An Idaho ambassador
by Anna (Salisbury) Lee, class of 2004
“I’m so fortunate to get to represent my home state of Idaho. I get to travel so many different places all over the United States talking about Idaho—talking about what I love about our state,” said 2016 graduate Heather Skovgard from Kuna, Idaho.
Heather is in the middle of her reign as Miss Rodeo Idaho 2016, a title she claimed last summer at the centennial celebration of the historic Snake River Stampede rodeo. Winning Miss Rodeo Idaho and earning the chance to compete for Miss Rodeo America at the National Rodeo Finals in December has been a long-time goal of Heather’s, sought over many years of rodeo competition and over 15 queening titles. But promoting Idaho as rodeo royalty has not been Heather’s only investment in the state she loves.
“I KNOW THAT THE MATURITY I GAINED AT NNU AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF MY WHOLE PERSON SHOWED THROUGH TO THE JUDGES.”She has spent the last three years serving Idaho in another way: researching the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles or “drones”) for improved crop production for Idaho farmers. The drones are flown over crops and collect data used to determine if the vegetation is receiving proper fluids and nutrients.
When engineering professor and lead researcher Dr. Duke Bulanon discovered Heather’s interest in Idaho agriculture displayed through her involvement and achievement in Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H, he invited her to join his crop monitoring research team when she was only a sophomore.
“This technology that we’ve been developing over the past three years is really going to transform the way we produce crops, the way we manage crops, because it makes it so much more efficient,” Heather explained. “This opportunity would not have been available to me as a sophomore at any other university. It is so unique to NNU.”
The Robotics Vision research team is supported by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium. Through this research and other opportunities offered in the Department of Engineering, Heather has her sights set on putting her engineering major with a mechanical engineering concentration to work for NASA someday in biomedical engineering. Several notable alumni have paved the way working for NASA, including astronaut Rick Hieb (’77) and Mark Kasinger (’84), group lead for the Production, Integration and Control Office in the Mission Operations Directorate. Heather now has the training to achieve her ambition to follow in their footsteps.
She is one of the first women to graduate with an engineering degree since the program officially achieved ABET accreditation last fall, and she considers herself an ambassador for women in STEM fields. “A 2011 study reported that, in STEM, women represent only 29 percent of all of the jobs, and in engineering we represent only 10 percent of the jobs. As a female going into a mechanical engineering job, one day I will have to represent not only myself but my gender as a whole,” says Heather. She is already working on representing women in STEM and encouraging other women to consider STEM fields by partnering with groups like Girl Power to teach girls about opportunities in engineering. She is also a member of the Society of Women Engineers and the Women for NNU society for leadership and philanthropy.
Despite current appearances, Heather says she used to be painfully shy. She credits her work with the NNU Forensics Team for transforming her into a confident public speaker and rodeo pageants for giving her experience performing and talking with the public. This is an invaluable skill to add to her already impressive resume and one that has empowered her to embrace her opportunities to represent Idaho, NNU and Christ.
The Christian experience is another reason Heather values her time at NNU and finds this university exceptional. She originally matriculated at California Polytechnic State University because she wanted some distance from home. However, after one semester, she chose to transfer to NNU. At Cal Poly, Heather found herself not prioritizing her relationship with the Lord. Coming to NNU, she not only found unique opportunities in her major but also discovered a place focused on building her faith. “NNU gave me so much of Christ’s story—how much He loves me—and that just flows into everything I do,” she said.
Her faith is one more place where Heather has a unique platform to be an ambassador. “I hand out my tear sheets to hundreds of thousands of kids, and NNU is on every single one. It shows not only that I go to a Christian university but that I am invested in Christ.”
Even after looking elsewhere, Heather found everything she wanted and needed in a university right in her own backyard. “I know that the maturity I gained at NNU and the transformation of my whole person showed through to the judges,” Heather said of her Miss Rodeo Idaho win. She hopes that growth will also be apparent as she competes for Miss Rodeo America in December. Regardless, Heather will continue to be a credit to her alma mater, her state, and her faith far into the future.