Ryder Nielson doesn't hail from a strong agricultural background. Aside from showing pigs at the county fair and participating in 4-H and FFA, the northern California native had never seen commercial livestock production in person.
Morgan Schaeperkoetter grew up on a small cow/calf operation and had worked on sow and finisher farms in central Missouri, though she hadn't quite nailed down her career ambitions as she looked for internships. She knew she wanted to still be able to help on the farm in the summer, but she also wanted to explore opportunities in animal welfare.
Illinois native Clay Bachman wasn't a stranger to swine production as his father worked in genetics sales and the family operated a nursery-to-finisher operation. However, it wasn't until an opportunity arose during his time at Oklahoma State University, that Bachman saw the endless pork production career options beyond the barn.
While Nielson, Schaeperkoetter and Bachman's paths to education and career opportunities in livestock production couldn't be more diverse, each of them ended up descending upon Guymon, Oklahoma to explore an internship they would never forget.
Seaboard Food's annual Winternship began in 2010 and provides an opportunity for students to explore the inner workings of a connected pork production company, network with subject matter experts, better define career paths and gain exposure and education about how pork is produced. In January, another 22 students from 16 different colleges completed a Winternship — marking 235 students that have now embarked on this unique educational opportunity.
"Many college students don't always know what they want to do when they graduate or are not aware of the many career paths a large agribusiness company has to offer. The Winternship provides an eye-opening experience to help students learn about the pork industry and see many potential career opportunities," says Alaina Sill, talent acquisition and recruiting manager at Seaboard Foods.
Students complement their formal education with a real-life look at the pork industry through tours and presentations, connecting with professionals and subject matter experts, and better defining their career goals through a real-life look at career paths.
For Schaeperkoetter, the professional connection opportunities helped solidify her career ambitions. After completing her Winternship, she inquired about animal welfare opportunities with the company and while Seaboard Foods didn't have any specific positions at that time, they invited her to return as an intern and complete two different research projects. Soon after the company invited her to a North American Meat Institute animal welfare conference where she was introduced to Dr. Temple Grandin, who encouraged her to go to graduate school.
"That kind of shaped my career going forward. I graduated the fall of 2019 and started as a management trainee with Seaboard Foods in the stockyards and now my current role is FSQA regulatory supervisor and I'm over the welfare program here at the Guymon facility," Schaeperkoetter says. "So, definitely has been a wild ride and honestly, without Seaboard Foods, I wouldn't have been where I'm at right now."
Due to Seaboard Foods' unique integrated business, the week-long excursion highlights many different sectors, all at one company. Students learn about all of the company's departments that help produce high-quality pork, from operations of farms, feed mills and a pork processing plant, to transportation, environmental resource management, food safety, supply chain, finance, human resources, marketing, sales and more.
"When you come to the Winternship, you realize how large scale [they are] and the number of things that they have here. I mean, you have environmental resources, Seaboard Energy, the plant, maintenance, transportation — there's so much that people probably do not realize. You don't have to be an animal science degree and want to go work in the pig barns; you have multiple options of things to do," says Bachman, who joined the company in May 2020 as a management trainee and is now a farm supervisor.
Even if Winterns ultimately decide not to work in the pork industry, the young adults leave with an in-depth knowledge about the business and how pork is produced, and are better equipped to advocate for agriculture overall.
"Really just seeing the scope and the scale of what Seaboard Foods does and the number of opportunities, it definitely gave me a better understanding of what the real ag industry looks like — when you're looking at these big farmers that are out there and they're really what's feeding the world," says Nielson, who is currently pursing a degree in poultry science.
With future generations having less exposure to agriculture, farming and rural life than those before them, Seaboard Foods recognizes how crucial it is to host the Winternship program each year.
"We started the Winternship to provide a very transparent look at how pork is produced and the many opportunities our sector of agriculture has to offer," says Craig Maloney, senior director of operational support at Seaboard Foods. "As an industry, we have a responsibility to expose young people to what we do, getting them excited about how the pork they eat is produced and showing them that we are innovative, business savvy, and have many great opportunities for fulfilling careers."
"Our Winternship experience shows students how pork is produced from beginning to end. Education and exposure like the Winternship is key to building future leaders and advocates for our industry" says Rick Sappington, plant vice president and general manager for Seaboard Foods.