Work. Study.

Student Worker Kayla Alward Balances Chores and Courses

Many college students babysit to help make ends meet, but Kayla Alward, a fourth-year animal science and dairy science double major, spent most of her junior year calfsitting.

Alward started as the calf caretaker at the University of Georgia Teaching Dairy during the 2015-2016 school year and is continuing in her position this fall.

Her job – making sure the dairy’s dozens of calves are safe and healthy – sometimes runs 24 hours a day, and her dedication to her charges earned her this year’s Student Employee of the Year award from the UGA Career Center. In spring 2016, she also won the Southern Association of Student Employment Administrators (SASEA) Student Employee Award, part of the SASEA regional competition, which covers student employees from 12 states. This is the first time a UGA student has won the regional award.

“Working at the dairy, I’ve learned that my responsibilities go above and beyond what is expected at other jobs because the calves depend directly on me to thrive and grow into happy and healthy cows,” Alward said. “It’s a job that has taught me dedication to my work until the job is done, whether that is staying up with a sick calf or making sure all of the animals are settled down for the night before going to bed. I’ve learned more about how to care for these calves and their importance to dairy farmers and agriculture as a whole.”

As a student worker at the teaching dairy, Alward oversees the daily care of the calves, creates the schedules for other students who work at the dairy and develops treatment protocols for ailing calves.

“In other words, she was in charge of the next generation of the UGA dairy farm,” said Mike Mathis, senior farm manager at the UGA Teaching Dairy. “This next generation was a group of newborns that required twice-daily bottle-feeding, constant monitoring, attention to detail and willingness to make tough decisions.”

Mathis and Jillian Fain Bohlen, an assistant professor of animal and dairy science who uses the dairy for classes and for research, nominated Alward for the award.

For Mathis, Alward’s dedication to the dairy’s Holsteins was fully evident when a disease swept through the calf population. Alward worked day and night treating her calves and nursing the ones she could back to health. She worked with UGA veterinarians to develop treatment programs and new biosecurity protocols. This included developing new treatment methods and new calf-worker routines as well as implementing a biosecurity program and strategic design methods to reduce the spread of illness.

“Few other student employment opportunities require this level of dedication and heart,” Mathis said. “Punching in and out of the clock did not matter to Kayla; these calves were her responsibility and she stayed the course unrelentingly.”

Alward, who lives on the dairy farm full time, fills in for other students who miss their calf-care shifts. As the resident caretaker, she is responsible for checking on cows in the early mornings and late at night during calving season.

She also manages the farm’s records and maintains the herd’s registration with Holstein Association USA.

“Working on a livestock production unit while you’re a full-time student poses challenges,” said Bohlen. “Animals do not know when class time is, if you have a big exam the next day or that smelling like a farm is difficult to explain on the campus bus. As a student employee on these operations, you have an additional level of responsibility. Your responsibility is not only to your supervisor, but also to the animals that depend on you daily for their food, health and welfare. Kayla has never let her supervisors or the animals down.”

Alward is also a CAES Ambassador and plans to attend graduate school for dairy reproductive physiology.