Making the Best of a Situation: Livestock Scholarship Recipients Share their COVID-19 College Experiences

“We took a lot of change in a short amount of time, but it is what it is and we just have to make the best of it.”—Zachery Keeter, NCSU freshman and 2020 NC State Fair Youth Livestock Scholarship Recipient

Despite precautions and efforts, colleges and universities across the country have had to close their doors to in-person classes. Headlines have often covered the numbers, logistics, and causes. However, there is another story that should be told. That of the student who is having to adapt, pivot, and navigate college in a pandemic.

Students are facing challenges ranging from social to technological. They are having to adapt to change in a hurry, but despite the challenges and change, they are persevering.

Every year, the NC State Fair Youth Livestock Scholarship is awarded to over a dozen college students who have shown dedication to livestock shows at the NC State Fair, academic excellence, and participation in extra-curricular activities. This scholarship is funded by the NC State Fair Sale of Champions and generous sponsors. It has helped many achieve their dreams and pursue a passion and career.

Many of the same qualities that led to these individuals being awarded this scholarship are the same ones that are helping them through the challenges of college during a pandemic.

Zachery Keeter

Zachery is a freshman at NC State University, majoring in Poultry Science. He has shown hogs, goats and turkeys at the NC State Fair for the past 12 years.

Freshman normally have a significant adjustment coming to college. New place…new people…new information…there’s a lot of new to get used to. Tack on masks, social distancing, and now virtual learning and the learning curve suddenly became all the steeper.

“There is a constant struggle to keep up with deadlines from general homework assignments to projects,” Zachery said. “It is true, online classes are harder and more time-consuming, but in the global pandemic we are in, I feel that things are already trying enough,” he continued.

Zachery has also found that the whole social experience to be difficult. College is for education and learning, but it is also about networking and developing lifelong relationships. This becomes difficult in current times. Thankfully, Zachery knew people coming into college, but that is not everyone’s reality.

“While I am fortunate in having many friends before my arrival at campus, my heart reaches out to those who don’t. With masks on every face at all times, and now everyone being sent home with the sudden shift to fully online curricula, it is difficult to be able to connect and find new interests with new friends,” Zachery shared.

Despite classes going to a virtual setting, Zachery made the decision to remain on campus through the end of the fall semester, and for him, he says it was the best decision he could have made, allowing him some semblance of a normal college experience. He has secured an internship as the Poultry 4-H Program Assistant and has hopes to work in some research. Not only that but returning home would have caused additional challenges with rural internet.

“Rural NC produces quite the puzzle with stable internet that can handle me and my two sisters on Zoom at the same time,” Zachery said.

Zachery has experienced a steep learning curve, trying to adjust not just to virtual classes, but to college in general. However, he is determined to make the best of it all, something showing livestock taught him. Zachery draws many parallels from showing livestock to his current college experience.

“Even though these times are trying, difficult, and stressful, so could the years that I spent raising and showing livestock,” Zachery reflected.

He also said that showing livestock has taught him how to work under pressure and deal with multiple things at once. He has started creating lists of things that are due each week and making daily checklists that allow him to focus on what to do each day. Showing livestock also taught him a lot about responsibility. He makes sure to complete those daily assignments before having any fun, much like taking care of and feeding livestock before anything else. Lastly, he has learned fortitude through livestock.

“With animals, you have some that just push you to your limit, much like online classes, yet you still use your drive and ambition to work at performing your best. This is what I aim to do, each and every day,” said Zachery.

Through showing livestock, Zachery has learned how to make the best of things, but he has also gained an incredible support system that helps him to overcome challenges.

“The NC State Fair gave me one of the biggest (and best) families that I could only dream to be a part of and has given me some of the best friends to this day,” Zachery said.

With that support system and a “can do” attitude, Zachery is making the most of his first semester in college.

Emily Holland

Emily Holland is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina Greensboro majoring in Elementary Education. She showed dairy cattle and turkeys for 11 years at the NC State Fair.

Emily’s college experience, like Zachery’s, has changed due to COVID-19, but not to the same extent. Emily still has some in-person classes and can still participate in her tennis club, for which she is thankful.

Even still, Emily has found herself navigating new territory in a pandemic world. She is involved in many different things—UNCG Graduation Marshal, a UNCG Club Tennis Member, the UNCG KDP Vice President, a UNCG National Honors member, Society UNCG CRU Member, member of the American Jersey Youth Association, competes in dairy judging, and a UNCG SNCAE Member, in addition to tutoring for the school.  Being involved in so much, it is easy to see how Emily’s world has significantly changed due to the pandemic.

“The hardest part of starting my sophomore year at college this semester, was coming back to the campus that I had spent the year before trying so hard to find my place in, to be completely turned upside down by COVID-19,” Emily shared.

