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The girl behind the nationally ranked research: Shawna Weller

Amanda Meneses Published on 10 October 2013

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Balancing schoolwork, an FFA judging team, track and chores during high school is difficult.

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All of these things and a nationally ranked research project is unthinkable.

Except for Pennsylvania native Shawna Weller.

Weller has worked on a farm her entire life. Her grandparents first bought a dairy in Elliottsburg, Pennsylvania, when they married.

Since then, the dairy has been a part of her family.

The Weller family milks around 60 cows and tends to more than 350 acres of farmland.

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However, like many dairies, the Weller family had to make a crucial decision together about the fate of their operation.

“It got to the point where it was either sell the cows or install an automatic milking system,” Weller says.

After a year of researching brands and the benefit of an automatic milking system, the Weller family made the decision to install the system August of 2012, around the same time as the beginning of Shawna’s senior year of high school.

This coincidence sparked the idea for Weller’s agribusiness research project through her FFA program.

The research was motivated by a personal desire to see how much her family dairy was benefitting from the robotic milking system, but also to answer the questions so many others had.

Robotic milking is a new and innovative tool for dairymen, and Weller wanted there to be data representing its success.

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Weller collected DHIA records from September to November 2011 and measured the difference between the previous year and the current year with the robotic milker. She compared individual cow and herd data and looked at cost efficiency through the robotic milker.

Weller describes her senior year as “intense” because of the research she was collecting after a full day of classes.

While most seniors are trying to attend as many football games as possible and deciding which college to attend in the fall, Weller spent time gathering and analyzing data for her research project.

Currently, Weller is a freshman at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Unlike typical universities with majors and minors, Juniata has programs of emphasis (POE), where students create their own major by choosing classes they feel best represents their future career.

Weller plans to combine biology, communication and environmental studies courses to create a set of tools she can use in a future career. She calls her program of emphasis an Agricultural Research POE.

“Agriculture is such a large industry and there are so many opportunities for me in research. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else,” Weller says.

Along with her research, Weller was a part of a state-winning parliamentarian procedure team and the second parli pro team from the Pennsylvania FFA association to reach the national level.

Through her experience, she became an accredited parliamentarian. Weller has competed in numerous livestock, equine and cattle judging contests. And finally, she prides herself for being the only girl in her agriculture mechanics class.

Weller’s research has caught the attention of the National FFA. Weller will travel to Louisville, Kentucky, October 30 to November 2, 2013, to compete in the National FFA Agribusiness competition.

“I know I have a really good project. It’s a project that I didn’t just choose because I needed a research project. I chose it because it was meaningful to me,” Weller says.

“I know that I can represent the state of Pennsylvania well because I know my project frontwards and backwards.” PD

PHOTO
Shawna Weller, pictured here at Ag Progress Days in August, has worked on a farm her entire life.
The Weller family milks around 60 cows and tends to more than 350 acres of farmland. Photo by Emily Caldwell.

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