SDSU graduate receives scholarship from ag group

South Dakota Farmers Union
Farm Forum

Farmers are the answer to climate change. This belief drives Alex Michels, the recipient of the South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation $2,500 Graduate Scholarship.

“Humans are the cause of climate change, but humans are also the answer, specifically farmers,” said Michels, a South Dakota State University graduate student pursing a master’s in wildlife and fisheries sciences, in a news release.

She came to this conclusion while collecting data in the middle of a farmer’s wheat field full of flowering cover crops.

“I started noticing life all around me in this field,” she said of bees, crickets, harvestmen and many other beneficial insects hard at work. “That experience validated my knowledge that our cropland does not have to be the monocultures that pervade our food system. Agriculture could work with nature, not against it, and be successful. I knew in my head that farmers can change the world but seeing what they could do with my own eyes and feeling it settle on a spot in my heart was another thing entirely.”

Michels’ graduate research focuses on the impact soil health and pollinator-friendly farming practices have on farmer profits. “Farmers are single-handedly the proudest and most competent allies of natural resources I know,” she says. “I have grown to appreciate the importance of developing these relationships and know that together, farmers and scientists can truly change the way we produce our food, fuel and fiber.”

Scholarship important

Michels’ graduate research assistantship is through the Ecdysis Foundation. The grant she is working under provides her with a small stipend, but it does not cover tuition or travel expenses — she commutes 50 miles one way to the research farm each weekday.

“The Farmers Union Scholarship is a big help, and it will give me some flexibility after I graduate to help me find a job,” said Michels, who will graduate in May.

Supporting graduate students focused on agriculture is the goal of the South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation graduate scholarship, funded by Traveler’s Motor Club.

“Research and innovation are integral to the future of our state’s No. 1 industry,” said Doug Sombke, SDFU president. “It’s through research and education that our state’s family farmers and ranchers are able to make informed decisions that lead to increased yields, better livestock genetics and help us in resource stewardship.”

Helping South Dakotans, like Michels, advance their knowledge to help other South Dakotans, is the reason Traveler’s Motor Club has sponsored this graduate scholarship for more than 30 years. “We believe in rural America and the farm community. Working with Farmers Union to sponsor this scholarship is one small way to help,” said Gene Hammond, president and principal owner of Traveler’s Motor Club.

A full-service motor club, Traveler’s Motor Club provides services beyond roadside assistance, like covering the costs of a rental car or providing an income if a member is injured and unable to work following a highway or farm accident. To learn more, visit

South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation also awards two-year and four-year scholarships. To learn more about scholarships, as well as the year-round leadership and professional development programming provided by the ag group, visit

SDSU graduate student Alex Michels captures insects to better understand a field’s insect community.