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Three participants share their YDLI experience

PD Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 10 March 2011

gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last week to complete Phase I of the three-part program. This class is the seventh since the program began in 1993.

Participants include 53 young adults in the dairy industry, from 23 states as well as Canada, Mexico and Italy. After they complete phases II and III of the program, participants will join the ranks of more than 400 alumni.

The photo at right includes YDLI participants left to right, front row - Renée Norman (Ohio), Laura Pires (New Jersey), Raechel Kilgore Sattazahn (Pennsylvania), Emily Yeiser (Virginia); back row - Matt Nuckols (Virginia), Ashley Messing (Michigan), Suzanne Perdue (Maryland) and Myles Payne (North Carolina).

Progressive Dairyman asked three of the participants to share their experience. Meet Renée Norman, Raechel Kilgore Sattazahn and Emily Yeiser. The three Penn State grads completed their undergraduate degrees and went on to pursue careers in the industry.

Click a link below to learn more about each of these women and their YDLI experience:

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Participants' backgrounds

Renée Norman started out as an assistant editor with the Jersey Journal. Her career took her from her hometown of Liberty, Pennsylvania, to Reynoldsburg, Ohio. After about a year and half of communications and involvement with the American Jersey Cattle Association, Renée was offered a marketing position with Select Sires, Inc. in Plain City, Ohio.

Raechel Kilgore Sattazahn is a marketing officer with AgChoice Farm Credit. She and her husband, Doug, operate Zahncroft Dairy, LLC with Doug's brother and sister-in-law in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania. The dairy consists of 90 registered Brown Swiss and Holstein cows. In addition to a degree from Penn State, Raechel holds an MBA from Delaware Valley College.

Following graduation, Emily Yeiser, originally of Arnold, Maryland, went to work for ABS Global and spent nearly two years recruiting young sire herds and picturing young sire daughters for the company's Cornerstone program. She decided to pursue a master's degree and chose Virginia Tech and a specialty of cow behavior research. She'll graduate this summer and hopes to obtain a career based in Pennsylvania or Maryland.

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Why did you decide to apply?

Q. Why did you decide to apply for the Young Dairy Leaders Institute? What were you hoping to gain from participating?

NORMAN: I decided to apply for YDLI because several of my colleagues had recommended the experience to me. I knew the program was something I wanted to look into, and once I heard that another class was beginning, I was nominated by a co-worker and applied.

By participating in YDLI I wanted to gain more knowledge and experience to advance my skills to stand up in support of the dairy industry on crucial issues that affect dairy producers.

KILGORE SATTAZAHN: I decided to apply for YDLI because I wanted to increase my advocacy for the dairy industry, but I really didn't know where to begin. YDLI seemed like a great opportunity to give me the tools to be a better advocate as well as form relationships with others with a similar interest.

After participating in Phase I of the program, I am pleased to share that it has even surpassed my expectations (which were already high). I now feel better equipped to represent the industry in front of many audiences - media, consumers and fellow producers.

YEISER: I decided to apply for YDLI firstly due to the great experiences that had been shared with me from alumni of the program. It sounded like a great opportunity to further develop leadership skills that were directly applicable to the uniqueness of the dairy industry.

I was also hoping to gain further motivation and inspiration from other influential young dairy leaders to continue to take the dairy industry into a bright future.

back to topWhat aspect of YDLI was the most valuable for you?

Q. What was your favorite part of the experience? What topic, workshop or discussion was the most valuable for you?

NORMAN: With YDLI I honestly enjoyed the entire combination of the experience. There were workshops and discussions that stuck out to me as having an impact, but overall it was the entire arrangement of the experience that made it valuable to me.

The advocacy workshops were important for me because they enabled me to have confidence to speak out and continued to reinforce the fact that our industry needs each of our voices to be heard to support the dairy industry.

I equally enjoyed the opportunity to network with colleagues throughout the U.S. and world, and to share lessons and stories with other classmates and graduates of how they have made a difference. The knowledge and resources that I have gained at YDLI are valued tools that I will take home and use in my community.

KILGORE SATTAZAHN: I truly enjoyed all of the workshops and presentations at YDLI. Each one had a different key message that was very valuable to me. However, I feel that the most eye-opening experience at YDLI was doing consumer interviews on the University of New Mexico campus.

We interviewed students and others on campus about their purchasing decisions, views on animal agriculture and much more. I was expecting to learn that consumers are simply uneducated about the dairy industry and dairy products. But what I learned was much more than that.

