Courage, Chaos, Character and Cows
Armed Forces prepares CALS student for ranch life
Melissa Woods knew that if she died, it was all her fault — a thought process she had rappelling with a handmade harness down a 10-story building during her U.S. Army National Guard basic training.
Woods, a senior animal and veterinary science student, brings a soldier’s fundamental skill set to her University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences courses, which are preparing her for a career in ranch management after she graduates in May.
Thirst for Challenge
Woods enlisted in the U.S. Army months before her high school senior year ended and built a personality grounded in respect and courage — sculpted by thousands of push-ups and strengthened by being able to lead a group of 50 soldiers onto a mock battlefield.
The armed forces quenched her thirst for a challenge, which was her guiding principle after high school and throughout college.
“You learn that you never give up,” Woods said. “It really teaches that you’re going to be tired. You’re going to be broken, but as long as you keep pushing, you can’t fail.”
Those military-forged strengths translated to an internship at the Nancy M. Cummings Research, Extension and Education Center in early 2016.
Woods maintained and helped feed herds of cattle at the Center and tagged new calves born at all times during the day and night. The internship also had a research component.
“What I was researching was whether feed efficiency and growth rate and a couple other reproductive factors would come into play on whether the heifer was going to come into puberty at a decent amount of time or early or late,” she said. “That was basically the perfect internship for me, giving me the real life experience of what it is to be on a ranch.”
Woods, a former FFA and 4-H member, comes from the small town of New Plymouth, Idaho, where she periodically returns to help with the county fair. As a former high school 4-H student, it’s her way of giving back.
Woods said the transition to Moscow from New Plymouth wasn’t a challenge, partially because her parents are Vandals, her older sister attended and her younger brother is currently attending UI.
Her transition from basic training back to Idaho, however, took some time. The precision and structure of military life made it feel as if she was coming back to noise and chaos, she said.
“I think the first place I went to after I got home was a mall,” Woods said. “I stepped in there for five minutes and I had to leave. I was just like, ‘Nope, can’t do this today.’”
Woods said Matt Doumit, interim co-chair and professor in the Department of Animal and Veterinary Science, had an impact on her education, not only because of how many of his classes she took, but because of how straightforward his coursework is.
“He’ll lay it right in front of you and he’ll make it as clear as day. He’s also very personable. If you’re having troubles with the class, he’ll put in the time and the effort to help you, especially with me being in the Guard,” Woods said. “I was gone for two weeks in the middle of one spring semester. He helped me out majorly, just trying to be caught up.”
Woods will wrap up her time at UI in May and hopes to find a position with an established ranch and work her way up to ranch manager. Her ultimate goal is to have her own ranch. The confidence she has gained in the armed forces and at UI will help make those goals a reality.
Article by Jake Smith, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences