Editor’s Note: This post was written by Danielle Mzyk, a joint Ph.D./DVM student at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.
Growing up as a self-proclaimed city kid in Chapel Hill, NC, I never thought I would be pursuing a career as a large animal medicine veterinarian with a focus on dairy cattle.
The Young Dairy Leaders Institute (YDLI), however, not only helped changed my self-perception, but is providing the path for me to be a dairy advocate and a future leader in the dairy industry—a role I welcome and eagerly anticipate.YDLI is a nationally recognized leadership and communication skills development program for those working with all breeds of cattle in the U.S. dairy industry. The institute is part of the Holstein Foundation, which is a non-profit education, leadership development, and outreach organization in Brattleboro, VT
I was fortunate to have the sponsorship of the NC State Dairy Enterprise System (makers of NC State’s Howling Cow Ice Cream) that allowed me to participate in YDLI Class 9, the Institute’s ninth offering. My classmates included dairy farmers, dairy nutritionists, sire analysts, loan officers, AI technicians, marketing agents, and others. Since its inception in 1993, YDLI has positioned more than 500 alumni working in all aspects of the dairy industry.
The three-phrase YDLI program takes place during the course of a year. Phases one and three involve four-day workshops in Phoenix, AZ that focus on individual leadership skills, communications training, and public policy. Phrase two has the participant developing and executing a personal advocacy project in the home community. Mine was with Chick-fil-a, where I engaged the public about animal welfare and importance of veterinary care.
I just completed the third phrase of the program where we were asked to “lead out loud” and practiced advanced techniques on how to respond to challenging food safety and animal health and welfare questions from consumers and media outlets. The four-day workshop included conversations with Paula Shapiro, a spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States, as well as instruction on how to make an impact as member of a board of directors.
Throughout the experience, I improved my personal relations skills, learned about personality types and temperaments, and developed greater understanding of consumer perceptions and misconceptions. I learned how to most effectively address consumer concerns and practiced and developed media communication techniques to work with the media in ensuring an accurate public image of the dairy community.
At the same time, YDLI taught me so much more than learning how to be an advocate for the dairy industry. It has taught me how to be a better member for the organizations that I belong to and create a national network of colleagues who all love and care for dairy cattle. With the support of more than 50 classmates and advisors, YDLI has helped me discover that even a small group of dedicated people can make a major difference.