About a year after Maggie Justice discovered a passion for animal science research as a sophomore at Clemson University, she found what would become her credo: "What does this mean for our producers?"
Justice joined the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in May as an assistant professor and beef cattle specialist for the Cooperative Extension Service.
In a way, Justice was born into her career.
"I grew up on a commercial cow-calf operation in South Carolina," she said.
Justice said she and her three sisters "learned to work on the farm and were part of the cattle operation. Like most of our cattle farmers, especially in the Southeast, it was secondary income."
Justice's father was a retired lawyer and her mother was a school teacher but "the farm was definitely a family affair on the weekends," she said.
Growing up, "I was very active in 4-H and came to love extension because of my time in 4-H," Justice said.
Justice followed in all of the family's footsteps, heading to Clemson University. She knew she wanted to study animal science but didn't want to go to vet school.
"I was kind of steered toward research as an undergrad and started that as a sophomore, and fell in love with it," she said. "Luckily, I had a great mentor that I stayed on with for my master's. She noticed that I like to talk to people, and kind of noticed I had a passion, in that I always asked her questions about 'what did her research mean for our producers?'"
That mentor is Susan Duckett, professor and Ernest L. Corley Jr. Trustees endowed chair of the Animal and Veterinary Sciences department at Clemson.
About a year into the research, Justice told Duckett that she "wanted to be an extension specialist so I could help producers like the ones I grew up with."
GOING HER OWN WAY
Justice gives a lot of credit to her dad, who raised four girls.
"My dad is the ultimate girl dad. He instilled in all four of us that we could do anything we set our minds to," she said.
That "anything" included Justice's passion for shooting sports, especially shotgun. She was a competitive shooter in 4-H and also for her high school. It's a sport she shares with her grandfather.
Justice also describes herself as a "horse girl."
"As far as horse stuff goes, I was the black sheep of the family," she said.
"My sisters rodeoed and actually had a younger sister who went to school on a rodeo scholarship. But I showed horses," Justice said. "I showed Western pleasure and hunter under saddle. Because of that, I was super competitive in the 4-H education contests; horse bowl, hippology, was a horse ambassador for the state and then eventually was a state officer because of my involvement in the horse project."
ADAPTING TO ARKANSAS
She has enjoyed her newly adopted state.
"I love Arkansas. Everyone has been so welcoming, so open to my program, and excited for me which has made my job easy and enjoyable," Justice said. "I'm just excited to help the agents build their programs in their counties and ultimately help the producers in this state."
Mike Looper, head of animal science for the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences and the Division of Agriculture, said Justice earned the job amid an "extremely strong applicant pool."
"When Maggie interviewed for the job, we knew she was the perfect fit for the department as well as for our beef producers in Arkansas," he said. "You might say she came in on day one and embraced extension and the idea of helping farmers and ranchers be more efficient, and ultimately more profitable."
Justice received her master's degree at Clemson and her Ph.D. at Auburn University.
To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact a local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow the agency on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension.
Mary Hightower is with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.