|Kelli Slack (left) and her mom Val share family ties that include animals, agriculture and Purdue. (Photo by Tom Campbell)
Valynnda Slack knew by the time she was 16 that she wanted to be a Purdue Extension agriculture educator. The fact that there were no women in the position didn't deter her.
Slack spent her formative years immersed in the cattle industry, where she developed an interest in breeding and genetics that gave birth to a career in agriculture. She earned a bachelor's degree in animal sciences, one of just a handful of women in the Purdue program during the early 1970s.
Slack was halfway to her goal when she was hired as a youth educator for Purdue Extension in Whitley County in 1976. Three years later the agriculture educator position in her county opened up, and she became the first woman in Indiana appointed to the post. But getting the job was only half the battle. "The whole movement of women into traditional male fields of agriculture was an issue of diversity and acceptance," says Slack, who also earned her master's in animal sciences.
Like her mother, Kelli Slack, 22, developed an interest in breeding and genetics at a young age. Her animal of choice was rabbits. She had the beginnings of a breeding business at age 9 and joined the American Rabbit Breeders Association. Kelli, too, enrolled at Purdue as an animal sciences major. Unlike most freshmen, who bring clothes, computers and stereo equipment to college, Kelli brought more than 100 rabbits. Because a dorm room was out of the question, the family found a house a few miles north of campus to accommodate the thriving rabbit breeding business.
Unlike during Slack's undergraduate experience, women now make up the majority of animal sciences majors. It's just one indication of the changing climate for women—a topic that has sparked plenty of mother-daughter conversations at the kitchen table. "This field has taken me every place I dreamed of going," says Slack, who will receive her Ph.D. in agricultural and extension education next spring. "I hope it does for Kelli, too."
Kelli, a senior, is still deciding on a master's program in agriculture. She is committed to educating others, particularly, she says, as more generations are removed from the farm and fewer people understand where their food comes from. She has her own prediction for the future of women in agriculture: "This is the millennium when it's the daughters who will go back home to the farm."