Notable Colorado State graduates inspire optimism about agriculture’s future |

Notable Colorado State graduates inspire optimism about agriculture’s future

Craig Beyrouty
Fort Collins, Colo.

Many people in agriculture – whether small producers or the CEOs of global companies – wonder who will lead our industry into the future.

It’s a key question as we consider the challenges ahead: Agriculturalists work to fulfill some of humanity’s most basic needs; together we strive to address global hunger, and to improve quality of life for people in our community, state, nation and world.

Even with such monumental challenges, I feel optimistic about the future of agriculture.

That’s because, with the approach of Colorado State University commencement Saturday, I am reviewing the stories of our graduates and learning more about their accomplishments in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Our college graduates number more than 200 this spring, and they are inspiring.

Our graduates are the future leaders of agriculture, and they will contribute the ideas and energy that help drive our industry. In Colorado alone, it’s an industry that annually generates $20 billion in economic activity, according to the state Department of Agriculture. That makes agriculture a robust and dependable bright light in the economy – and many of our college graduates will contribute directly to this economic engine.

Take a look at the faces of the College of Agricultural Sciences, and you’ll share my optimism.

Take Ryan Siefkas, who is graduating with a double major in agricultural business and agricultural education. On May 3, he was honored as recipient of the 2011 Charles N. Shepardson Agricultural Student Leadership Award. Siefkas, a former state FFA officer, dove into student activities when he stepped onto campus from a family farm near Las Animas, on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. Siefkas’ leadership activities have defined his college years – and help set the stage for success in his chosen career, teaching students in rural agricultural communities. Siefkas has held top leadership posts with our Ag Ambassadors, the CSU Agribusiness Association and FarmHouse Fraternity. He has initiated programs to boost the education of fellow students, planning a spring break tour of California agriculture, for instance, and rebuilding his fraternity house as part of a program that earned it a national Most Improved Chapter Award.

Julie Zavage is graduating summa cum laude, the highest level of academic distinction, with a degree in horticulture and a concentration in food crops. Before Zavage found a career passion in fields of organically grown grains and vegetables, she was captain on a much different field – the battlefield near Baghdad. Zavage, from Pittsburgh, earlier graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served for five years in the U.S. Army. She was deployed for a year in Iraq, where she ran an operations center focused on base defense. Here, she managed some two dozen troops during 12-hour shifts; she received information about hostile activity, then formed and communicated responses. Zavage, who worked at CSU’s Rocky Mountain Small Organic Farm Project while earning her second bachelor’s degree, now sees abundant opportunities in small-scale organic agriculture. And she sees a similarity in her seemingly disparate experiences: Success in both the Army and in farming results when a community of people works together with common purpose.

Undram Makhval, who is graduating with a degree in equine sciences, wants to do nothing less than modernize the horse industry in his home country of Mongolia. Makhval, who was honored by faculty as the Equine Sciences Outstanding Junior last spring, came to CSU when he learned about the stature of our Equine Sciences Program. He says the equine industry in Mongolia hasn’t changed much in the eight centuries since Genghis Khan led cavalry invasions to establish the Mongol Empire stretching across Eurasia. With his new knowledge of equine breeding and genetics, Makhval wants to improve not only his own family herd of some 40 horses, but equine lines throughout Mongolia. His ultimate goal is to achieve success in international endurance races that challenge horses and riders to cover distances of some 25 miles.

Mariko Matsuda is graduating magna cum laude with a degree in soil and crop sciences and a concentration in plant breeding, genetics and biotechnology. Matsuda, from Castle Rock, doesn’t have a family background in agriculture. But her love of gardening led to a serious and focused interest in plant genetics research. So serious that she became a University Honors Scholar, completed an undergraduate thesis on aphid resistance in wheat, and has earned a grant through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program to continue her studies in Germany this fall. Matsuda, also named a 2010 Golden Opportunity Scholar by leading industry associations, is interested in pest and disease resistance in food crops because she thinks agriculture is the most important industry in the world. After all, she notes, “We’re providing the most basic things that everyone needs.”

As you can see, these and other notable graduates from the CSU College of Agricultural Sciences are well-positioned to contribute to an industry that’s central to life – and the economy – in Colorado and around the world.

They represent a bright future for agriculture.

Craig Beyrouty is dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University. He may be reached at or (970) 491-6274.

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