It’s not very often that livestock from a family farm help you meet the President of the United States, but Maryanna McClure’s Cotswold sheep did just that.
“As a junior at Dyersburg High School, all the honors biology students were required to complete a science fair project,” she explained. “I researched the genetics of my Cotswold sheep to see how I could better breed for naturally colored animals, because they come in either white or natural color. White is the dominant trait, while natural color is the recessive trait.”
The results of her project found their way into the National FFA Agriscience Fair in 2012 and, much to McClure’s surprise, brought home a blue ribbon. “I was so shocked when they read my results and said I had won. I felt really good to be standing with all these other kids talking about their research and know that my work deserved to be there,” she said.
That honor led to her participation in the second annual White House Science Fair in Washington, D.C., where McClure was able to interview President Obama and discuss her research with him. “I got to meet with him and talk to him about the genetics program I had worked on and about my sheep and the other animals on my farm. It was a really great opportunity to be able to share something that I am so passionate about with people that hold really high leadership positions in our country,” she said.
McClure has always been active in the FFA, and continued that involvement after coming to UT Martin. Her love of animals initially led her to major in pre-veterinary science, but she quickly decided to forgo dogs and cats and focus her attentions instead on livestock animals.
“I didn’t realize all the opportunities a degree in animal science could have until I started pursuing some of the other animal science classes,” she said. “Through those, I found that if I majored in animal science, I could go on and pursue further education to specialize in a specific area.” McClure is leaning toward a specialty in animal reproductive physiology and hopes to use her education to “learn how to improve livestock systems in West Tennessee.”
While McClure’s research aspirations are focused close to home, her educational opportunities are far-reaching. She spent the summer of 2014 in Nashville working at the C. E. Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory, where she “worked with state animal health officials conducting necropsies and learning from pathologists about disease and how it affects animal systems.” A necropsy is the animal equivalent of a human autopsy.
She will branch even farther out of her comfort zone this summer when she travels to Clay Center, Neb., to complete a prestigious internship with the United States Meat Animal Research Center, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. McClure is the first UT Martin student to participate in this internship program.
“I’m really excited to have this opportunity because I’ve never done anything on this scale before. … My family raises sheep, so I’ve had plenty of experience with that, but my project this summer focuses around the swine industry…and I’ve never done that before,” she said. She hopes this internship will help her choose a focus within the animal science field and make connections that could influence her future career path.
McClure is also a two-year participant, or “innovator,” in the UT Martin Ned Ray McWherter Institute for Collaboration and Innovation, which seeks to “uncover, maximize and empower the potential of passionate and motivated students,” according to its mission statement.
“During my time as an innovator, I have been challenged to be a better version of myself and think in an entrepreneurial way,” she said. McClure traveled to New York City with the innovators this spring to practice navigating unfamiliar places and adapting to new cultures. The group will also journey to Japan this summer to “continue their quest for innovation world-wide.”
Maryanna McClure’s search for hands-on learning is preparing her for a lifetime in a career that she loves. Not only will she be able to say she learned everything she could from UT Martin, but she will also have the knowledge that can only be gained from working alongside seasoned professionals.
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