Thinking of Youth Movement Through World Dairy Expo

Like many highly successful people throughout today’s dairy industry, Bill Hageman, Jr., genetics manager for Semex USA, has fond memories of his first trip to World Dairy Expo (WDE). “I grew up on a small, registered Holstein dairy farm near Fond du Lac, Wis.,” relates Hageman. “When I was six or seven years old, I came here for the first time. I remember being awed by how big the event seemed and how great the cows were.”

From then on, Expo became an increasingly important part of Hageman’s life. A few years after his first visit, he was showing Holsteins from his family farm in the Holstein Show at Expo. In college, he joined the University of Wisconsin’s (UW) Badger Dairy Club and carried out a variety of work assignments at Expo.

Hageman also competed in the National Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest (held every year in conjunction with Expo). One of the judging teams he was on, coached by former UW Dairy Science professor Dr. Dave Dickson, captured first-place honors in the event. Later, he assisted Dickson in coaching another winning overall team from UW.

After Hageman finished college and began his professional career, he found ways to stay connected to Expo as a volunteer. For the past several years, he has been a member of WDE’s Board of Directors. He currently serves as First Vice-President of Expo. “And it really all goes back to that first trip,” he says. “It made such a great impression on me.”

Hageman is also involved in Expo’s Youth Enhancement Committee, an effort aimed at ensuring young people coming to Expo each year have the same kind of positive experience he had as a youngster years ago. “As with any event like this, youth represent the future,” says Hageman, who heads up the relatively new committee.

“We want to do everything we can to get the passion that so many young people bring with them to Expo burning a little hotter. The best way for us to have a healthy future is to get the best, most enthused and most capable youth excited about our industry.”

A major challenge for Hageman’s committee, launched in the summer of 2015, is to build on WDE’s already solid track record of, and commitment to, serving the industry’s young people. The WDE venue already includes national intercollegiate, post-secondary, FFA and 4-H cattle judging contests, a youth showmanship contest and a youth fitting contest. In addition, each of the major dairy breeds conducting shows during Expo have Junior recognition awards built into their programs.

“It took a while to zero in on what we really wanted to accomplish,” says Hageman, noting that the committee is made up of a half-dozen Expo board members and several WDE staffers. “One thing we knew for sure was that we didn’t want to try to replace any of the programs, activities or awards that are already in place.

“And we didn’t want to just add another award, or medallion or ribbon. That’s where we came up with the ‘enhancement’ concept. We asked ourselves, ‘What are some other things we could do to provide an even better experience, not only for the youth who come here to World Dairy Expo, but for young people interested in the dairy industry all across the country?’”

Committee members met several times during that first year to brainstorm ideas for projects that could be carried out at WDE 2016. Eventually, they established three activities:

• Providing support for the National 4-H Dairy Conference, held in Madison during the week of Expo each year. The event draws 4-Hers with a strong interest in dairy from roughly two-dozen states. Expo has traditionally helped organizers line up speakers for its seminars and workshops, provided meeting space on the Expo grounds for one day of the conference and hosted an afternoon tour of Expo for the participants. In 2016, the enhancement committee funded the purchase of commemorative t-shirts for Congress participants as well.  “(The Conference is) an additional avenue for getting more young people involved with Expo,” says Liz Matzke, WDE Attendee Services Manager, who attended the conference during her high school years.

• Purchasing refreshments –ice cream and pizza –for the 400 or so juniors (ages nine to 21) who took part in the Youth Showmanship Contest held on Thursday night of Expo Week. “The contest has been a part of Expo for many years,” explains Matzke.  “The idea is to give young people, especially those who aren’t able to be in one of the official breed shows here, an opportunity to compete on the colored shavings and create some additional memories during the show. Year after year, these kids work extremely hard to polish their showmanship skills for the contest, and we wanted to show our appreciation. It was great to see so many (WDE) board members scooping ice cream and slicing pizza and serving it to the kids. It’s a simple, but effective, way to make one more connection with an audience that will keep Expo moving forward into the future.”

• Teaming up with Wisconsin FFA to conduct a text-based scavenger hunt/quiz on Tuesday of Expo Week.  In the event, kids signed up to receive text messages containing questions relating to World Dairy Expo and the dairy industry.  If they texted back with the correct answer they moved on to the next question. If they provided an incorrect answer, they were prompted to try again. After answering 20questions correctly, they received a free FFA/World Dairy Expo t-shirt. “We have a lot of FFA students visiting Expo on Tuesday every year,” says Matzke. “Students in this age group are increasingly making use of texting to communicate.  The scavenger hunt gave a way to utilize this technology to reach out to an important demographic group. “

Looking ahead, the committee continues to explore ideas for branching out with additional projects.  One possibility is a job-shadowing mentorship program that would pair people from various sectors of the dairy industry---agribusiness, on-farm production, government service, etc.---with young people.

The committee is also considering providing funds that could be used to distribute some of the materials used in various Expo seminars to schools. “We’re really still just on the tip of the iceberg,” says committee chair Bill Hageman. “We have many more ideas to pursue but want to be sure we listen to our youth and leaders and have their feedback help guide our direction.”