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Pursuing career growth

  • Turkeys congregate in a poultry barn.

    Pursuing career growth

    Certificate program offers an opportunity to advance skills and create connections for poultry professionals

After spending a summer interning at a poultry research company as an undergraduate, Katherine Schaefbauer was hooked.

“That was my first ever experience with poultry and with research,” she says. “I found I like these weird birds. They're fun. They're interesting.”

The experience took Schaefbauer’s career path in a new direction and—after wrapping up her biology degree at South Dakota State University in 2019—Willmar, Minn.-based Jennie-O Turkey Store, Inc. hired her as turkey health coordinator.

After a year in the position and plenty of on-the-job training, Schaefbauer found herself wanting to broaden her skills and build on her undergraduate education. While researching her options, she found courses offered through the Poultry Health Certificate Program at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM).

The Poultry Health Certificate is a 12-credit graduate program offered online for poultry professionals and students seeking to elevate their careers. The program has flexible learning opportunities for professionals already in the poultry industry and for those looking to join it.

Schaefbauer took a biosecurity course through the program before choosing to pursue the full certificate.

"I hadn't grown up with poultry and, even as an undergrad, I didn't take a lot of heavy poultry courses because they weren't offered," she says. "My only training with birds had been what I had experienced on the job. So, I wanted a program that gave me the basics of poultry to make me more comfortable in my role."

The courses offered through CVM’s program have been developed by leading poultry faculty with guidance from industry leaders, and Schaefbauer says they gave her greater confidence in several areas, such as anatomy and diagnostics. Additionally, she learned about turkey feedstocks and the importance of biosecurity in an age of bird outbreaks.

As it turned out, the information taught proved crucial to Schaefbauer as she worked with a team in 2022 on a highly pathogenic avian influenza national outbreak that affected farms supplying Jennie-O Turkey Store’s Willmar operations. She worked on biosecurity protocols for the company during the outbreak.

Schaefbauer’s pursuit of poultry knowledge didn’t stop once she completed the certificate program in 2022. She is currently a student in the Applied Poultry Sciences Master Program at CVM, where eight of her 12 certificate credits can be applied toward a master's degree.

The greatest strength of the poultry health certificate program for Schaefbauer has been learning new skills and widening her pool of contacts. As part of her certificate work, she has built relationships with classmates, instructors, and industry professionals as well as presented at conferences.

"I think that made this program very different from a lot of other programs because we all have different information and knowledge sets," she says. "It's been fun to hear everyone's experience, whether in the industry, out of the industry, or within academia, and to be able to sit down and talk through issues."

Click here for more information about the Poultry Health Certificate Program.