Alex Penna has found a home away from home at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) in Curtis. Penna grew up in rural Holley, N.Y., and is pursuing an Equine Industry Management major.
“Our main operation on the farm is hay and we plant row crops for rotation. I started my sheep operation about five years ago and my goal is to get to 500 head of ewes. Growing up in New York on a farm kept me grounded. My mom, Melissa and my dad, Dean – who passed away October 3, 2018 – really shaped me into the person I am today. My dad always made sure I did things the hard way first before he made them easier. He expected a great deal of maturity from me starting at a young age and instilled work ethic, responsibility, pride and being respectful in me.”
Meredith Cable, an animal science instructor at NCTA, said students like Penna are great additions to the educational experience at Curtis.
“It is great having an out-of-state student like Alex because she brings a perspective that is different from typical Nebraska agriculture,” Cable said. “Alex is a part of the farm team again next academic year. The NCTA farm is a learning laboratory that provides experiential learning opportunities to all our students. We want our students to do as much of the ‘work’ with the animals as possible.”
This includes vaccinating, feeding and helping them calve, Cable said. Penna has helped with some farm aesthetic projects, given input into the planning of future sheep and goat housing, and has been training on how to feed cattle with the tractor and feed wagon.
“The great thing about an APS major is you learn all species along with your major species,” Penna pointed out. “For example, my nutrition class incorporated cows, horses, sheep, pigs, goats and poultry. So, even with an equine degree, I’m still getting all the information I need for my sheep operation without taking another major.”
Penna said another great attribute of the NCTA college experience is the cost of the school that does not diminish the quality of curriculum, “A full year at an ag college in New York costs roughly $22,000. … It is half the price for me to go out of state than it is for me to stay home! And I am learning so much more than I could have imagined.”
Much of this learning has to do with the size and relational design of the NCTA curriculum, Penna said. “I chose NCTA because of their hands-on approach, community atmosphere and their affordability. At NCTA, I put what I learn into practice and talk to and learn from people who have experienced everything in real life. They are not regurgitating what they read in a book. The total student body here is around the 300 mark, making it about the size of my high school, which made me feel comfortable. That also allows the professors to get to know you personally.”
“Everything I learn here I can take home and apply to my operation. Faculty members Joanna Hergenreder and Meredith Cable are truly inspirational. They hold you to high standards and will take the time to sit down with you and have a conversation, check in on you and offer advice. When my dad passed, I left for a week and everyone here was so supportive and made sure I had what I needed. I honestly couldn’t ask to be surrounded by better people,” Penna said adamantly.
Beyond academics, Penna said that extracurricular activities play a big role in enhancing the overall NCTA experience, “I really enjoy all the teams and clubs available here. I am on the rodeo team and am involved with Women in Ag and Collegiate 4-H and FFA.”
Penna’s dreams after graduating? “My dream is to make my dad proud. I’m going to take our home operation and shape it into a boarding and training facility. I will have a sheep herd and continue producing hay. It’s going to take a bit longer now that my dad is gone. He won’t be there to answer all my questions. But, the little town I call home is filled with people and friends who can answer all my questions and help me along.”
Penna said the Nebraska experience has shaped her into an adult. “I came out here for the Midwest values because that is what my parents taught me, and I have yet to be disappointed. The people treat you like family.”