For many 4-H members, project work serves as an interesting way to explore new topics or expand current skills, but for some, these experiences evolve into a lifelong passion and help decide their future career path. For Megan Johnson, a 13-year member of Country Circus 4-H club in Scioto County, it was 4-H that inspired her interest in becoming a veterinarian.
This fall marks the start of Johnson’s junior year at Morehead State University in Kentucky, where she is a pre-veterinary medicine major, but her love of animals began at an early age. “They just seemed to gravitate toward me,” said Johnson. She tried a variety of projects, but soon discovered livestock was her passion, with sheep projects being her favorite. “I showed sheep at my county fair every year, but as I got older, I also tried my hand at showing pigs, chickens, and calves,” she said.
Johnson’s dad has always been one of her biggest supporters, and after seeing her enthusiasm for sheep, he and Johnson began breeding their own during her freshman year of high school. “This became an opportunity for me to learn even more about raising and caring for livestock. I helped deliver lambs, give them shots, and serve as their primary caretaker.”
These experiences not only taught her practical skills she now uses in her university classes, but also helped her become comfortable around large animals—a lesson not easily learned in the classroom setting. “Some of my classmates are a little skittish around the bigger animals, but my firsthand experience handling them and my understanding of how they behave made me more confident when interacting with large animals,” she said. As a student, she spends a lot of time at the university’s on-campus farm, where hands-on experience is a big focus. “So far, I have castrated piglets, performed ultrasounds, and assisted in surgery on a pig’s hernia,” said Johnson. “These have been amazing experiences and I can’t wait to see what is yet to come!”
Looking back on her time in 4-H, Johnson does not believe she would have discovered her chosen career so early in life without 4-H. “Given my love for animals, I think I would have pursued a career where I got to work with them, but 4-H helped me discover my passion for veterinary medicine,” she said. “The time I spent working with my animals and raising sheep with my dad helped me learn that I want to specialize in veterinary medicine for livestock.”
In addition to the academic edge 4-H provided, Johnson is also grateful for the bond she developed with her dad and siblings through her project work. “When my dad was in 4-H he showed steers, so when I decided to focus on sheep, he did a lot of research on how to raise, train, and show them to help me succeed.” This experience has brought them closer together, and now she helps her dad pass this knowledge on to her younger siblings.
For more information about how 4-H projects tie into potential careers, visit the See It, Be It!: Career Exploration blog. It features resources and details about 4-H projects and college courses that align with careers.