College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Institute of Applied Agriculture

IAA Salutes its Student Veterans

Author: 
Rob Ballenger
Bryson Spaulding, Ryan Smith, and Trent Wolfersberger
Bryson Spaulding, Ryan Smith, and Trent Wolfersberger collectively bring to the IAA 33 years of service in the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy, respectively.

The Veterans Day holiday does not mean a day off for University of Maryland students. For most it probably seems like just another unexceptional day in class. But for many across campus and at the Institute of Applied Agriculture (IAA) in particular, it’s another day in class with some exceptional student veterans. This Veterans Day, the IAA is fortunate to have three such former service members within its ranks.

Bryson Spaulding, Ryan Smith, and Trent Wolfersberger collectively bring to the IAA 33 years of service in the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy, respectively. The discipline they mastered in the military helps in their success as students today, and each of their military careers set them on unique paths to the IAA and agriculture careers.

Just after graduating from high school, Bryson Spaulding enlisted in the Marine Corps and reported to Parris Island, South Carolina. That summer of training was just what Spaulding expected: “three months of hell.” But, he says, “I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.” That experience earned Spaulding the title of Marine, and in the years that followed he was stationed in North Carolina, Missouri, Maine, Oregon and California. He also spent time in Mexico training that country’s marines in security tactics for patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border.

Corporal Spaulding fulfilled his military commitment earlier this year and – although he loves the Marine Corps – decided that it was time to return to civilian life and continue his education. While enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College over the summer, Spaulding saw his career path leading toward agriculture. It was a natural fit for the 21-year-old who grew up in a very outdoors-oriented family. 

Ever the outdoors enthusiast, Spaulding took a summer job at Cedar Point Golf Course in St. Mary’s County. At the time Spaulding didn’t see much of an intersection between golf and agriculture, but the course superintendent certainly did. After learning about the Marine veteran’s love for both agriculture and golf course management, the superintendent knew exactly where to steer his employee: the Institute of Applied Agriculture. (The superintendent’s son also happens to be an IAA alum.) Spaulding is now wrapping up his first semester at the IAA and sees his civilian career path leading to the title of golf course superintendent.

This semester is also the first for IAA student Ryan Smith, who served in the Air Force. Like Spaulding, Smith enlisted right after high school. During his 16-year military career Smith served in Japan, Alaska, Turkey and beyond as a munition systems technician. His duties at air bases included storing and maintaining explosives, which ranged from small-caliber bullets to rockets. Smith joined the Air Force eager to travel. “It’s hard to turn down a free ride around the world,” he says.  

That ride came to an end in 2014 when Master Sergeant Smith took early retirement and soon thereafter moved to the Annapolis area. As a civilian, Smith brought with him to Maryland a lifelong interest in agriculture that stretches back to his Midwest family’s roots. Smith, a native of Fostoria, Ohio, comes from a long line of farmers. With farming in his blood, he searched online for places to study agriculture in the Washington, DC area. Smith discovered the four-year programs at University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources but quickly gravitated toward the IAA’s two-year areas of study.

Ornamental Horticulture at the IAA was just the right fit for Smith and his green thumb. “I want to have my own greenhouse, to grow plants and sell them,” Smith says. Over the next few semesters he’s looking forward to taking lecturer Ken Ingram’s plant courses and gaining hands-on greenhouse experience that will pave the way to his post-military career. 

That practical experience with agriculture is a big part of what drew Trent Wolfersberger, one of Smith’s fellow student veterans, to the IAA. The former Navy officer says “the hands-on aspect is amazing,” especially when it comes to instructor Roy Walls’ Agricultural Mechanics course. Wolfersberger is a 13-year veteran and a second-year IAA student focusing on Sustainable Agriculture. He says the IAA is preparing him to operate a hops farm and brewery, much like the one where he’s currently interning near Frederick. Wolfersberger is grateful to the IAA for connecting him to the Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm, which provides an ideal model for Wolfersberger to follow in the latest chapter of his post-military career. 

Before coming to College Park to fulfill his hops yard ambitions, Wolfersberger had already accumulated several years of civilian career experience. He worked for the Architect of the Capitol in Washington, DC for a decade, capitalizing on his naval experience as a civil engineer. Prior to leaving the Navy in 2006, Lieutenant Commander Wolfersberger served as the executive officer of a construction battalion in Gulfport, Mississippi. He also managed public works projects at Pearl Harbor during an earlier posting there.

Wolfersberger, who began his naval career as a midshipman and then a helicopter pilot, describes his years of military and civilian work in civil engineering as being focused on sustainability (e.g., environmental restoration projects). In the years ahead he looks forward to putting into practice the sustainable agriculture lessons from IAA instructor & advisor Meredith Epstein as well as building on the contacts he’s made here as a student. Strong connections within the agriculture community is what Wolfersberger says he likes the most about the IAA.

Wolfersberger as well as his fellow student veterans are succeeding at the IAA, an achievement they credit in part to the self-discipline learned in the military. Spaulding says that thanks to the Marine Corps, he’s doing better in school now than he would’ve had he gone to college right after high school. Smith, who says “It’s a little more chaotic here in the civilian world,” agrees. The discipline of military life is what he misses the most about his Air Force days. Wolfersberger highlights that he can juggle his duties as an IAA student, a father, etc. because the Navy taught him how to prioritize. “They teach you how to jam 18 hours of work into a 16-hour workday,” he says. 

The civilian workdays that lie ahead for each of these future IAA alumni – on a golf course, in a greenhouse, or at a hops farm & brewery – is worthy of a salute. The military experience they bring to Jull Hall is as valuable to the IAA as the IAA is valuable to their new career paths. The IAA salutes its student veterans for their past service to our country and their future service to our agricultural communities.

PHOTOS:

^^Bryson Spaulding (on left).

^^Ryan Smith.

^^Trent Wolfersberger.

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