Young professionals transition to new responsibilitiesWritten by Natasha Wheeler
A statewide Extension specialist spends more time travelling than they do at home.
“When both parents are statewide Extension specialists, it’s really difficult to balance work and family,” notes Brian Mealor, the former UW Extension Weed Specialist and the new director of the UW Sheridan Research and Extension Center.
Transitioning into new Extension roles, Brian and Rachel Mealor are hoping to spend more time with each other and more time with their 14-month-old son Bracken.
“The university has been really willing to work with us to come up with another option so that we can stay involved, sharing information with the people that need us out on the land,” Brian says.
The family is also looking forward to becoming more integrated into the local community.
“We feel like we are pretty well integrated into the state of Wyoming community, and we feel really fortunate that we know people all around the state. But with this reduced travel and ability to be in one place a little bit more, we can try to be more involved in becoming members of the community,” he adds.
Rachel’s new role will allow her to work from home as a web developer and designer with UW Extension Communications and Technology, getting information from the university and other sources onto the internet.
“It was a good switch for our family,” comments Rachel. “I will still be in the world of range and natural resources, but on the other end instead of traveling around.”
For the last number of years, Brian and Rachel have been statewide Extension specialists, based out of Laramie and travelling all over the state. Rachel joined Extension after being inspired by her graduate advisor, and Brian found that the opportunity allowed him to focus more on his favorite parts of weed management.
“I really enjoy interacting with individuals, especially in the context of ag and natural resources, being able to interact and interface with various types of people,” Rachel says.
“When the opportunity came up to be the Weed Extension Specialist for the state of Wyoming, it was really attractive that one of my primary duties was to help people reduce the impact of the weeds that they have on their property,” adds Brian.
As young ag professionals, the Mealors work with producers throughout Wyoming, focusing on managing rangeland.
“People have asked, as a young female, if I’ve struggled with some men taking me seriously, but a lot of wives and daughters are more involved than people know or recognize. Especially if they have a daughter or wife who is very involved, producers have been very receptive,” Rachel explains.
Although they may not always follow her advice, producers are usually open to listening and discussing new ideas presented to them.
“It’s inherent in the ag community that people are traditional and set in their ways, but for good reason. I’m not discounting traditional knowledge and experience from going through challenges and successes,” she adds.
Brian notes quality Extension depends on good dialogue and a two-way conversation between landowners and university representatives.
“Most of the hard questions that we get are things that nobody knows the answer to. It isn’t just the rancher that doesn’t know the answer. We don’t either. It gives us an opportunity to work together and come up with a plan for how to find and answer,” he says.
Many times, the challenges that face the ag industry lead to important research projects, tying the university together with practical applications on the ranch.
“Producers in the state of Wyoming, once they realize we are on their side, are some of the most supportive people that I’ve ever been around,” Brian states.
“By having an open dialogue and working through issues together, I have probably learned more from producers than they have from me,” Rachel adds.
Often, the Mealors have been a bridge between producers as well. Working in different areas of the state, they have been able to connect conversations between people facing similar challenges across Wyoming.
“I can say I have talked with a person on the other side of the state who had a great idea and ask how we adjust it to make it specific for the area we are working in,” Rachel explains.
Brian adds that 60 or 70 years of experience shouldn’t be undervalued, since those who have been living on the land their whole lives have seen it in every condition.
“Oftentimes, the questions we are working with are related to new things that are happening,” he comments. “How can we meld some of the technical knowledge that we have been trained in and have been learning through research with their longstanding experience about how that piece of property responds to different management techniques?”
Rachel echoes Brian’s sentiments, emphasizing the value of strong relationships and teamwork.
“A lot of issues in ag aren’t cookie-cutter or recipe-type issues. It’s all about thinking them through,” she notes.
“Land management in today’s world is a lot more difficult than it used to be because there are so many competing interests,” Brian adds. “Our landowners deserve a lot of respect.”
Although the Mealors will no longer be traveling on a regular basis around the state, they are both looking forward to their new roles as they continue to build relationships with Wyoming’s agricultural community.
“There is still a very strong component of working with producers to try to answer those questions,” Brian says of his new position.
He will be doing research related to rangeland restoration and weed management, but he will also be facilitating other researchers to ensure their success in Extension.
“At this stage in the game, it’s a neat opportunity to see a program expand and help other people reach their goals,” he states. “Our titles have changed and our duties have changed, but we are both still really committed to engaging with the ag producers around the state and making sure they are getting the information that they need.”