Cornell’s Dairy Fellows Program Creates Many Student Opportunities

Prof. Mike Van Amburgh

Editor’s note:  the author, a member of the Cornell Animal Science faculty, writes an annual fund-raising letter to the dairy industry seeking support for the Cornell dairy program.  We thought that it might be of interest to share parts of it to show the variety of opportunities available to today’s undergraduate students.  Knowing that other major dairy programs offer some similar experiences, we’d welcome hearing about them as well. All of this is to encourage youth looking to a future in dairy farming to obtain education beyond high school.

The Cornell Dairy Fellows Program has over 110 dairy interested students enrolled, which continues to keep the program in the forefront of dairy instruction in the U.S.  We have had a shift in student demographics and with that change the interest of the students is evolving, but still dairy focused.  Our students are taking business courses and engaging in a wide range of related areas such as Farm Credit Fellows, Food Science, Food Industry Fellows, the Johnson School, the Dyson School (AEM), Industrial and Labor Relations (courses like human resource management and conflict resolution as examples) and other international experiences. We believe this creates an appropriate balance of educational experiences between the biology and management of the cow to the economic decision making that allow the students to effectively engage with the industry as they begin their careers.  Further, many of these classroom opportunities allow the students to interact with non-agricultural students and professionals in a business environment and create networks outside of Dairy Fellows.


We continue to encourage our students to participate in exchange programs.  Programs and countries that our students have or will participate this year include: New Zealand, Ecuador, Greece, England and China.   The CALS exchange program continues to grow and with our growing network in dairy, we are helping them make linkages to improve opportunities for our students around the world.

Italian cheese making

For the 22nd year, Cornell dairy science students went on international trips, one to Italy and the other to China.   And for the first time, Mike didn’t travel with one of the groups (he chose Italy).   The first trip departed on January 9th with 47 students, enrolled in Animal Science 3560, and headed to Beijing via Detroit led by Tom and Blake Nyugen.  The trip encompassed 10 days and was in cooperation with the Elite Cattle Program at China Agriculture University and that group is led by Dr. Zhijun Cao, a former visiting professor at Cornell.   The Fellows students worked in small teams with students from CAU to conduct farm evaluations that were then presented to the managers and a panel of judges.  Other activities included tours of dairies, milk processors, the Great Wall and many other historical sites in China.  As usual it was a trip that engaged, challenged and developed the students by providing a very different way of seeing the world and the dairy industry.

The second group left on January 10 arriving in Milan and within two hours, were touring dairy farms near the Alps.  An objective of the Italy trip is to gain exposure to the dairy industry from the farm, through the processing to the consumer.  They have a rich history of cheese making and world-class cheeses and it is important to understand how this has influenced the development of milk production in the country with the external impacts of quota and other production risks and threats. During the trip, the students were exposed to many types of cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Salva, Taleggio, Grana Padano, Mozzarella (di Buffalo), Gorgonzola, and many more during the production process. In addition, they learned about the production of prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, and several other Italian specialties and consumed more cheese and prosciutto than they ever thought possible along with being tourists for a couple days.   We are grateful to Mauro Bianchessi, Dr. Federico Righi and Dr. Ubaldo Fronte for their help and support of this trip.

We would like to recognize some scholarship winners from the past year.  There are two very prestigious scholarships available to dairy oriented students, the Richard Popp Scholarship and the Arethusa Scholarship. As many of you know, the Popp Family created the scholarship to honor Dick’s memory and it is to be awarded to students that are engaged in dairy business and production. The award is given out yearly and the 2017 award winners were: Emily Chittenden, Lauren Hill, Clyde Sammons and Gavin Gates.  This year’s winners are Britney Hill, Jared Dueppengiesser, Cooper Galton and Jacob Palladino.     The Arethusa Scholarship was created by George Malkemus and Tony Yurgaitis, the owners of the farm and President and Vice President of Manolo Blahniks USA, a prominent shoe manufacturer. This all came about at World Dairy Expo where they engaged some Dairy Fellows and were impressed enough with them, they created this scholarship to support the students in the program. The Arethusa Scholarship winner was Emily Richards. We are grateful for these awards and the support of our students.

And in keeping with a growing tradition, the Dairy Challenge Team came out in first place this past year in Visalia, Calif.  The team was composed of Lauren Hill, Grant Feldpausch, Clyde Sammons and Jamie St. Pierre. The team was chosen by the Senior Dairy Fellows to represent the program in the contest, a process that continues to work well.   The 2018 team will again be headed to Visalia, CA.  (Editor’s note:  the 2018 North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge contest was completed on Apr. 14.  Watch for results at

Further, 16 students participated in the Dairy Challenge Academy, held in conjunction with the North American Dairy Challenge Contest in Visalia, CA in April.  The Academy provides the same exposure to the industry and dairy business evaluation as the contest team but have a couple advisors to help them through the process.  The advisors are industry professionals and have been great resources for our students during and after the activity.

Visiting a Chinese dairy

Another 16 Dairy Fellows participated in the Northeast Dairy Challenge Program in Auburn, NY in November, hosted by Cornell University.  Our seniors were able to interact with students from 14 other agricultural colleges in the Northeast in analyzing dairy farm businesses.

The Dairy Cattle Judging Team had another good run, coached by alumnus Kevin Ziemba.  The team placed 3rd at the Harrisburg All-American and was 2nd overall at World Dairy Expo by a small margin.  Keith was 2nd individual, Jordan was 6th and Jared was 9th overall.

The Cornell program is one of the most active, diverse and in-depth dairy program in the country. We  know the program encourages young people to make a career in dairy.  These students are no doubt among those who will provide leadership in the future.

 More information about the Cornell Dairy Fellows program can be found at or by contacting Prof. Amburgh at