CASNR, CEHS graduates bolstering rural Nebraska economies

CASNR, CEHS graduates bolstering rural Nebraska economies

CASNR and CEHS students
Row one left to right: Emily Eberspacher Shook, Eric And Sarah Post and Kelsi Wehrman. Row two left to right: Aaron Lapointe and Haley Miles.

Students from all across the state, country and world come to Nebraska to attend UNL's College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) and College of Education and Human Sciences (CEHS). Each year, a number of students who graduate from these two colleges return to their hometowns, taking with them the skills, connections and community focus they honed during college.

Some return to the family farm or ranch. Many others start their own businesses, become teachers, or work in other jobs, which often are tied to the state's vast agricultural economy. In Nebraska, one in four jobs is tied to agriculture and natural resources, and CASNR and CEHS alumni are making a difference both in their industries and in their communities all across the state. The alumni profiled below are just a small sampling of recent alumni making a mark on their hometowns.

Aaron LaPointe
AARON LAPOINTE, general manager, Ho-Chunk Farms
After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources with a degree in mechanized systems management, Aaron LaPointe went home.

LaPointe, a member of the Winnebago tribe, returned to the Nebraska community of Winnebago. There, he manages a wide variety of conventional and organic crops grown for Ho-Chunk Farms, a tribally-owned corporate farm that aims to create new economic opportunities for tribal members.

"It is so important to go back to your community and make a positive impact, using the knowledge and skills you've gained through CASNR," he said.

LaPointe didn't grow up on a farm; he got his start working for Ho-Chunk in 2015 as an environmental intern. But he quickly took to farming, and now serves as Ho Chunk's general manager. In this role, he plans planting projects, which local farmers then plant, manage and ultimately harvest. He also works to develop entrepreneurial opportunities that he hopes will draw other young people back to Winnebago. For example, he organized the Indian Corn Project, in which students partnered with Winnebago elders to plant and harvest corn.

LaPointe also played a large role in a gardening project that started in 2018. Ho-Chunk provides materials to encourage tribal members to begin growing their own gardens, which in turn encourages healthier eating. The initiative has morphed into a summer farmer's market called Village Market, open every Saturday. It offers fresh garden produce, Native American art and more. LaPointe enjoys seeing the younger generations experience agriculture, and positively impacting the community.

"Rural communities need professionals not only to keep them alive, but to thrive," LaPointe said. "Push forward, try new things and adapt to the opportunities that come."

Emily Eberspacher
EMILY EBERSPACHER SHOOK, entrepreneur, Triple E Equine, LLC
On a whim, fourth-generation farm girl and agribusiness major Emily Eberspacher decided to enroll in a hospitality class. In 2017, she graduated with a degree in the Hospitality, Restaurant and Tourism Management program through the College of Education and Human Sciences, with minors in animal science and the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program.

During her time in the Engler program, Eberspacher launched Triple E Equine, LLC, a horse motel and facility on her family farm near Beaver Crossing, Neb. After college, she and her family worked to grow the new business, which gave Eberspacher an opportunity to use all aspects of her University of Nebraska–Lincoln education.

"We've boarded horses from friends and locals and helped sell horses. It wasn't like we were creating a new business for ourselves, we were just using what we already do and crafting that into a business," Eberspacher says.

Eberspacher has worked with horses her entire life. She and her younger twin sisters Hanah and Sarah showed horses across the country when they were growing up. Over the years, her family's horse herd grew, along with their facilities, until an F3 tornado devastated the farm property and horse facilities.

The Eberspacher family slowly rebuilt an indoor area and heated horse barn. They added a bunkhouse with views into the arena, complete with a full kitchen and bedrooms, thinking family and friends might sometimes come and visit.

Using what Eberspacher learned through her major and both minors, she and her family began to offer the hospitality they were already extending to family and friends to the general public.

The Eberspacher family works together to connect their customers to businesses in nearby communities such as the local café, repair shop and hardware store. They sell merchandise from local vendors including handmade animal paintings and goat soaps.

"I really think our business has put our community and our county on the map, honestly. A lot of people didn't know Beaver Crossing existed, let alone everything it has to offer," she said.

Eventually, Eberspacher has her sights set on expanding to a second location in the north central part of the state, where she now lives with her husband.