Most of her classes and clubs she is involved in are meeting online. This is challenging for Emily who really loves to connect with people and make new friends.

“It’s hard to make new friends when you have to be socially distanced at all times and wear cloth face coverings,” said Emily.

The challenges of the pandemic have pushed Emily and some of her friends to get creative. They recently tried paddle boarding for the first time (masks were required even in the middle of the lake). Although they struggled at first to find their balance, they were all standing tall by the end of the day.

“From that experience, I learned that COVID-19 might have thrown me a curveball and put a damper on my sophomore year experience, but like paddle boarding, I just have to learn how to find the perfect balance in this new situation,” Emily wisely said.

It isn’t just the lack of connection with people that can be frustrating for Emily, but technology itself can be a challenge (bad internet, user errors, etc.)

“It has definitely been a challenge for me, as I’ve had to become more tech-savvy in a sense, because I’m a bit old fashioned.  I like to take notes and do projects with pencil and paper, not through apps.  Although, I must say that I have adapted well to technology, very quickly too, I might add,” Emily said about her feelings of technology.

Despite these challenges, Emily looks for reasons to smile. The announcement that the NC State Fair would still have their junior livestock shows was certainly a big reason to smile!

On weekends, Emily works with her dairy cow to prepare her for the show, something that relaxes her from all the stress of school and the pandemic.

“It takes my mind off the stress that school brings.  When I work with my cow, I feel accomplished, like I have achieved a connection of unison with my animal,” Emily shared.

During a time when connection with others can be difficult, being able to at least connect with her cow has given Emily a reason to smile.

“This is my last year of showing, so watch out COVID-19 because my cow and I are ready and determined to win.  Although, even if we lose in the ring, we still walk away as champions because of the experience it brought and the impact showing has had on my life,” said Emily.

This positive outlook is evident in Emily. Although saddened that she can’t share her smile with others as much thanks to masks, there is a high probability that she’s still smiling behind her mask.

Emily’s favorite quote is from Elanor Roosevelt “With the new day comes new strengths and new thoughts.” With her positive attitude and armed with a smile, Emily is staying connected and looking on the bright side.

Makensie Mohrfeld

Makensie Mohrfeld is a junior at NC State University majoring in Agriculture Business Management. She has shown goats and hogs for 13 years at the Fair.

Learning online is certainly a different experience than in-person classes. Those differences can be hard. For Makensie, online classes are a source of mixed emotions. She enjoys the more relaxed feel and being able to work more at her own pace, but she also feels that it can get mundane and boring.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m just getting work done and doing assignments rather than learning. I also have found myself getting my stuff done super early/ahead of time and that leaves me with more free time and with COVID-19, there’s not as much extracurricular things to do,” shared Makensie.

Like Emily and Zachery, Makensie also feels the loss of social interaction that in-person classes and activities bring. However, she is applying what she has learned showing livestock to school. She says that both require time, patience, and hard work.

“It’s going to take a lot of time and patience to get through this weird and awkward time with COVID-19 affecting how we are getting our education,” Makensie said. “Sometimes you have to figure out what works best for you and your animal when you’re practicing with them for livestock shows, and the same goes for schoolwork. You have to figure out what schedule, study habits, and tricks for learning/studying work best for you,” she continued.

Makensie also said that showing livestock comes with a lot of hard work and preparation. You have to learn to deal with different circumstances and uncertainty. She has learned to be prepared for whatever may be thrown her way—in and out of the ring. While Makensie may have never imagined a pandemic being thrown her way, she has still leaned on the mentality of “never give up” that showing has taught her.
Another lesson that showing livestock has taught Makensie that is especially poignant in today’s time is to “enjoy life while you can because it won’t last forever”. How very true during such times as these.

Makensie shared that she’s learned not to take things for granted: “I think as a kid I definitely took showing livestock for granted, but I now see how much it taught, how many amazing people I met along the way, and I now realize that I would not be the same person I am today if I had never gotten the opportunity to show livestock.”

In time, the pandemic will subside, but in the meantime, we can all take a page out of Makensie’s book—have patience, work hard, and never take things for granted.

For our scholarship recipients, COVID-19 has dished out major challenges and altered the college experience. However, with the help of their livestock show experience, they are meeting challenges head on. They are making the best of it, continuing to smile, and never giving up.

We are proud of these individuals and their fortitude and character. And, once again, we are thankful for all that showing livestock instills in our youth, helping them face whatever life throws at them.

About Marisa Linton See

Marisa grew up showing and raising livestock in NC. She has shown animals at the N.C. State Fair for 15 years and is a past youth livestock scholarship recipient. She is an N.C. State University graduate, agricultural photographer and blogger.

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