2022 Michigan Dairy Ambassador Program applications due March 15

Young people in high school and up to age 22 are encouraged to apply for this leadership and scholarship program.

2021 Michigan Dairy ambassadors
The 2021 Michigan dairy ambassadors were (from left) Abby VanDyk, Samantha Whitehead, Keira Werth, and Zoey Zupin. Photo Credit: Emily Kittendorf of Michigan Milk Producers Association

Helping young people build leadership skills is vital to keep Michigan agriculture strong and thriving for years to come. The Michigan Dairy Ambassador Program is one way the dairy industry is supporting youth develop leadership, communication, goal setting, and many other important life skills.

The program, in its 17th year, runs from April through December of the application year. During this time, ambassadors participate in a variety of skill development programs, such as interview training and how to share the story of dairy with those not directly related to agriculture. Each ambassador will create a special project to support and educate their local community. Ambassadors are mentored by a team of dairy professionals to learn from current, real-life experiences the strengths and challenges of working in agriculture in the twenty-first century.

In addition to skill development, the Michigan Dairy Ambassador Program provides scholarships to participants who are actively engaged throughout the year-long program. Each ambassador earns points through their activities and involvement during the year, which secures their space for a scholarship interview in January. Two scholarships are awarded annually, one to a junior dairy ambassador (grades 9-12) and one to a senior ambassador (post-secondary student, up to age 22). The scholarship may be used towards post-secondary education or the purchase of a dairy animal. Every February, during the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference, Ambassadors’ achievements over the past year are celebrated and scholarship winners are announced.

Jolene Griffin, director of industry relations for the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, is one of the program leaders and shared her thoughts about Michigan Dairy Ambassadors. 

“Through the Dairy Ambassador program, we watch youth explore their passion for dairy and use that energy to help them develop skills that can be used into their lifelong careers. Each participant customizes the program to fit their personality and how they like to communicate with consumers. As one of the program leaders, I find that after meeting with ambassadors, they rekindle my passion for the industry and make me want to do more to promote the dairy community.”

One of the most unique aspects of the program is that youth do not need to come from a dairy family, farm or background. The program is open to any young person who wants to pursue a career in the dairy industry as an adult. Two of the 2021 senior dairy ambassadors match that description, not finding their passion for the dairy industry until college.

“I never grew up in agriculture or the dairy industry” said Samantha Whitehead, a student at Michigan State University (MSU) studying animal science and enrolled in the new dairy industry concentration for undergraduates. “I became involved in 2017 when I started a job on a dairy farm near my hometown. After a few years of doing a job I loved, I decided that was my future. There are so many untold stories about farming and the agriculture industry, and my passion in life is to communicate and tell those stories. The Michigan Dairy Ambassador Program has given me countless opportunities to learn, grow and thrive in communications to talk about the industry. The Michigan Dairy Ambassador Program offers connections, confidence, and educational opportunities. I now promote the industry through my blog ‘Be a Voice and an Echo’. I highly recommend the ambassador program to anyone who is passionate about the promotion of the dairy industry!” 

Zoey Zupin, another MSU student who is currently studying agriculture, food, and natural resources education, also shared her story.

"Growing up, I would help my grandfather on his beef cattle operation and was actively involved in my FFA chapter, but did little to none with the dairy industry,” explained Zupin. “That all changed when I started dating my boyfriend, whose family owns a dairy. My life quickly became all about delivering meals to fields, spending dates nights in a silage truck, and plenty of time cuddling cute calves! I have always been an advocate for the agriculture industry but only recently started to gain an interest in educating the public about dairy farming. I was able to achieve this through the Michigan Dairy Ambassador Program. I was able to create informational posts and attend events that allowed me to reach consumers and talk about the dairy industry. I would highly recommend this program to anyone who loves the dairy industry and wants to support it!"

Young people in high school and college (up to age 22) who are interested in a career in the Michigan dairy industry are encouraged to apply for be part of the 2022-2023 program. Applications are due March 15. For complete details, please see the Michigan Dairy Ambassador Program website.

Youth interested in further exploring leadership and life skills are encouraged to explore Michigan State University Extension’s various Michigan 4-H programs for youth ages 5-19.

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