Penn State Students Attend Dairy Challenge and Dairy Academy

Posted: April 21, 2016

Seven Department of Animal Science students participated in the three-day North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge and Dairy Academy at Syracuse, NY.
Dairy Challenge and Dairy Academy students are, from left: Amber Gabel, Denille Pingrey, Jaylene Lesher, Alton Rudgers, Chase Cashell, Carli Carolei, Matthew Leise.

Dairy Challenge and Dairy Academy students are, from left: Amber Gabel, Denille Pingrey, Jaylene Lesher, Alton Rudgers, Chase Cashell, Carli Carolei, Matthew Leise.

Nearly 250 future leaders of the dairy industry gathered at Syracuse, NY on April 7 for the 2016 North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge and the Dairy Challenge Academy. Those participating in the intensive competition also networked with other students and explored industry careers. They represented 39 colleges from 29 states and three Canadian provinces.

Virginia Ishler, Extension Associate and Coach for Penn State's team, said, "The Dairy Challenge offers students a remarkable opportunity to study dairy operations closely and combine their classroom knowledge with real life experiences as they analyze and offer recommendations. It is a unique and valuable learning experience."

Representing Penn State's Department of Animal Science in the contest were: Carli Carolei, Poughkeepsie, NY; Amber Gabel, Newport, PA; Jaylene Lesher, Bernville, PA; and Denille Pingrey, Strykersville, NY.  The three Penn State students participating in the Academy were:  Chase Cashell, Chambersburg, PA; Matthew Leise, Greenville, PA and Alton Rudgers, Attica, NY. 

Students were coached by Lisa Holden, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Dairy Science; Gabriella Varga, Ph.D., University Distinguished Professor of Animal Science; and Ishler. 

The three-day event began with a round robin tour of educational sites at the Hemdale Dairy Farms, Seneca Castle, NY. After a welcome and overview of the operation, students were placed in groups and rotated through six stations ranging from robotics to calves to feeding and forage harvest to learn more about the area and the farm's practices.  Two panel discussions by producers and processors provided perspectives on operating businesses in the afternoon.

After the farm visit, students on Dairy Challenge teams were assigned their respective farms for evaluation and began analyzing the data.  Dairy Challenge Academy students met their advisors and also began reviewing farm data.  Friday was devoted to visiting the six host farms, allowing more data analysis and evaluation, as well as question and answer sessions with the farm owners.

Each group then developed recommendations for nutrition, milking procedures, animal health, cow comfort and financial management and presented them to a panel of judges that included producers, veterinarians, farm finance specialists and agribusiness personnel.

A career and technology fair along with outstanding seminars on a variety of topics were also offered on Saturday to improve networking opportunities for the students.  The Dairy Academy is now in its fourth year; Dairy Challenge is in its 15th year.

Holden said, "The success of this unique program is possible only through the tremendous support of the dairy farm families in New York who open their businesses for the students and through the time and financial support from allied dairy businesses. We deeply appreciate all those who volunteer time, talent and resources to assist the students as they develop their knowledge and skills."

The students received partial funding from the Office of Undergraduate Education in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences as well as partial funding from the Pennsylvania Dairyman's Association and from an endowment established by Department of Animal Science alumnus Clifton Marshall to help defray travel costs. 

Next year's Dairy Challenge event moves to the western United States and will be held March 30-April 1 in Visalia, CA.  Four regional events are held in late fall and winter. You can connect to Dairy Challenge on Facebook or find more information on the website at:

NAIDC's mission is to develop tomorrow's dairy leaders and enhance progress of the dairy industry, by providing education, communication and networking among students, producers, and agribusiness and university personnel. Over its 15-year national history, Dairy Challenge has helped prepare more than 5,000 students for careers as farm owners and managers, consultants, researchers, veterinarians or other dairy professionals.