Wanted: Girls Who Love Science
By: Katrina Huffstutler
Raised by parents who worked in information technology and education, Alyssa Word didn’t grow up with a strong connection to agriculture. That changed when she joined a friend at a 4-H steer show and became fascinated.
Fast forward a few years, and she was a biomedical science major at Texas A&M University. She always wanted to be a scientist, so it was a logical choice. The only problem?
“It was not a very fun major,” Word says with a laugh. “I hated it.”
Two years in, she transferred her scientific basics to an animal science degree and started taking production classes. She was hooked — and even more so after completing a research internship with Cactus Feeders.
“The cattle industry has the greatest people,” Word says. “That is a part of what drove me to want to work in this business. They are the kindest people and so willing to teach someone. I loved that from day one. I didn't grow up understanding how feedyards work, and so coming in and sitting down with a feedyard general manager and asking hard questions — even though it’s intimidating, seeing their kindness and their willingness to help as long as I’m willing to learn, has been remarkable.”
And learn she did. Today, Word serves as the research scientist for Cactus Feeders, the very place where she started her career. Word spends two days a week at Wrangler Feedyard, the research arm of Cactus Feeders. She manages the day-to-day processes that include data quality control, process execution and data analysis. She works alongside Ben Holland, director of research, on protocol development that helps the organization work more efficiently.
“Our mission at Cactus is to produce more food using fewer resources so that safe, quality beef is available to anyone who wants to consume it,” Word said. “Research helps us make informed decisions to best execute that mission.”
Her advice to others in her position? Be pointed with your questions (because cattle feeders are busy), but also be willing to sit down and ask questions.
“Because,” Word says, “I think the more that the men in the industry get to see the women interested and excited about this industry, and that they want to learn and see proficiency in those areas, the more it becomes an everybody is working together thing instead of a here’s a woman in a male-dominated field thing.”
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