Q&A with Nebraska CARET delegate Rachel Ibach

by Natalie Jones | IANR News

Rachel Ibach
Rachel Ibach (top right), is the Cultivate ACCESS Program Manager and UNL Teaching and Research Assistant. Ibach is pictured at Raising Nebraska during a Nebraska Extension program.
March 23, 2022

Lincoln, Neb. —Each year, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources appoints delegates to meet with elected officials and other decision makers and share stories of the impacts that UNL’s commitment to agriculture and natural resources has made in their own lives. These delegates are part of the national Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching (CARET) program.  

The work of Nebraska CARET delegates is centered around four priorities: solutions to prepare and protect our nation, training and treatment for global health security, transformational agriculture for a food and water secure world and federals programs for Nebraska’s research capacity and workforce.  

Today we’re sitting down with Rachel Ibach, Cultivate ACCESS Program Manager and UNL Teaching and Research Assistant, to discuss CARET and the important role the delegates play in advocating for agriculture and other issues important to Nebraska. Ibach was the first student to fill the one-year student role for CARET for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This question-and-answer series introducing Nebraska’s advocates for accessible, affordable higher education is part of the 40-year celebration of CARET this March. CARET delegates at the University of Nebraska help create once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for agriculture. The University of Nebraska works each day across all 93 counties within the state to help it grow stronger for the future. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and your tie to IANR and Nebraska’s agriculture industry.

I have been surrounded by agriculture my entire life, as the 4th generation to grow up on the family farm located in Sumner, Nebraska. I found my own love for agriculture through attending conferences and camps on East Campus, which led me to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to earn two degrees through the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. My Bachelor’s degree is in Agricultural Education, and my Master’s degree is from the Master of Applied Science program. A door opened for me to stay with CASNR after completing graduate school, and I currently work for CASNR as a recruiter. I have a half-time Extension appointment where I serve on the College and Career Success team and get to travel across Nebraska teaching youth the skills they need to prepare for post-secondary education and careers. It is incredibly rewarding to connect with students across Nebraska and the U.S. and to guide them as they find their own place in agriculture - and in CASNR. I could not imagine a better place to have started my career!

What does it mean to you to be one of Nebraska’s CARET delegates?

My role with CARET looked a little different than most. I served as a delegate for 2020 in a one-year commitment as the first graduate student from UNL to be part of the delegation to Washington D.C. for the annual conference. CASNR Dean Tiffany Heng-Moss recommended me for the role and representing our amazing community of students in the college was a huge honor. The opportunity to collaborate with producers and business owners around Nebraska in advocating for support of the work we do within IANR was an incredible experience. It felt so special to be part of a delegation that embodied the land-grant mission to serve the citizens of our state through research, education, and extension.

How has agricultural research, education and/or extension helped your community or industry?

Agricultural research, education, and extension impacts every one of us. It’s probably accurate to say that most people do not even realize that impact in our day-to-day lives. I am one of thousands of Nebraskans that have been positively impacted by these three branches of the land-grant university. When I was young, I was a 4-H member benefiting from the opportunities my county Extension office staff provided for me to grow and develop. In college, I received an excellent education on campus and completed two graduate research/teaching assistantships that uncovered new information critical to improving programs on campus for students. Now in my career with higher education and Extension, I can use these skills from all three to continue preparing the next generation to do greater things than I will ever accomplish. At the heart of it, I believe that agricultural research, education, and extension are the major drivers of innovation, improvement, and discovery in our industry and to better the lives of community members across Nebraska.

What programs have you used your role as a CARET delegate to advocate for?

As a CARET delegate the graduate assistantships I held were with the Cultivate ACCESS (Agricultural Career Communities to Empower Students in STEM) program and the Applied Plant Systems Program through the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture. Cultivate ACCESS is a mentoring program that connects high school youth from underrepresented groups in STEM-related agriculture careers to college students and industry mentors. The Applied Plant Systems program matched college students from non-agriculture backgrounds and majors to a faculty mentor to complete a 10-week research internship in Nebraska. The overall goal was for the experience to spark an interest that led interns to pursue graduate school and careers in agricultural research. Both programs reach groups in Nebraska and around the country that have historically not been involved in the industry. Sharing that work as a CARET delegate helped illustrate to policy makers how IANR and CASNR develops programs to recruit talented individuals into the workforce.  

Why are these programs important to you and to Nebraska?

I am proud to say that Cultivate ACCESS is still going strong on our campus and in communities within Nebraska! The Applied Plant Systems program reached the end of its three-year grant funding, but the team is working on a couple publications to share our findings so that others have a model for similar programs. Agriculture is incredibly important to Nebraska, and programs like Cultivate ACCESS and Applied Plant Systems help people find their home and path into the industry. There simply are not enough of us in Nebraska that come from agriculture backgrounds to fill our employment demands. We need people with new ideas and perspectives to continue that tradition of innovation and discovery in agriculture.

What have you learned from serving as a CARET delegate?

I had little understanding of how funding for the land-grant universities worked when I was a student. To learn that APLU existed, and that CARET brought together hundreds of volunteers and representatives from across the country to advocate for their land-grant universities was a little mind-blowing in the best way! Despite the nearly two years that have passed since I attended, I still get excited thinking about that shared love for our respective institutions and the passion of the volunteers to do their part to carry on the land-grant mission. Learning more about the process from start to finish and how to tell the story of the great work we do in IANR were my favorite things I learned as a CARET delegate.

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