Agricultural science graduate student Tim Truax’s passion for raising livestock began at the age of 9 when he showed his first lamb at the Stanislaus County Fair.

That annual experience on his family ranch led to Future Farmers of America high school judging contests and his first visits to the Fresno State livestock units that later became the daily training ground for the 2021 graduate medalist for the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State.

However, the bigger impression was made when he returned to campus as a California State FFA officer, and worked with agricultural education faculty like Dr. Steve Rocca through a set of leadership workshops.

“That was my first chance to really work one-on-one with the faculty and I was really impressed,” Truax said. “They helped us identify what our own leadership strengths were and how to work with others. There was this feeling that the faculty were very student-friendly and focused on helping us grow as young professionals.”

After that experience, Truax and the other FFA state officers continued a busy, year-long term traveling the state while representing the nation’s second-largest FFA organization and its 80,0000 members. He learned all about aspects of California’s diverse agriculture industry and how to better educate students and the public about its efforts to feed the world.

Upon returning to campus as a Modesto Junior College transfer in fall 2017, he reconnected with Rocca as a junior agricultural education student. The two collaborated on Truax’s research project for the Jordan College Honors Cohort and in preparation for the American Farm Bureau Federation and Young Ranchers and Farmers national discussion contest.

Their collaboration and hard work paid off as Truax won that national event in February 2018 to become Fresno State’s fourth national champion in the event since 2004.

In the months prior, contestants worked to develop solutions for five topics related to agricultural industry issues or trends. They were grouped together at the event and judged on their ability to share their ideas and stimulate discussion.

“Dr. Rocca was invaluable in my preparation,” Truax said. “As I did my research, he gave me a great background and knew exactly who to connect with me locally on the industry side for a deeper perspective on each issue. He gave me some great strategy to make sure I had the proper delivery, and not be too under- or overwhelming.”

Rocca has since added direction for Truax’s graduate research work, focused on evaluating agricultural students and how they develop soft skills for their careers.

Truax also gained leadership experience on the campus livestock judging team under the guidance of animal science faculty and coaches Brad Mendes and John Cordeiro. He later came back to serve as a student coach for the team, and he helped host judging camps for youth who shared his passion for animal health and welfare.

“We had a successful season when I competed,” Truax said, “but more importantly, we learned the real-world application to everyday livestock management. Some teams focus more on specific areas that might score them points, but Brad made sure to teach us the ‘why’ behind livestock evaluation.”

That real-world experience will come in handy since Truax, who also worked at the campus sheep unit, is now raising his own flock of sheep after he returned to Turlock last month.

“It’s not the largest industry,” Truax said, “however, it’s an industry that has a special tradition. It’s fairly small and closely connected, and always looking for ways to grow.”