Consumers make decisions based on their own experiences. My interviews at the University of New Mexico showed that consumers make decisions based on videos they see on the Internet, their interactions with their peers and even their religion.

If we as advocates of the dairy industry don't step forward and speak out about the importance of dairy in one's diet and how dairy farmers care for their animals, no one else will. In fact, they will take the opposite side.

YEISER: As in most dairy groups, the best part of the experience was the people; not only getting to network and build friendships with the participants, but also each of the speakers and the advisory board.

Everyone's experiences within the industry and promotion of the industry are unique. The sharing of these experiences were invaluable and ones that I will certainly take forward in my individual leadership and promotion efforts.

I also found the media training and consumer interviews as the most valuable workshops. After the media training, we had to interview general consumers on the streets of the University of New Mexico. We asked them questions about their perceptions of animal agriculture, food safety and other "hot topics."

It was such an eye-opening experience of how much education and effort we have to provide to the general public about the benefits of our industry to their well-being. By understanding and addressing the concerns the public may have and by implementing the training we received at YDLI, I am confident that the the gap between the industry and our consumers will continue to be bridged successfully.

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How will this experience impact your career or future plans?

Q. How have you - or how do you plan to - apply what you learned from YDLI in your current career or future plans?

NORMAN: I used the valuable tools and resources I gained at YDLI within hours of leaving New Mexico. I had the opportunity to sit next to a young woman on the plane who was reading a book about veganism. I had to smile and laugh a little as I took my seat beside her because I knew I could handle this.

I was very casual as I introduced myself to this woman and then pointed to her book to get our conversation rolling. I learned this young woman had watched the Oprah show regarding the Vegan Challenge and wanted to explore the lifestyle more. She was friendly and glad that I spoke up to share my story and my insight on the agriculture industry.

While I do not know if my words convinced her to forgo the vegan lifestyle, I was proud to see that she never once picked up the book again throughout our travel and was engaged and interested in our conversation.

I never dreamed that the day I left I would use these tools to impact someone so significantly. And to that I thank my experience and YDLI.

KILGORE SATTAZAHN: The most important thing that I learned at YDLI is that everyone in the dairy industry needs to stand together to present a united front.

While we all have our personal opinions on certain industry issues, we need to think of what is good for our industry. I plan to apply that in not only my role as a dairy producer, but also in my full-time career in allied industry.

YEISER: Every ounce of information that was afforded to us at YDLI can be applied to not only my professional career but also personally. The ability to have confidence in both your knowledge of the dairy industry and how you convey that knowledge is critical to gaining a following that appreciates and has the same passion for the industry.

YDLI pushes you outside of your comfort zone for the betterment of the industry. However, in doing so, it also pushes you to better yourself as an individual that can then play a more effective and influential role in the dairy industry.

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What advice would you have for those wanting to participate in a future YDLI?

Q. Why do you think it's important for dairy producers and allied industry professionals to participate in programs like YDLI? What advice would you have for those wanting to participate in a future YDLI?

NORMAN: I believe it’s important for dairy producers and allied industry members to participate in these programs because we need to have a shared message to promote the dairy industry. As members of the dairy industry we have an important role and every person involved needs to be an advocate.

To anyone considering the YDLI program in the future, I would advise them to leap at the opportunity. You may be forced to speak up and get outside of your comfort zone, but it’s worth it. The opportunity to spend four days with your peers in the dairy industry will give you an rejuvenated outlook.

KILGORE SATTAZAHN: YDLI is an excellent program that brings together young leaders in all aspects of the industry. Not only does it offer some excellent training about leadership, our industry and how we interact with others, but it provides participants with the opportunity to develop strong relationships with others in the dairy industry across the U.S. and beyond.

I would encourage anyone considering participation in a future YDLI class to step up to the plate. While you may be uneasy about the commitment and expectations, the rewards are well worth it. My participation in YDLI reignited my passion for the dairy industry.

YEISER: If other dairy producers and allied industries want to make a difference, it's so vitally important for them to participate in YDLI. The issues that we as dairy producers face everyday will not go away, and if nothing is done to address those issues, they have the potential to worsen.

As a proactive, inspirational, and motivating program, there is truly no better program to instill the "it's our job" attitude to make improvements in the industry so that we each have an industry that we are excited to be a part of in the future.

My advice to someone who wants to participate in YDLI in the future is: be ready to step outside of your comfort zone. It may be intimidating and scary at first, but the tools that YDLI provides you to take that step towards improving the dairy industry is amazingly worth every minute! PD

To learn more about the Young Dairy Leaders Institute, click here.

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