DAFVM Spotlight Employee: Shani Hay
When she was a child, Emily Shani Hay is no stranger to agriculture. A self-proclaimed “farmer’s kid that got swapped at the hospital,” she now works as a 4-H coordinator in Lauderdale County.
Hay said her deep appreciation for agriculture began at an early age. Though her family did not share her passion for wildlife, she continued to find beauty in horses, cattle and orchard farming. This inspired her to major in agriculture science at California Polytechnic State University.
“After graduating, I didn’t really want to go to vet school, so my interest in youth development led me to be an agriculture science teacher,” she said.
Eventually she moved to Mississippi with her husband, but teaching opportunities were nonexistent. She herded cattle in the meantime as she scouted for opportunities. One day, a friend called.
“He said, ‘Shani, you’d be perfect for this,” she recalled. “The agriculture science position had finally opened.”
Hay said she could not be happier serving kids, because the Mississippi State University Extension Service’s 4-H programs are broad and diverse.
“I have the responsibility of all of the 4-H groups including mechanics, robotics, photography, grooming and leadership,” she said. “In 4-H you have to be a jack of all trades. You’re never bored.”
Shani’s excitement to learn and teach proves crucial to the program, one that she says “changes kids’ lives.”
“4-H gives kids who don’t really have a place, a place. Over and over, I’ve seen kids who are failing school get involved in our program, and now they see some light at the end of the tunnel,” Hay said. “It wakes them up to opportunities that are out there for them.”
Once, she helped a low-income high schooler begin a rabbit business. The student used her 4-H leadership skills to organize and maintain a successful rabbit-meat trade that helped her afford college. Another student -- with no plans to attend college -- earned a diesel degree just so he could afford a plot of land for cattle.
Hay says students like this -- students with “ambition but no resources” -- are the kinds that benefit exponentially from 4-H, and they are the students that remind her why she does what she does.
“They find something that becomes their passion, their direction,” she said.
Editor's note: The Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine Spotlight Employee profiles are provided by the Office of Agricultural Communications at Mississippi State. For more information, please click here.