by Courtney Llewellyn

A vanguard is defined as “the group of people who are the leaders of an action or movement.” The Vanguard Award, administered by the New York State Nontraditional Employment & Training (NET) Project and Center for Women in Government & Civil Society, recognizes outstanding post-secondary level students enrolled in career and technical education programs that are nontraditional for their gender. One such student at Alfred State College made such an impression on her teacher that she had to be nominated.

Casey Arlig-Hinz, a lecturer in the college’s agriculture technology program, nominated student Emma Bower for the Vanguard Award. Bower has been chosen as one of the top 10 finalists in the state for her work thus far in the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources category.

On her nomination form, Arlig-Hinz wrote, “Emma Bower is an exceptional student in every aspect. She is a highly motivated participant in class that asks valuable questions and asks for clarification on concepts that I teach. Emma always hands in her work and assignments on time and I know she always puts forth extreme effort based on her grades for this semester.”

Leading the way

Emma Bower

Bower grew up in rural Fillmore, NY, although not on a farm. “I starting milking on smaller dairies nearby, and that fueled my liking toward agriculture,” she said. She was active in FFA in high school, participating in a lot of dairy judging, which she said is one of her favorite things to do. In high school, she judged at county fairs; this past fall semester, she was in Harrisburg, PA, judging at the acclaimed All-American Dairy Show.

In her fourth semester of her two-year ag tech program, Bower is currently studying IPM, business management and organic and sustainable agriculture. “My hope was always to do something in an agricultural setting,” she said. “The kind of person I am, it’s hard to narrow down a really specific career, especially in ag. I’m still kind of exploring. I’m happy doing a lot of different things, being hands-on and learning different things.”

Arlig-Hinz noted that Bower is very aware of the job opportunities that exist within the agricultural genetics sector of the industry. “She worked very hard this semester to secure an internship on an 8,000 milking head goat dairy in Wisconsin, where she will be working with the farm and semen company directly to complete a very important project. Emma’s project this summer is to help the farm perform a reverse sorting of gendered semen procedure that has only been successfully done in Europe so far,” she said.

Bower is actively exploring the job market, finding that she could find consulting jobs in soil and water or on dairy farms – but she doesn’t want to cut her college career short with only an associate’s degree. She’s considering transferring to a four-year ag entrepreneurship program. (She also likes the idea of being a herdsperson.)

She’s also aware of her vanguard status. “We were just talking in class last week about how less than 2% of the U.S. population has a full-time job in agriculture. Those 2% are responsible for 100% of our food security here in the United States and have a large impact for other countries due to our exports,” Arlig-Hinz wrote. “Genetics are actually one of the most sought-after exports from the U.S. and Emma is currently writing a thesis on the value of embryo transfers (which is mainly what we export in that sector). I am looking forward to reading her work!”

The award nominees will know by March if they’ve won. Bower said she would be very appreciative of the honor. “It’s exciting to work really hard at something, toward goals and dreams, and have someone recognize that,” she said. “It’s really important for women in agriculture, or any gender in any non-traditional career, to be encouraged and inspire others to follow their dreams.”

And, as good as it for people in general to be recognized and inspired, Bower hopes that non-traditional gendered career is a term of the past one day.

The winners of the Vanguard Award will be celebrated in a ceremony in April. For more information, visit