Dr. Mary Booth began her tenure as the NEO Ag Department head in 2019
MIAMI, OKLA. – Agriculture has been part of Dr. Mary Booth’s entire life. Growing up on a farm in Minnesota, Mary worked alongside her father, John Nesvold, as the family raised cattle, hogs and crops.
Active in 4-H and FFA, Mary initially thought she would pursue a home economics degree and coach basketball at the high school level.
An opportunity to take an intro to animal science class changed her career trajectory as she found her niche in the animal science field.
The change led her to obtain a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in animal science/swine nutrition at South Dakota State University, all while coaching livestock judging and teaching animal science classes at the school.
Through different opportunities and her marriage to Miami, Okla., native Sonny Booth, a purebred livestock and real estate auctioneer, Mary found herself migrating south.
While the pair traveled with Sonny’s job, they also began raising their daughter Rachel.
Mary’s life changed, she eventually became a loan officer with an emphasis in agricultural loans for a local community bank.
In 2019, a desire to work with students led Mary to become the department chairman for the Agricultural Department at Northeastern A&M in Miami, Okla.
“It was a great opportunity,” Mary said. “I truly missed the education world and working with students.”
Mary not only oversees the administrative side of the program, but also teaches multiple classes, including introduction to animal science, livestock business management, livestock feeding and meats.
Educating, growing the future
Mary said being part of the changing world of ag education is exciting, because things are constantly evolving as livestock and crop producers look for ways to provide food, utilize technology and inform the world.
“An ag career provides good fundamentals and helps students to learn to keep educating themselves,” Mary said. “We don’t have a lot of mom/pop diverse [operations]. We have larger farms with fewer numbers raising the same number of food products.”
As a junior college, NEO has 167 students in its ag department. Most pursue an associate’s degree in agriculture.
Other degrees, designed to transfer to a four-year school, include animal science, agronomy, ag business, ag education and equine. For those planning to join the workforce or take over a family operation, a farm and ranch management applied science degree is also available.
NEO’s program also provides students with a chance to work on a 200-acre farm, something few junior colleges have as part of their curriculum. This allows students to dive into livestock and crop projects, as well as conduct honors research projects.
The farm’s reach includes facilities for all species including a commercial cattle operation, a small sow herd and, at times, a few sheep and goats. It also includes the livestock and horses for the 60-plus member rodeo team.
“We have a great opportunity, coming off the pandemic, to reach out and recruit students,” Mary said. “I hope to visit as many students as possible to tell our story.”
The future also includes expanding the new greenhouse, which Mary said, will also include additional crop research opportunities.
Mary said she’s very proud of the ag faculty at NEO, saying the junior college has the quality of a university-level instruction. Her daughter Rachel is a product of the school, having graduated with an associate’s degree in 2017. Rachel, now an OSU graduate, works as a regional marketing associate for Zinpro, an ag-based mineral company.
“I’m anxious to keep growing and developing the traditions we have established here,” Mary said. “We want to keep the tradition going of providing quality education for our students.”