Communication Studies’ Emily Paskewitz Part of Grant Team Supporting Family Dairy Farmers
When Associate Professor Emily Paskewitz was writing her dissertation, she often called up her father as often as she did her advisor to see if the theory she was applying to her topic made sense. Her father isn’t an academic in communication studies, as Paskewitz is, but he is a dairy farmer and her dissertation centered on how families operating dairy farms communicate and deal with conflict.
“I grew up on a dairy farm, that is my heart. The farm girl in me is a big part of my identity. So, to use the knowledge and skills I have in communication to help dairy farmers thrive and survive in this world is the ultimate way for me to serve the community. I grew up in a family that valued the land-grant mission, and to me that mission is about giving back and sharing what you know with the community around you,” Paskewitz said.
She has stayed actively involved in both communication studies and agriculture during her time at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, by holding a joint appointment at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture and through the Southeast Dairy Business Innovation Initiative (SDBII) grant which was recently awarded an additional $7.05 million to aid the team’s expanding efforts to support dairy farmers.
Paskewitz’s involvement in the program is two-fold: she helps train dairy farmers on communication and leadership topics, including social media, media relations, and conflict resolution; and she helps oversee an internship program every summer, Undergraduate Development and Internship Research Experience, which teaches a small cohort of paid interns about dairy farming and leadership so they can eventually work in the dairy industry.
With each year the SDBII grant is renewed, and more funds are awarded, the program expands, she said. This year, more interns are being brought on from a larger geographic area that will include North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The interns spend two weeks at UT learning communication and leadership skills before they move on to spending six weeks getting hands-on experience at dairy farms.
“People are getting further removed from the farm and from agriculture. You go back a number of generations and people say, ‘Oh yeah my parents had a farm or grew up on a farm,’ but now it’s maybe ‘My great-grandparents grew up on a farm.’ That removal from agriculture makes it difficult to understand what goes into agriculture on an everyday basis,” Paskewitz said, noting that this internship helps bring to life what dairy farming is really like for the interns who go through the program. “We need people to run marketing and social media for the promotion of the dairy products we’re producing, people to work in the cheese plants to do those things, or people to feed calves bottles. We’re trying to teach the younger generations what it means to work in dairy from a big picture level.”
Besides bringing an expertise in small group communications, conflict resolution, and leadership to the table, Paskewitz’s experience of growing up on a family dairy farm makes her a relatable figure to both interns and dairy farmers. She knows what it takes to work and run a dairy farm, and she marries that with the academic knowledge she’s accumulated around communication.
Paskewitz’s other work with workforce development is teaching dairy farmers skills they can use to navigate a rapidly changing news landscape as well as relationships on their family farms. The program provides pre-made informative videos and social media campaigns to help dairy farmers educate the public about what they do and advocate for dairy farming in general.
“We help equip and prepare these dairy farmers on group management and conflict resolution skills, but also how to respond to all those news articles that pop up that are negative about dairy farming. We show them the best way to talk about those things with community members and people who are around them,” she said.
Another exciting part of the grant program that Paskewitz isn’t directly involved with but highly values is that a portion of the funding goes directly to help farmers build up their farms. Money can purchase everything from milk bottling equipment to a cheese-making machine, and all of it supports an industry that has faced many challenges over the past two decades, Paskewitz said.
Paskewitz is thrilled to continue working with this grant program and to see the impact it will make long-term on the communities she loves and values. She became interested in communication studies as a child, when she was in 4-H, because that youth development program requires participants to do public speaking and presentations. As she continued growing up surrounded by agriculture and participating in 4-H, the value of communication and the role it plays was very apparent to her.
““For me, what’s exciting about this grant is bridging the two worlds that I have feet in. There’s that saying, you’ll never take the farm out of the farm girl,” she said.