SDSU students selected as program's dairy ambassadors

Staff reports
Farm Forum

BROOKINGS, S.D. — Five South Dakota State University students have been selected to represent South Dakota’s dairy industry as part of the 2021 Midwest Dairy Ambassador Program. The program’s purpose is to provide passionate college students with education and leadership opportunities to share their experiences, connect with consumers and network with peers and dairy industry professionals.

SDSU students selected to serve in this role include:

  • Kelsey Erf, a sophomore studying dairy production from Stillwater, Minn.
  • Kerstin Thoms, a sophomore studying agricultural leadership from Le Mars, Iowa.
  • Tyler Gilliland, a sophomore studying dairy production from Wayne, Neb.
  • Morgan Kohl, a junior studying agronomy and animal science from Waverly, S.D.
  • Johanna Nielsen, a junior studying dairy production from Tyler, Minn.

“Serving as a South Dakota Dairy Ambassador is an outstanding opportunity for students to further develop their communication skills, advocate for the dairy industry among consumers and learn about their concerns,” said Joe Cassady, interim head of the department of dairy and food science.

To be eligible for this role, ambassadors must be enrolled as a full-time student at SDSU for the duration of their appointment, display a passion for the dairy industry and communicate effectively. The group of students serves a one-year term that began in January and will conclude Dec. 31. At the end of the year, Midwest Dairy provides each ambassador with a $1,000 scholarship.

Students were also selected from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and North Dakota universities to serve as dairy ambassadors in their respective states.

As part of their responsibilities, ambassadors will attend several local and state events such as school presentations, Dairy Fest, the Midwest Dairy division board meeting, the Sioux Empire Fair, dairy farm open houses, the South Dakota State Fair and other dairy consumer engagement events. At these events, the students will talk with the public about the dairy industry, answer consumer questions and share their own dairy experiences. Additionally, a large part of their efforts will be focused on connecting with producers and helping to advocate the everyday work they are doing on their home operations.

Gilliland, a first-year ambassador, grew up on his family’s 50-head dairy farm and looks forward to the opportunities he will have to network with producers and promote the dairy industry to consumers.

“I love the passion the dairy industry has,” Gilliland said. “No matter how tough times may get we all keep on moving and working our hardest to produce the best product possible.”

Thoms, another first-year ambassador, anticipates the events where she will have the opportunity to educate others about dairy in person.

“I was originally interested in the program because of the opportunity to promote an industry that has been a big part of my life,” Thoms said. “I would encourage other students to step outside of their comfort zones and promote the industry as well.”

“Our students are the leaders of tomorrow,” Cassady said. “It is important to engage them in industry advocacy activities to best prepare them for future leadership roles.”

Applications for the 2022-23 Dairy Ambassador Program are due Dec. 1. Students interested in serving in this role can visit for more information and to apply.

From left are SDSU students Johannah Nielsen, Morgan Kohl, Tyler Gilliland, Kerstin Thoms and Kelsey Erf. They were selected to represent South Dakota dairy farmers as ambassadors as part of the 2021 Midwest Dairy Ambassador Program.