By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Michael Gibbens has a deep-rooted connection to agriculture.
He grew up south of Sargent, a small community in the heart of corn and cattle country. His grandfather farmed for close to five decades and his father, who’s currently employed by a central Nebraska cooperative, worked the land for about 20 years. Other family members also have careers tied to the state’s No. 1 industry.
“I’ve never had a job where I’ve been inside. I’ve always worked on the farm or worked for somebody on a farm,” Gibbens said.
The 23-year-old decided early on his future is in this field, but he wanted to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible before jumping into the everchanging agricultural landscape full time.
That’s what brought him to the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Gibbens will graduate Friday with a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness, a program that prepares students for a variety of ag-related careers. In addition to addressing agricultural trends and challenges, the UNK program builds a business foundation so students better understand the financial, marketing and management aspects of the industry.
“The financial side of agriculture has become so much bigger,” said Gibbens, acknowledging the tighter profit margins many producers face.
He believes a well-rounded education is a necessity in today’s environment.
“You learn so much and you get out of your comfort zone for four years, then you can go back and farm or look at other career options,” Gibbens said.
That’s the other benefit of a college degree. It opens the door to so many more opportunities down the line.
UNK’s agribusiness program has a job placement rate near 100%, with graduates landing positions in agronomy, grain merchandising, agricultural sales and marketing, insurance, finance, ethanol production, crop consulting, elevator and feedlot management and other areas.
As a member of the Ag Business Club, Gibbens was able to learn more about these careers by touring businesses, attending ag expos and networking with guest speakers. He received on-the-job training through a 16-week internship with Custer Federal State Bank that ended last week.
“That really showed me the value of customer service,” said Gibbens, who sat in on loan officer meetings and worked as a teller at the Kearney bank.
Relationship building is also a strength of the agribusiness program. Because of its smaller size, Gibbens had no trouble interacting one-on-one with his professors and peers.
He felt the same connection with students and staff when he joined the Thompson Scholars Learning Community after transferring to UNK in fall 2018. Open to recipients of the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation Scholarship, that program provides academic and social support for students, promotes campus engagement and offers professional development opportunities.
“Everyone involved with Thompson Scholars is super helpful. They make your transition to college easier. They want you to succeed, and it really shows,” Gibbens said.
The monetary benefits are pretty great, too.
Thanks to the Buffett Scholarship and other financial support, Gibbens will graduate debt-free.
“Not very many people can say that,” he said. “That scholarship helps so much.”
He doesn’t have to worry about finding a job after graduation either. That’s already lined up.
Gibbens accepted an advanced sales internship/training position with Hefty Seed Company in Wood River. He’ll start working for the agricultural supply company on Dec. 27, with an option to remain with the Hefty sales team after completing the nine-month training program.
“I couldn’t be more excited to begin my career,” Gibbens said. “Through the agribusiness program, the knowledge I’ve gained and my life experiences, I believe I have been prepared the best I can be.”