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge traces its origins to MSU where the first ever annual contest was held in 2001. The innovative two-day competition is designed for students representing dairy science programs at North American universities. Students apply theory and learning to a real-world dairy situation, while working as part of a four-person team. 

In its 16-year existence, the NAIDC has helped to train thousands of students through the national contest, the Dairy Challenge Academy, and four regional contests conducted annually in advance of the national competition.

Dr. Roger S. Thomson, MSU Department of Animal Science Academic Specialist and coach of the MSU NAIDC team, said, “I was so proud of the farm analysis that our team presented to a five-judge panel of industry experts.  After six weeks of intense extracurricular farm visits and practice presentations in Michigan, our team absolutely saved their best for last.  It made me so proud to see all their hard work turn into such a great result.”

For team members, the event didn’t just offer practical real-world dairy experience. It also generated thought-provoking concepts that have allowed students to create their own ideas.

“In the casual conversations I had with my teammates and coaches, I learned about a cloud-based system for keeping dairy records, as opposed to the systems in place currently: PCDart and DairyComp305,” MSU team member Ray Powell explained. 

Since the event, he has held multiple conversations with operators of both large and small dairy operations to gain a better understanding of what works best for their program’s needs. 

His future plans are now to, in his words, “work with a friend in computer science who is interested in the general idea of storing and accessing information from computers and willing to narrow the focus to storing and accessing dairy information.” Powell adds that over the summer, he and his friend hope to investigate developing their own system.

Not only did Powell gain real-world knowledge and broaden his critical thinking, but he also made connections with peers and industry leaders that may help him later on in life as the dairy industry continues to evolve and change. 

In addition to the four MSU students who competed in the NAIDC, five MSU students participated in the 2017 North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge Academy, which was coached by Dr. Joe Domecq, MSU Department of Animal Science Academic Specialist. The five students were: Alycia Burch, of Grant Township; Nicole Chase, of Conklin; Ethan Haywood, of Hastings; Eric Martin, of LeRoy; and Megan Risch, of Williamston. The Academy members were assigned to eight-person teams that included students from other universities. The teams, which included industry mentors, visited two dairies where they conducted a walk-through analysis before compiling management recommendations that they presented to the full group of participants and the operation’s management team.  

Academy participant Nicole Chase was quick to comment that she made lifetime industry connections from the experience and insists it was a trip of a lifetime. During a dinner conversation with complete strangers, she was overcome by the realization that the dairy industry has not only shaped her life, but others’ lives, too.

“We all have grown up in different parts of the country and have various backgrounds, but one common similarity in our lives brought us all together here in California. We all define ‘dairy production’ differently and have differing goals for our lives, but the simple passion for dairy production brought us all together to study and learn from each other,” she said.

Not only were the students able to engage and learn from their contemporaries, but they also gained insight from those who came before them through the program.

MSU graduate students Jonas deSouza and Rodrigo Albornoz, along with MSU animal science and Dairy Challenge alumnus Samantha Mamorow, joined the traveling troupe as Academy Mentors. 

The North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge was established as a management contest to incorporate all phases of a specific dairy business. Its mission is to facilitate education, communication and the exchange of ideas between students, agribusiness representatives, dairy producers and universities to further the development of the dairy industry and foster growth of new industry leaders. 

The program is supported financially through donations from 120 dairy businesses and producers and coordinated by a volunteer board of directors.

The MSU Dairy Challenge program is generously sponsored by: ABS Global, ADM Alliance Nutrition, AIS Equipment, Caledonia Farmers Elevator, Cargill Animal Nutrition, Dairy Farmers of America, Diamond V, Falmouth Cooperative, Genex, Merck Animal Health, the Michigan Milk Producers Association, Nietzke & Faupel P.C., Nobis Agri Service, NorthStar Cooperative & Antel Bio, Prince Agri Products, Purina Animal Nutrition, and Vita Plus Corporation. Significant support is also provided by the Michigan Dairy Memorial and Scholarship Foundation, the Roger and Marjorie Mellenberger Dairy Associates Program Enhancement Fund and the Frederick Pierce Halbert Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund at MSU.

Visit or for more details on regional and national NAIDC events. For more information about MSU participation in the MSU Dairy Challenge, the Midwest Regional Dairy Challenge or the National Dairy Challenge, contact Thomson

The 17th annual NAIDC and Dairy Challenge Academy will take place in California in April, 2018.