Megan Nelson was hired in 2019 as the University of Wisconsin Extension livestock outreach program manager. She has an office on the UW-Madison campus, but when the COVID-19 lockdown started in March 2020, Nelson moved back home to Eleva, Wis., where she grew up, near Eau Claire.
Nelson works with Extension personnel from across the state as well as at UW-Madison. She says she is eager to get back to Madison in July.
“My goal is to begin offering Extension programs, utilizing my knowledge of general meat science and the meat industry,” Nelson says. “I enjoy supporting colleagues, but I miss being in the classroom, so I am really looking forward to offering programs.”
Nelson received a bachelor’s degree in animal science at UW-Madison. She got her master’s degree and a Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education at the University of Minnesota. She received her doctorate in animal science at North Dakota State University, plus a certificate for teaching college STEM courses.
“While both my master’s and Ph.D. are in animal science, my emphasis is meat science,” she says.
Lifelong love of animals
At 29, Nelson is one of the youngest Extension employees in Wisconsin with a doctorate degree.
TEAM PLAYER: Megan Nelson works with Extension personnel from across the state as well as at UW-Madison.
Nelson grew up on a hobby farm. “We had mules, chickens and Texas longhorn steers,” she says. “We still have the mules and chickens, but we no longer have Texas longhorns.”
Nelson says she knew as a child that she would go to college. “My parents did not attend college and instilled the value of postsecondary education to both my brother and me at an early age,” she explains. “I thought from a very young age that I wanted to be a large-animal veterinarian, so I knew I would be going to college for a long time and would major in animal science.”
She fell in love with animals and science when she was young. “This led me to being interested in a career in veterinary medicine,” she says. “I always enjoyed helping my dad take care of the mules or dogs when they got sick. I didn’t originally plan on completing a Ph.D., but I am glad I pursued that route.”
During her senior year at UW-Madison, Nelson decided to pursue a master’s degree in animal science.
“I did not get accepted into vet school, and I knew I wanted to keep taking classes,” she says. “It was important to me to work toward another degree instead of just taking a few additional classes until applying to vet school again. I chose to attend University of Minnesota, as both the animal science graduate program and veterinary school are great programs. My original plan was to potentially take some vet school courses while completing my master’s. I ended up not taking vet school classes and pursued a Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education after I realized I really enjoyed teaching college students.”
Nelson applied to vet school a second time but was more interested in pursuing teaching at that point.
“When I started my master’s, I had no intention of pursuing a Ph.D., but I needed the additional degree to teach animal science college courses,” she explains.
She was going to take a year off between her master’s and doctorate, but she ended up touring two schools and committed to North Dakota State University.
“I made my decision and moved from Minnesota to North Dakota to start my third degree all within a month,” she says.
Nelson has advice for high school students trying to decide if they want to go to college and what to major in.
“Think about what your passions are and what careers might work well with that; then explore educational opportunities that fit those careers,” she advises. “Don’t be afraid to change what you want to do. Sometimes we realize we aren’t as passionate about something as we thought we were, or we find something new that we really enjoy. I never would have thought I would be an educator, but teaching is something I truly enjoy.
“Your family might not understand your passion, or they might be confused when you switch your path, but that’s OK — just roll with it.”
Nelson recommends high school students visit colleges before deciding what school they want to attend.
“Figure out if you enjoy a campus or not,” she says. “You could be living there for the next four years. Keep an open mind.
“I did two campus tours at UW-Madison and they were both terrible, but I knew I wanted to be involved in some of the research that was happening there. I did one tour at UW-River Falls and absolutely loved the campus, and everyone was so welcoming. I went with my gut and chose UW-Madison and wouldn’t change it for the world. I ended up liking campus, and I created relationships with other students, staff and faculty which never made this small-town girl feel like just a number lost in a big city.”
Nelson tells students when it comes to education, they should follow their heart. “You know you better than anyone else,” she says. “Do what feels right for you.”