Proud to Dairy

Throughout life we have to make choices. Which sweater to wear to work the yellow one or the green one? How to house calves, hutches or inside a barn? What to have for dinner steak or pizza? How many times a day to milk the cows? Buy a house or rent an apartment? Some choices are easy, others can be difficult to make.

With the world at our fingertips these days we can easily seek information to help us make decisions. It's common to find friends asking options on Facebook about a certain resturant or vaccination protocol. With a few clicks one can easily find all kinds of information on company websites answering questions we have.

As we enter the spring of the year, thoughts turn towards many different celebrations that spring ushers in. One of those events is graduation from high school. As seniors count down the days until they are free from the walls of the buildings that taught them how to read, write, add, the parts of a cell, and more there are many choices ahead of them. One of the biggest choices is do I go on to college or enter the workforce? This choice is probably one of the hardest choices many adults have had to make. Once you make the choice to go to college, an even bigger choice looms ahead - where?

I faintly remember the winter of 1995-1996 when I was looking at colleges. My mind was made up that I wanted to study agricultural education and become a teacher. There was a list of things to do when making the decision about which school I was going to attend. ACT, check. Applications in the mail, check. Scholarships applied for, check. And last but not least, college visits.

My parents and I visited three different colleges. I don't remember the order in which we visited, but I do remember which colleges. Western Illinois took forever to get to. There was no direct route from home, and even though the college of agriculture was nice it just didn't seem to be the right fit for me. Then we visited UW-Platteville. I fell in love with the campus, and really wanted to go there. Last on the list was Illinois State University. ISU also has a beautiful campus, strong agriculture program, and was a straight 2 hour drive south from home. After much deliberation, comparing financial aid packages, looking at housing offerings, and sorting things out I made the tough choice to attend Illinois State. I will be honest, ISU was not my first choice. UW-Platteville was. But when push came to shove I remember my mother laying both financial aid packages for the next four years on the kitchen table and asked me one tough question. The question, "Do you want to borrow $5,000 or $20,000?" Platteville did not have a reciprocy argreement with students from northern Illinois at the time. Those numbers spoke loud and clear. I went with my second choice because of the dollar signs.

With that being said, I look back and know that I made the choice. ISU ended up being a great fit for me. In Illinois, ISU is the school to go to if you want to be a teacher in anything. It's school of education is known throughout the country. The agriculture department was small. Everyone knew everyone. Classes were small. I had opportunities that allowed me to grow as an educator and a person. Leadership roles came my way that still impact who I am today and how I lead. I wasn't sure I was making the right decision in the spring of 1996. Wasn't sure I was buying the right pair of boots. It seemed like it would be a good fit, and only after being on campus awhile did I realize what a good fit it was. Just like when you finally wear in that new pair of boots and they mold to your feet.

Today as an educator at the post-secondary level I help students make that decision as to what college is a right fit for them. Just like I had many choices in the 1990's, today's students have even more. There's a four year university, a technical college, programs like UW-Madison's Farm and Industry Shortcourse, and even earning a degree online. Who would have thought that was possible 20 years ago?

My advice to young adults these days contemplating what to do after high school, I highly encourage you to go on to college and get some type of education beyond high school. A four year university is not the right fit for everyone. Maybe a 1 year technical degree or a 2 year associates degree in a program at your local technical college where you in dive in head first right away and focus on what you want to do is the right fit. Maybe it's just a short program like short course that will only take a few months. A 4 year university might be the right fit also. Visit all types of colleges and programs. Sit in on classes if you can. Visit with instructors, current students, and alumni. Do your research. Just like you try a pair of boots on and walk around the store in them and take your time deciding if they are a good fit, take your time in deciding what type of post-secondary education is the right fit for you. It is not going to be easy, but hopefully once you make up your mind and wear it in, the choice you made will be the right fit for you.

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