SDSU Department of Animal Science welcomes new faculty, staff members

Dr. Warren Rusche

Brookings, S.D. — Six faculty and staff members joined the South Dakota State University Department of Animal Science during the fall 2021 semester. Those individuals include:

  • Dr. Warren Rusche, assistant professor and SDSU Extension Feedlot Management Specialist
  • Dr. Eric Weaver, assistant professor in swine nutrition
  • Dr. Christina Bakker, assistant professor and state specialist in meat science
  • Aaron Prinz, Swine Education and Research Facility manager
  • Juan Castillo Zuniga, Swine Education and Research Facility off-site wean-to-finish production barn assistant manager
  • Madison Kovarna, Cow-Calf Education and Research Facility assistant manager

Dr. Warren Rusche

Formerly serving as an SDSU Extension Feedlot Associate, Dr. Warren Rusche assumed his new position as assistant professor and Extension Feedlot Management Specialist after completing his Ph.D. in 2021. His appointment consists of 80% Extension and 20% research, and his responsibilities include providing research-based information to cattle backgrounders and feeders in the region in addition to working closely with Dr. Zach Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science, on applied feedlot research. Rusche also instructs the undergraduate feedlot management lab on campus.

Rusche looks forward to helping make SDSU known as one of the leading feedlot Extension/research programs in the country.

“We have a great team in place that are really a joy to work with,” Rusche said. “I am excited about the opportunities to assist the cattle feeding industry in the region and work with the students here at South Dakota State.”

Dr. Eric Weaver.

Dr. Eric Weaver

Prior to coming to SDSU, Dr. Eric Weaver spent 28 years in the swine and human nutrition industry as CEO of two companies and as Chief Scientific Officer for Proliant Health and Biologicals. As an assistant professor in swine nutrition at SDSU, Weaver’s responsibilities include an 80% research and 20% teaching appointment, in which he will teach swine production and nutrition courses.

Coming from a background of raising pigs, Weaver’s passion for nutrition and its dynamic interaction with health excite him for the opportunity to advance food animal production through research at SDSU.

“SDSU has incredible capabilities in nutrition and health research for pigs, from the basic sciences to development of concepts to application on farms,” Weaver said. The swine group has a long history of contributions to the field, and the opportunity to add to that legacy is a privilege.”

Dr. Christina Bakker.

Dr. Christina Bakker

After serving as a post-doctoral researcher and later as an SDSU Extension Meat Science Field Specialist, Dr. Christina Bakker stepped into the role of assistant professor and state specialist in meat science during the fall 2021 semester. Bakker completed her bachelor’s degree in animal science at SDSU. She then went on to the University of Minnesota where she earned her master’s degree in meat science before returning to SDSU to complete her Ph.D. As an SDSU Extension Meat Science Field Specialist for the past year, Bakker has served as a resource for meat processors in South Dakota. In her new role, Bakker will continue to work with the meat processors in South Dakota, but will also expand her efforts to include consumer and youth educational programming.

“I am excited to continue to work with the meat processors in the state and to expand my programs to offer meat science education opportunities to a wider audience,” Bakker said.

“I started coming to SDSU for judging contests as a freshman in high school, and I am honored to be able to help put on those events for our future generations as well as provide opportunities for the general public to learn more about the meat industry.”

Aaron Prinz

Aaron Prinz

From an early age, Aaron Prinz knew he wanted to have a career in livestock production. After graduating from California Polytechnic State University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science, Prinz spent nearly two years in various sow farm management roles for AMVC Management Services in Iowa before returning to California and managing 1,000 acres of pasture and a maternity barn/calf ranch for an organic dairy. Soon after, he served as the swine unit manager at the University of California, Davis, and then the animal facilities coordinator where he oversaw the campus’ 10 animal facilities and 400 forage production acres. As the Swine Education and Research Facility manager at SDSU, Prinz manages day-to-day operations at the facility, oversees student employees and helps support research projects.

“I’m looking forward to increasing undergraduate opportunities at the barn, supporting research and becoming involved with the pork industry in South Dakota,” Prinz said.

Juan Castillo Zuniga.

Juan Castillo Zuniga

Receiving his bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and production engineering from Escuela Agricola Pan Americana in 2017, Juan Castillo Zuniga is now pursuing his master’s degree in swine nutrition under Dr. Ryan Samuel. While pursuing his master’s degree, Castillo Zuniga will also serve as the off-site Swine Education and Research Facility assistant manager.

Madison Kovarna.

Madison Kovarna

After finishing her bachelor’s degree in animal science from SDSU in May 2021, Madison Kovarna decided to stay at SDSU and start her master’s degree in animal science with an emphasis in animal nutrition under Dr. Cody Wright. As assistant manager at the Cow-Calf Education and Research Facility, Kovarna is responsible for the Insentec feeding system in the facility’s monoslope barn, monitoring feed and water intakes and assisting with daily activities at the facility. Kovarna grew up on her family’s cow-calf and feedlot operation near Merrill, Iowa, and aspires to help beef producers improve their businesses in her future career.