An Experience of a Lifetime

The Great Smoky Mountains with its diverse and plentiful wildlife is a place that I always dreamed I would travel to. Its crisp and fresh aroma with its unadulterated atmosphere is incomparable to any other place on the planet. Never had I seen or come close to a mountain of this grand scale and immense size. However, this last summer I was granted the unbelievable opportunity to journey there. This experience was because of the pathways that 4-H established for me.

In 2012, I was introduced to Karine Aigner who is a freelance photographer, former photographer and editor for National Geographic, and a NANPA member/ instructor. I was able to come in contact with her through a Nueces County 4-H Extension Agent. Since then, I have attended several of her photography workshops and have continued to enhance my skills as a wildlife photographer. Consequently, in 2016, Karine Aigner, nominated me to attend a wildlife photography camp at the Great Smoky Mountains with the NANPA program.

The North American Nature Photography Association is a photography program that is held for high school and college students throughout the country. In order to attend this program one must be granted a scholarship. To receive this an individual must be nominated by a NANPA member, have several letters of recommendation from professional photographers, submit a biography about themselves, fill out a questionnaire, and submit a photography portfolio. Only ten individuals from ages 15 to 18 would be permitted to go Thankfully, I was accepted and was able to attend the NANPA photography program at the Great Smoky Mountains. 

The program lasted an entire week where I was able to photograph a diverse amount of wildlife ranging from centipedes to black bears. I was able to acquire more photography skills and editing skills from professional photographers: Karine Aigner, Gaby Salazar, and Don Carter. I also was able to meet and become friends with nine other amateur wildlife photographers who had also received a scholarship to attend this camp. In addition to learning new and advanced techniques, I discovered the importance of protecting and caring for the welfare of wildlife in our native and foreign environments. Overall, I was able to attend an outstanding and remarkable program this last summer.

Thanks to 4-H I was able to develop a connection with Karine Aigner and therefore make relations with the NANPA program. I wouldn't trade my memories and the skills I gained from attending that program for a lifetime. I can easily acknowledge and appreciate 4-H for this opportunity and I will continue to thank 4-H for the rest of my life. 

-Briana C. Villarreal, Nueces County 4-H Ambassador

Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassador Program

I have always heard that there is more to 4-H than showing animals and I had the opportunity to see this first hand this summer. Last year, I was selected to be a Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassador and attended a short course summer camp at Texas Tech University to learn more about the program. This year, I was also selected to participate in the Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassador program’s Advocacy Academy at Texas A&M University. The Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassador program provides high school aged 4-H members the opportunity to develop and practice leadership skills related to mentoring other youth and advocating for the livestock industry.

The Advocacy program prepares participants for agricultural advocacy through media training and college style classroom instruction. Examples of these opportunities would include being interviewed by local TV and radio stations or working a booth at a convention. The program is also designed to prepare students for the University setting through extensive science based instruction. I was amazed at all of the different areas of study and classes that are available within the College of Agriculture and especially enjoyed the veterinary instruction that we received. The program will offer me opportunities throughout the year to serve advocacy roles in livestock production, 4-H, and junior livestock programs. There is also an emphasis to promote the career opportunities in animal agriculture and advocacy. 

Ambassadors must contribute 30 hours of service throughout the year presenting topics in agricultural advocacy, nutrition, selection, daily maintenance and care, showmanship, sportsmanship, preparing 4-H families for shows, and management of show animals during a livestock show. The ambassadors must also teach livestock ethics and animal care to new 4-H families.

I am so honored and fortunate to be a part of this incredible program. I have met students from all over the state that I now consider friends. I have also had the opportunity to meet professors and extension specialists that I know will be influential in my future plans. I am already making valuable contacts with people that will offer assistance in my career development. I look forward to helping expand this program at both regional and major livestock shows and cannot wait to see where this program will lead me. This has been an influential part of my 4-H experience that I know will pave the way to both my college and adult careers. 

- Hudson Lee, 4-H ambassador

(Additional articles from 4-H local members will be published next week)