UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Twelve years ago, Joshua Cassar could not have foreseen 15 job offers, prestigious awards and a resume packed with experiences, internships and international travels. Back then, he was just a kid with an interest in agriculture and poultry science.
The Lansdale native will graduate this May from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and begin a career as a production supervisor with Bell & Evans, a poultry processing company in south-central Pennsylvania, the reward for four years of hard work in his animal science major and his poultry and avian science minor.
But his story truly begins when he was 10 years old, when he first joined a Montgomery County 4-H club. "I wanted to raise goats, but since I lived in a residential area, I raised chickens instead," Cassar recalls. "Soon, I was showing my chickens all over the state and in six bordering states."
His mentor and adviser, Phillip Clauer, first met Joshua when he was a young 4-H member. "I met him at a poultry youth program that we put on in his county. Throughout the years, he participated in 4-H poultry judging and raised and showed his own exhibition birds," Clauer said.
In addition to advising and teaching, Clauer is also a Penn State poultry extension specialist, which means he organizes 4-H poultry programs and trains volunteers to lead the groups throughout the state. Pennsylvania 4-H is administered by Penn State Extension, which takes the expertise of the College of Agricultural Sciences, in this case poultry science, and shares it with all the counties and their respective 4-H youth programs.
Through extension, "the kids are exposed to careers and opportunities within the poultry industry at a young age," Clauer said. "And when they choose to continue their passion for poultry and agriculture, it is really a seamless transition from high school into Penn State's animal science program."
Cassar is a prime example of the success of extension youth programs. He participated in 4-H for eight years, and when it was time to go to college, Penn State was the only school to which he applied.
"I was already so acquainted with the animal science program at Penn State, since every summer I took a one-day class called Youth Poultry 101, which I also have helped with since I entered college," Cassar said. "My adviser, Phillip Clauer, was always available to answer my questions and really shaped my time here at Penn State."
In addition to his studies, Cassar became involved with the Poultry Science Club, which has been named the National Club of the Year several times. He led the club this year as president and was named national Student of the Year at the International Poultry and Processing Exposition and the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association College Program. He also was a member of the Intercollegiate Poultry Judging Team and won high individual overall at both the spring and fall national competitions.
"I've always been proud to represent Penn State at poultry judging and career events. Penn State's poultry program is acclaimed nationwide. Employers seek out Penn Staters because they know when we graduate, we are trained and ready to hit the ground running in any work environment," Cassar said.
In addition, Cassar enjoyed opportunities to travel abroad throughout his time at Penn State. He received grants to travel to Spain, Germany and Costa Rica to immerse himself in the poultry industries there.
"I got a foreign perspective on the poultry industry and problems we face in the United States," Cassar said.
Clauer said he hopes that the success of students such as Cassar helps to attract more students to the animal science major and the avian and poultry science minor.
"We have virtually 100 percent employment for our graduating seniors," Clauer said. "This year, we could have placed many more students into great careers in the poultry industry."
Indeed, Cassar experienced this surplus of employment opportunities as he received 15 job offers from poultry companies nationwide. This is not unique, as most Penn State poultry students experience similar results annually. The most difficult decision these graduates face is which offer provides them the best opportunity and is the best fit for them.
In the end, he signed with the company at which he interned during the summer of 2014, Bell & Evans. The company is growing and hopes to triple in size within the coming years. Cassar will work in production supervision but has been promised opportunities to grow within the company and move up into management positions as the company expands.
In the future, Cassar intends to help out with 4-H programs in his locality, the very programs that gave him his start in the field of poultry science.
"I can only say good things about Penn State Extension and the poultry science program at Penn State, which make careers in poultry science a reality for Pennsylvania kids," Cassar said.