Growing up, Will Shelby could usually be found in a barn or somewhere surrounded by cattle. From his participation in 4-H meetings, livestock judging contests and FFA events, to helping out on his family’s cow/calf operation and tagging along on his dad’s veterinary calls, it is easy to see where Shelby’s passion for agriculture comes from.
Raised in Madill, Oklahoma, Shelby says being active in agriculture was the biggest influence in his life, and he credits much of his success back to that.
“Everything that I have accomplished so far, I can really trace back to things that I’ve learned from and gotten to do with 4-H and FFA, and just growing up in the ag industry. It’s something I really hold close to my heart,” he says.
These life experiences have opened many doors for Shelby. As a member of the 2020 Oklahoma State University Livestock Judging Team, he was the 5th highest individual overall and was named a Livestock Judging All-American at the 115th National Collegiate Livestock Judging Contest. In 2021, he went on to be the assistant coach of the OSU livestock judging team.
Shelby is currently in his second year of veterinary school at OSU. One aspect that made him stand out as an applicant for this year’s Sam Noble Scholarship committee was his consistently maintained 4.0 GPA throughout his undergraduate degree and now in veterinary school.
“Will is a fantastic student. To me, he holds himself to a high standard because his goal is to graduate with a complete 4.0 GPA, which is awesome,” says Stacy Newman, director of philanthropy at The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation. “The current generation of college students have faced so much adversity, and Will rose above that. It never seemed to bother him.”
After completing veterinary school, Shelby plans to return to southern Oklahoma. He is passionate about the cattle industry, and he looks forward to working as a large animal vet who specializes in bovine reproduction and embryo transfers. He is also passionate about continuing to help youth within the agricultural industry, cultivating opportunities for future generations.
“After vet school, I’d really like to stay involved in livestock judging and the youth ag industry as much as I can. I think it’s something that’s so crucial to kids,” Shelby says. “Growing up, it’s something that made a huge difference for me. With the crazy world we live in, if you can just get a kid into an ag class or to join 4-H, I think it really can make such a big difference for them. I want to contribute to things like that as much as I can throughout my adulthood.”
Shelby has his own herd of club cattle that he sells prospect calves from every year. His voice lights up with excitement as he talks about his show calves and being able to help the young 4-H and FFA members who buy his livestock. Long after the calves leave Shelby’s family property, he continues to be involved with teaching the next generation of showmen and showwomen and ensuring their success.
When asked why he wants to become a vet, Shelby spoke fondly of his childhood experiences riding along with his dad, who is also a veterinarian. It wasn’t necessarily the procedures or medical protocols that Shelby remembers, but the relationships and friendships that his father developed with different ranchers and stockmen throughout the area.
“A big part that has always really interested me — and it may sound silly to some — is the interactions and relationships with people,” Shelby says. “I grew up watching my dad go and work cattle at someone's ranch or farm. The interaction between cattle producers and veterinarians is something special.
“Getting to work alongside them, helping them improve and making their program more efficient is something that I've always thought was a neat aspect. I think that's a big part of why I always wanted to be a veterinarian,” he says. “It will give me a great chance to not only be involved in that industry, but also work with people that I care about and meet other cattle producers.”
Shelby’s passions in life exemplify the goals of what the Sam Noble Scholarship hopes to accomplish, Newman says, so much so that he was awarded a $10,000 scholarship for his undergraduate studies and a $12,500 scholarship for his graduate school studies.
“The intent of the scholarship is to support those who are continuing their education in an ag-related discipline who will come back to rural Oklahoma and make a difference in those communities,” Newman says.
The Sam Noble Scholarship was founded in the 1990s with the mission of supporting agricultural students from one of 15 designated counties in southern Oklahoma who plan to return to the area and work within the agricultural industry.
“Everything that I have accomplished so far, I can really trace back to things that I’ve learned from and gotten to do with 4-H and FFA, and just growing up in the ag industry. It’s something I really hold close to my heart,” says Will Shelby.
Recipients must be pursuing education in an agricultural field or pursuing a technology certificate. Since the first scholarship was awarded in 1999, more than $2.4 million has been awarded to students who exemplify the future of agriculture. The scholarships are awarded based on scholastic merit as well as the student’s essay responses. Students who show a passion for agriculture and a heart for their rural communities sort themselves to the top of the candidates, according to Newman.
To find more information on the scholarship and if you are eligible to apply, visit https://noblefoundation.org/scholarships/. The online application period for Fall 2023 scholarships opens Jan. 1 and closes March 1.
Stay up to date on all the ways the Noble Foundation is helping address agricultural challenges and supporting causes that cultivate good health, support education and build stronger communities.