Graduating student aspires to connect animal agriculture, food security, public health in future career

Grace Jakes kneeling next to dairy cows eatingBy Amber Friedrichsen

Grace Jakes wasn’t an agriculturalist by chance – she became one by choice. Jakes didn’t grow up on a farm, but decided to major in dairy science and global resource systems at Iowa State University. As a result, she discovered her strengths as a researcher and her affinity for improving the industry worldwide.

The pinnacle of Jakes’ college career was studying abroad in Uganda at the start of the spring 2020 semester. There, she conducted research on local veterinarian services by speaking with many small-holder farmers from the town of Kampala. She wanted to know the positive and negative aspects of livestock production in the area.

“I held a lot of interviews with farmers asking about the animals they had, what services they access, and what they value,” Jakes said. “The biggest thing farmers felt was useful was education and the knowledge they were gaining by working with animal health care workers in the community.”

Jakes drew parallels between these farmers’ learning opportunities and extension resources in the U.S. She also identified differences between our nation’s food system and that of countries like Uganda. This ignited a passion in Jakes that motivated her to pursue a career in veterinary medicine on the international level.

“I want to work in an area that focuses on issues that impact rural farmers in developing countries,” Jakes said. “They are the ones who have the most opportunity for growth,”

Unfortunately, her stay in Uganda was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though she returned home in the middle of the semester, Jakes was able to finish her research project remotely. In addition to this experience, she has assisted with various studies on campus that have confirmed her interest in agricultural sciences.

Jakes initially stepped outside her comfort zone and onto the Iowa State Dairy Farm, where she conducted research through the Honors Program. Later, she began working with Lance Baumgard, professor of animal science, to examine hindgut acidosis in dairy cattle and understand how cows’ digestive systems changes during the calving period. She was also a part of a team that studied how heat stress affects swine performance.

Along with completing research as an Honors student, Jakes has been a First Year Honors Program Leader and a peer advisor for the organization. She has also served as the dairy products chair for Dairy Science Club, and was a co-chair for Block and Bridle’s blood drive and academic quadrathlon, which she participated in as a team member as well.

Steven Lonergan, Morrill Professor of animal science, has seen Jakes’ character take shape during her time as an undergraduate. He recognizes her involvement at Iowa State, as well as her potential to contribute to the broader agricultural community.

“Grace is a talented scholar and enthusiastic learner, and it is safe to say she has engaged in many opportunities at Iowa State,” Lonergan said. “She has demonstrated she is dedicated to using technical and leadership skills in the international arena. I predict that she will be a difference-maker in her chosen field of study.”

Looking ahead, Jakes will attend Colorado State University in the fall. She was accepted into the school’s D.M.V. and Ph.D. Combined Degree Program, and will be working toward both degrees concurrently. After graduate school, Jakes aspires to work toward connecting the dots between animal agriculture, food security and public health in developing countries.

Reflecting on how her career aspirations have changed from setting foot on campus four years ago, Jakes said it was the support from her peers and mentors that inspired Jakes to pave her own path and push herself to achieve.

“I came to Iowa State as an open book, and I didn’t have a lot of experience in the areas I chose to focus on,” Jakes said. “The fact I have been able to find my place speaks to how incredible the faculty, staff and students are at Iowa State and the culture the university has created around learning.”