(CORNELL) — Libby Swatling describes herself as “cow-obsessed” since age 2 when she was first introduced to a Jersey cow on a dairy farm in Saratoga County. Now majoring in animal science at Cornell University, she aspires to be in dairy management and help improve public understanding of the industry’s sustainable and humane practices.

Swatling is one of four undergraduates who each received $20,000 scholarships this past year through the Chobani Scholars Program, to help them achieve their dairy career ambitions across four years of study. Established at Cornell in 2018, the program provides a multi-year scholarship supporting students who have a family connection to dairy farming and plan to pursue their own careers in the dairy industry.

New York state students with a concentration in dairy management in the Department of Animal Science at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are eligible for the scholarship. The program is now offering similar scholarships at the University of Idaho. Chobani opened a yogurt plant, the world’s largest, in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 2012.

Much like last year’s cohort, Cornell’s second class of Chobani Scholars all said being involved in the dairy industry from a young age fueled their passion for it. “I would not be who I am today if I had not grown up around the dairy industry,” said Meghan Van Althuis, “and it is important to me that I continue to work in this industry, as it has inspired me greatly.”

All four students also expressed a desire to improve public awareness and understanding around animal well-being and sustainable dairy practices. “Dairy farmers are here to serve the public and want to provide everyone with the best possible products,” said Rachel Van Buren. “I hear so many of my peers criticize the dairy industry for the way they treat the land and their animals. There is a growing gap between consumers and dairy farmers, which is frightening. In the last decade, the dairy industry has taken drastic strides to become more environmentally conscious, and it continues to do so.”

Said scholar Lucas Walley: “The industry needs more involvement from younger, progressive dairy people who will push agriculture to meet the needs of future consumers and industry demands while innovating operations and practices to create breakthroughs in production.”

With deep ties to the New York state dairy industry, Chobani aims to strengthen local communities and invest in the future of dairy farmers. “One of the best ways to help New York farmers is to equip tomorrow’s dairy leaders with the tools they need to thrive,” said Peter McGuinness, Chobani president and chief operating officer.

In addition to the scholarship program, the students will have the opportunity to intern with Chobani, based in New Berlin, Chenango County, during their college careers. The organization plans to support a third cohort at Cornell this fall.

“New York state relies greatly on our future generations of dairy leaders to innovate and bolster the industry,” said Benjamin Houlton, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. ”These scholarships help empower our great minds of tomorrow with a truly life-changing education, today.”

Chobani also awards $200,000 annually in grants through its Community Impact Fund to expand economic opportunity and entrepreneurship in central New York, including just over $63,000 in 2020 to Cornell Cooperative Extension Chenango County and the surrounding region to help make farms more profitable and sustainable.