Eric and Sarah Post
ERIC AND SARAH POST, veterinarians, Lothrop Animal Clinic
Eric and Sarah Post met as undergraduates in CASNR's Pre-Vet Club and the rest is history.

They began dating and both enrolled in the veterinary medicine program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL). In this program, students spent the first two years of vet school at UNL, then completed their studies at Iowa State University.

After graduation, Eric and Sarah decided to move back to Sarah's hometown of Crete, Neb., to join her father Gary in the family practice, Lothrop Animal Clinic.

The practice serves about 45 communities surrounding Crete. Eric focuses on the large animals and goes to farm calls, while Sarah cares for small animals at their clinic.

"I really enjoy being in the animal health and agriculture industry, and I just feel lucky that both of us get to work in that every day," Sarah said.

The Posts strive to fill the shoes of Sarah's father, who has been a community leader for 30 years. Eric has joined the board of directors for the Crete Chamber of Commerce and both of them hope to continue to support locally-owned and operated businesses like theirs.

"I've always thought of the vet in town as being a very loyal, trusted person in the community, and I knew I could be that person someday," said Eric, who grew up in Syracuse, Neb.

In the future, the Posts look to expand the clinic services, and to mentor young veterinarians who are just starting their careers. Maybe someday, those young vets will include their two children, Elliot and Kaycee.

Haley Miles
HALEY MILES, entrepreneur, Sandhills Blue Photography
Haley Miles always knew she wanted to move back to a rural Nebraska community, but wasn't sure if she'd ever have the opportunity. With hard work and a little faith, she forged a pathway for herself.

Growing up as the fifth generation on her family's farming and feedlot operation near Ainsworth, Neb., Miles joined her high school FFA chapter and set her sights on attending the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to study agricultural economics. She graduated as one of the first students to complete the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program.

"Being a part of Engler, I always wanted to start something of my own, and I've always been super passionate about my own rural community," Miles said.

While in college, she interned with her local economic development office, which confirmed her dreams of moving back to a rural community to one day raise a family with the same agricultural traditions she grew up with.

"I wanted to build and structure something that would kind of set me up for my future, while still being able to be part of my family's operation," she said.

She moved back to her hometown in north central Nebraska and married her husband Mark Miles, where they farm and have a cattle operation. She began taking photos just for fun, and soon realized there was local need for a professional photographer. Photography, it turned out, was the career that her experience in the Engler program had prepared her for.

In 2017, her love for rural people blossomed into Sandhills Blue Photography. Miles specializes in wedding and engagement photography.

For Miles, capturing these milestones is a labor of love. She appreciates the creativity her job affords her, and she loves the opportunity to capture important moments for her friends and neighbors.

"Because I'm so passionate about rural communities, I feel like the best way to tell their stories is just to tell love stories of people who live there," she said.

Kesli Wehrman
KELSI WEHRMAN, State Coordinator, Nebraska Pheasants & Quail Forever
Since 2007, Kesli Wehrman has served as the State Coordinator for Nebraska Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. In this role, she oversees 26 wildlife biologists across the state and helps create wildlife programming and habitat, assists with fundraising and spurs interest in hunting. It's a dream job for the CASNR graduate, a former farm girl who majored in fisheries and wildlife management.

The Pathway for Wildlife and the Youth Mentored Hunt programs are among the most popular programs that Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever offer, Wehrman said. The Pathway for Wildlife program provides resources, such as pollinator seed mix, to communities that wish to create wildlife habitat on public or private land. The Youth Mentored Hunts pair experienced hunters with youth who have never hunted before or may not otherwise have the chance.

"We provide more wildlife habitat in rural communities, which creates more hunting opportunities so people will travel to rural places and stay in the local motel, dine at the local restaurant, and that sparks more economic income," Wehrman said.

The Youth Mentored Hunts have a big impact, too, she said. Around 70 percent of youth who take part in the Youth Mentored Hunts go on to purchase a hunting or fishing permit. In Nebraska, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and state parks visitation has a combined economic impact of $2.64 billion annually.

It's an industry that Wehrman personally takes part in, too, as does her family: husband, Mike, and their children Camden, Carson and Ansley and two hunting dogs, Zoey and Bella.