All Hands on Deck

Supervising the milking parlor is just one of the responsibilities of members of the Badger Dairy Club.
( World Dairy Expo )

Having enough people on hand to keep the planet’s largest dairy show running smoothly over the course of five days is an ongoing challenge for World Dairy Expo (WDE) officials. Even with a small, dedicated professional staff and an army of 500 enthusiastic Expo volunteers, there’s still a gap between the amount of work that needs doing and the number of people available to do it.

To fill that gap each year, WDE turns to student clubs and organizations at two nearby colleges –the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville (located just over an hour’s drive from Madison). Together, the schools provide more than 150 student workers who carry out a wide variety of tasks aimed at making sure the show comes off without a hitch.

"University student workers are the lifeblood and the future of World Dairy Expo,’’ says Scott Bentley, WDE General Manager. "They keep the show lights on and the wheels turning each day. It would be nearly impossible to host a world-class Expo without their immense contributions. We can’t thank and recognize them enough for all that they do for our event.

With 100 members, the UW-Madison’s Badger Dairy Club (BDC) is the largest supplier of student labor at Expo. Work assignments include constructing and maintaining the Showring in the Coliseum, supervising activity in the milking parlor, keeping the New Holland Pavilions and tents clean and assembling directional signage around the Alliant Energy Center grounds.

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Working at Expo is a requirement for being in the club, notes J.J. McClelland, who served as BDC’s World Dairy Expo general co-chair in 2017. Freshmen are expected to put in at least 10 hours. Upperclassmen devote 20 hours plus. Collectively, the BDC members invest nearly 4,000 hours working before, during and after the show.

While they’re paid an hourly wage in return for their labor, other benefits that go along with working at Expo are equally, if not more important to many club members. ͞There are people here from thousands of companies and organizations, so the opportunity to make connections that will help you as you get going with your career is huge,͟ says McClelland, a senior majoring in dairy science.

"It also helps when you’re putting your resume together. A lot of successful people in the industry were either members of Badger Dairy Club or are familiar with the club. When they see that you were a member and that you worked at Expo, it immediately says something positive to them about you.

The job description might be different, but many of the benefits that go along with working at Expo are similar for members of the Pioneer Dairy Club (PDC) at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Each year, 20 to 30 club members assist WDE’s ethics committee in making sure exhibitors in each breed show are conforming to the highest ethical standards.

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"(The students) help the veterinarians with ultra-sounding udders and taking milk samples for the winning animals,͟ says Dr. Tera Montgomery, professor of dairy science and advisor to PDC. The idea is to make sure everything is above board, that winning here is based on the merits of the animal, not because anything unethical is being done.

Typically, four or five PDC students work five to six-hour shifts at each show."It’s great for them because they can get an up-close look at some of the best dairy animals in the world, says Montgomery, adding that, like their counterparts in Badger Dairy Club, PDC members are paid an hourly wage."They also learn a lot from working alongside the veterinarians and interacting with the World Dairy Expo staff.

For many club members, free admission to Expo is another important benefit."A lot of our students have never had the chance to attend Expo before because of where they’re from, Montgomery notes."So, they come and work a show and then have the rest of the time to go explore Expo – going to the Trade Show, looking at cattle in the Pavilions or attending a seminar. Our feeling is that anybody who is going to be in the dairy industry needs to come here at least once. 

From an educator’s perspective, Montgomery says encouraging students to work at Expo helps fulfill another important goal."We start early on stressing with our students that they need to give back by being involved in their industry. This is one of the ways they can do that. 

For members of UW-Madison’s National Agri-Marketing Association’s student chapter (NAMA), having an opportunity to team up with one of the WDE Trade Show exhibitors is a major benefit of working Expo. Each of the chapter’s 30 or so members works at least one four-hour shift inan exhibitor’s booth."The experience helps students polish their skills in customer interaction, sales and product education, says Sarah Botham, NAMA advisor and a faculty associate in the school’s Department of Life Sciences Communication."It also provides a wonderful opportunity to make long-term connections in the ag industry. Many of these connections have resulted in valuable internships for the students and career placements after graduation. 

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Chapter members aren’t directly compensated for the hours.. Instead, the money earned is pooled and used to reduce the individual cost for travel to NAMA’s annual national conference/marketing competition and to cover the cost of chapter operating expenses.

"It gives exhibitors the chance to meet, and have ready access to, the next generation of potential employees, says Botham."They can have confidence that their companies and products will be well-represented by enthusiastic, well-spoken, engaged individuals. 

At the Cotton Incorporated Trade Show booth, UW-Madison NAMA students pass out promotional literature and answer attendee questions about cottonseed quality, availability and prices throughout the week."It’s very cost-effective, says Tom Wedegaertner, director of cottonseed research and marketing. He notes his organization, which is funded by the national cotton checkoff, has been partnering with NAMA students at Expo for more than 20 years."I don’t have to bring along another staff member to man the booth. That saves on all kinds of travel costs and frees me up to leave the booth. I can go around the show and interact with other people I need to see here. 

Wedegaertner adds that interacting with the student workers offers an opportunity to conduct an informal focus group. ͞These are bright and highly capable young people who represent the next generation of leaders in the dairy industry, he says."When we have some down time in the booth, I get a chance to pick their brains about what they’re learning at the university level. We’ll talk about the latest technologies in the dairy industry that might influence the demand for cottonseed products. I also learn about how they’re using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to get information. It gives me some insights into their mindset and ideas about how I can reach them with our messages.

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Other Trade Show exhibitors have found additional ways to tap into the student labor force at Expo. For example, Dairy Herd Management magazine, which publishes this official program in cooperation with WDE, relies on members of UW-Platteville’s Sigma Alpha sorority to interview U.S. dairy farmers attending the event. In a typical year, roughly 40 members of the sorority will conduct a total of 1,000 surveys.

The magazine uses the information gathered to get a more complete picture of who is attending Expo. Survey data also offers insights on what attracts farmers to Expo and what kinds of changes farmers might like to see in future Expo programming. The information is shared with WDE and other Trade Show exhibitors.

Each member of the Sorority is expected to work at least one eight-hour shift and conduct 40-50 surveys. Last year, the 40 women who participated completed 1,600 surveys.

"It’s experiential learning, says Richard Bockhop, professor of Agricultural Education and advisor to Sigma Alpha."They learn a lot about cold-calling. They have to go up to people they’ve never met and convince them to take a few minutes to complete the survey. Some find out they have a knack for it. Others discover it’s not for them. 

Tabulating the survey results and developing a final report also is beneficial to the sorority members involved."They learn more about research techniques and organization and the importance of entering data correctly and maintaining the integrity of that data., says Bookshop."The skills they acquire will be helpful in certain kinds of jobs they might get after graduation or if they go on to graduate school."

 
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