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Making the Grade

USDA Meat Grader Earns Online Master’s Degree While Working in Colorado

While working at the Iowa State Dairy Teaching and Research Farm as an undergraduate, Deanna Bakken accidentally set up a bulk tank for holding milk incorrectly, causing the lines running to the collection tank to build with pressure and eventually burst.

Instead of crying over the spilled milk, she fixed the problem by writing out a new set of detailed instructions on how to operate the machine correctly. Her career path as a job trainer was born.

“When I was training to be a meat grader at USDA, the worksheets explaining how to do the job weren’t very helpful and were outdated,” Bakken said. “Then, a couple of years later when I started training new people, it was a struggle. I wanted to learn more about how to teach people.”

Wanting to find an online educational platform to help her gain those skills, Bakken soon found U of I’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences (CEHHS) and the master’s in Adult, Organizational Learning and Leadership (AOLL) program. Not wanting to leave her job and home in Colorado, the online program seemed like a great fit.

It takes a lot of discipline to get up at 3:00 a.m., start work at 4:30, then come home and go to class or work on homework. But it was worth it.Deanna Bakken, master’s candidate

“Our program is great for students who are working full-time,” said Krista Soria, a CEHHS assistant professor at University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene. “Our class assignments, readings and resources are designed so students can apply them directly to their professional experiences.”

Portrait of woman in front of two flags.
Deanna Bakken.

Idaho Bound

When Bakken arrives on campus for graduation in December 2023, it will be her first visit to Moscow. Born and raised in Iowa and having earned her bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University, she has no ties to the Gem State – other than finding the perfect program for how she wanted to grow professionally.

When she started researching graduate schools, Bakken came across U of I’s AOLL program. Her interest was piqued enough to call Laura Holyoke, CEHHS’s Leadership and Counseling Department chair, to discuss the program.

“She told me she thought I would fit in perfectly,” Bakken said. “I still wasn’t really sure but decided to give it a try. It turned out to be exactly what I wanted.”

Not only did taking the online program help Bakken to stay in Colorado with her husband, it also meant being able to go through the program at her own pace, which meant often navigating around 60 to 70-hour work weeks. She was able to fit classes in between working all day and getting to bed early so she could get up for work the next day.

“It takes a lot of discipline to get up at 3:00 a.m., start work at 4:30, then come home and go to class or work on homework,” she said. “But it was worth it.”

Woman in cap and gown standing in front of building.
Deanna Bakken.

Vandal Pride

Having worked at USDA for seven years, Bakken’s primary reason for finding U of I’s master’s program was to grow her career. But she accomplished a lot in her brief time as a Vandal.

Earlier this semester, Soria nominated Bakken for CEHHS’s Alumni Award for Excellence. In addition to maintaining a 3.85 GPA and keeping up her long days at work, she found time to volunteer at her local schools and 4-H and FFA groups, educating youth about responsible animal handling.

Her experience in U of I’s AOLL program really was exactly what she wanted.

“Being able to take all the things I’ve learned from my peers and from the classes back to work has been great,” Bakken said. “Applying this knowledge to my professional world and seeing my vision come to life is a dream come true.”

And although her short term plan is to stay at USDA, she isn’t ruling out continuing her time as a Vandal. Down the road she hopes to pursue a doctorate in AOLL, which is offered at U of I, while also keeping her eye on construction of the Meat Science and Innovation Center Honoring Ron Richard, the future College of Agricultural and Life Sciences meat processing plant and center.

Woman in white lab coat standing next to a side of beef.
Deanna Bakken grading beef.

Article by David Jackson, University Communications and Marketing.

Photos courtesy of Deanna Bakken. 

Published in December, 2023.

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