Grace Parks ’24 may be a Vermont horsewoman, but that hasn’t stopped her from expanding her horizons in Texas to make the most of her time as a student in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
As a junior animal science major with an eye on equine and small animal veterinary medicine, she plans to attend veterinary school after graduation and specialize in reproduction. But in the meantime, the native of Essex Junction, Vermont, is making the most of her time at Texas A&M.
In her first two years at Texas A&M, Parks jumped headfirst into competing on the Wool Judging Team, Horse Judging Team and the Academic Quadrathlon Team in the Texas A&M Department of Animal Science. She hoped these teams would broaden her exposure to agriculture, and she was correct.
During her time on the teams, she had the opportunity to travel across the country and compete on behalf of Texas A&M. Her wool team placed second and third at the National Western Collegiate Wool Contest in 2022, and she placed in the top 10 individuals. Additionally, she was a member of the 2023 national championship team at the American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show Collegiate Horse Judging Contest in Oklahoma City. And her Academic Quadrathlon Team placed first at the Regional American Society of Animal Science Academic Quadrathlon Contest in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2023.
Similarly, Parks secured several high-quality internships, providing her with practical, hands-on professional experience. To date, she has completed internships with the State Fair of Texas in the Agricultural Education Exhibit, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in the horse show and the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium at Clovis, New Mexico, all before her junior year.
Although she has a robust extracurricular agenda that takes her across Texas and beyond, she stays true to her studies and life on campus. Parks has made the Dean’s Honor Roll every semester and was named last year’s Outstanding Sophomore for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She is a student technician in the Gross Anatomy Laboratory in the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Parks has added to her list of educational endeavors by accepting positions on the leadership teams in both the Texas A&M Horsemen’s Association and the Animal Science Ambassadors.
Parks took time out of her busy schedule to share how she has made her journey within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences her own.
What brought you to Texas and Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science?
My initial interest in Texas A&M was sparked by my father, a native Texan, and the weeks I spent visiting his family in Texas during my childhood. Through those visits, I knew that attending college in Texas was in my future. Being from Vermont, I anticipated not only a significant geographic change but also a cultural shift. Despite the distance, I am incredibly grateful to have family this far from home that I can celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving with my loved ones. Specifically, I chose Texas A&M because I wanted a large agriculture college with lots of opportunities for hands-on work with animals. The unique and strong traditions Texas A&M offered also drew my interest. I must admit, the warm Texas weather was also a compelling bonus.
With such a hectic schedule, what motivates you to get so involved in campus activities?
Moving across the country was a big leap for me, and by doing that, I wanted to ensure that it was worth it. My goal was just to take full advantage of every opportunity possible and grow outside my comfort zone. Being an out-of-state student coming into the Texas agriculture bubble was intimidating, but I have met so many welcoming people during my time at Texas A&M.
What were some of your favorite classes and teachers, and why?
My favorite professors are the ones who have doubled as my coaches: Dr. Shawn Ramsey, my wool judging coach and professor for multiple freshman-year classes, as well as Ms. Sarah Schobert, my horse judging coach who I’ve had for equine classes. Both have been incredible influences on my college career and life through the opportunities they have granted me. Beyond that, one of my favorite classes was Animal Nutrition with Dr. Tryon Wickersham.
Your background is with horses, but you diversified with wool and dairy. Why?
Horses have always been a passion of mine. I grew up riding horses and completing the 4-H horse project each year. Before college, my exposure to agriculture was limited to those experiences. However, recognizing my aspiration to pursue veterinary school, I was eager to explore other animal species to broaden my knowledge.
When I came to college, I wanted to be open-minded and experience new things that weren’t accessible to me before Texas A&M. This led me to participate in wool judging and attend the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium in New Mexico. One of my favorite things about Texas A&M is the multitude of opportunities offered to students, and I have made it my mission to experience as many of these as possible.
How did being on a judging team add to your educational experience?
Being part of judging teams—specifically the wool judging team, horse judging team and the academic quadrathlon team—has significantly enriched my college experience. These experiences have taught me critical time management skills and how to organize a packed schedule. Beyond that, I have gained public speaking skills through oral reasons and have become more well-rounded as I traveled across the country with my teams.
Judging has also been a lesson in work ethic, emphasizing the principle that you will get out of an experience what you put in. I know that the most important part of judging for me has been the connections I’ve made. On all three teams, I have built friendships that will last a lifetime, creating a support system that I know I can count on for anything. My college experience would look entirely different without judging, and I am incredibly grateful for the time I’ve spent on all the teams.
What have you learned from your job as a student?
Since the fall of my sophomore year, I have worked at the Gross Anatomy Lab. That has given me a unique exposure to working with cadavers and anatomy. It has added to my education greatly as I am more familiar with anatomy and physiology, especially with bones. Additionally, I work in veterinary emergency medicine when I am home in Vermont, which has given me strong, important exposure to the field I want to pursue. Both jobs have helped solidify my passion for veterinary medicine and my decision to pursue veterinary school.
Why did you choose to seek out internships?
The short-term internships I’ve completed at the State Fair of Texas and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo have been very impactful. These experiences provided me with a deeper understanding of the Texas agriculture community, considering I didn’t grow up here, and allowed me to engage in activities outside of my usual scope. Whether it was processing registration, handling livestock or working with the public, I have definitely become more well-rounded. Additionally, these internships have helped me form and strengthen my college friendships, as well as help me make connections in the field.
With all your activities, why did you join the Texas A&M Horsemen’s Association and Animal Science Ambassadors?
I took on a leadership role in the Horsemen’s Association last year as a representative and continued this year as secretary. Having been a part of Horsemen’s since early in my freshman year, stepping into a leadership role has given me the chance to expand my network within the horse industry. It also allows me to contribute to coordinating volunteer events for the club.
This year, I embraced another leadership role as programs and recruitment chair in the Animal Science Ambassadors. This has added even further to my education as it allows me to meet many prospective students and their families, and to give back by guiding students to the program.
Being an ambassador has given me a special chance to show prospective students the impact Texas A&M has had on me. I hope my experiences and involvements can show future Aggies how they can find their own passions in and outside of the classroom like I have.
Is there any advice you would give incoming students? And what about those in their second and third years?
For incoming students, I suggest embracing new experiences wholeheartedly. Don’t hesitate to join activities that might not have been part of your initial plan. Seize every available opportunity and actively seek out unique ones. The same goes for students already in college; be open to opportunities and explore things that interest you even if they seem unfamiliar or intimidating. I would also emphasize that everyone faces challenges in college, but staying committed to your path and focusing on your long-term goals will prove to be worthwhile in the end. It’s all about the journey and the growth you experience along the way.
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Author: Kay Ledbetter