People of Poultry: Nicole Zukiwsky

Nicole Zukiwsky has learned to recognize opportunities, shift plans, and say yes when opening new doors because you never know when an undiscovered world may await. Passion for the poultry industry pushed ambitions to be a vet aside, revealing opportunities and connections in agriculture that she never imagined. After graduation, taking a chance, she threw her resume out to the universe and landed a dream job. Zukiwsky is an up-and-coming poultry professional to watch! Read more to learn about Nicole’s journey to a faculty position at Olds College of Agriculture and Technology, her current courses and innovative teaching methods and her advice to newly graduated agriculture students.

Growing up in the city, Nicole Zukiwsky loved animals and dreamed of being a veterinarian. She entered the University of Alberta and chose general animal science as her major, never suspecting that she would discover a whole new world when she encountered courses in agriculture and livestock animal science. 

“At the time, I didn’t understand the opportunities in agriculture and the fact that livestock production and animal science are a huge part of that,” she explained.  “The more I got into the science behind it, learning about production and agriculture across Alberta and Canada, I developed a passion for it and less so for the veterinary dream.”

Pull of the Poultry Community 

Nicole felt the pull of the poultry community right off the start when she signed up for Animal Science 200. Welcoming, fun, and full of good people, she felt at home and found herself taking more livestock courses and joining the Poultry Research Center Student Club (PRCSC).

“It drew me into the community even more, not just the poultry community, but also general animal science and agriculture students that loved poultry,” she recalled. “They were looking for people to be involved and I ended up taking a position on their executive board. I think the club has grown tremendously and evolved and I’m proud to see that.” 

Her passion continued to grow as she worked towards a master’s degree and met more industry producers and researchers. She studied swine, ruminant and applied dairy courses but the draw was always towards poultry science. 

Ongoing mentorship of Dr. Frank Robinson and Dr. Martin Zuidhof 

It is rare to read an article about poultry education at the U of A and not see a reference to both Dr. Frank Robinson and Dr. Martin Zuidhof. Both were mentors to Nicole and extremely influential in her professional life, both before and after graduation. 

“They were both there from day one for me,” said Nicole. “My perspective on agriculture, animal science and poultry just shifted. They were my shining lights.” 

“They were always supportive, whether that was helping in the classroom, being a part of other ANSCI 200 events, or volunteering in applied poultry science. They allowed me to gain more experience, and, although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was watching how they teach, how they conduct research, and how they interact with students and industry.”

Learning how to teach from great teachers is a winning strategy and the mentorship continued as Zukiwsky completed her master’s degree and went on to her current position as instructor at  Olds College of Agriculture and Technology. She continues to stay in touch with Robinson and Zuidhof, both for guidance and collaboration, connecting Olds College and the U of A. 

Master’s Thesis and Awards 

Nicole’s master’s thesis was production-based, using Zuidhof’s Precision Feeding System,  focused on broiler breeders and also broilers, studying feed restriction and welfare. 

“There are different aspects of precision feeding, such as altering levels of feed restriction based on altering growth curves and using knowledge and research of previous body weight targets used in the broiler breeder industry,” explained Zukiwsky. “With that, I looked at how different levels of feed restriction affects broiler breeders reproductively, and also how that might affect various growth and performance traits of their progeny.”

“I found this very interesting and applicable research because the thesis linked welfare and production aspects with innovative technology, which are all important in the industry today and will continue to be an area of interest to come.”

Nicole received two teaching awards in the final year of her master’s degree, including the MSc Graduate Student Teaching Award through the Department of Agricultural, Food & Nutritional Sciences and North American Colleges and Teachers in Agriculture Graduate Student Teaching Award

Instructor at Olds College of Agriculture and Technology

Zukiwsky joined the faculty at Olds College of Agriculture and Technology in 2020 as a livestock production instructor in the Agriculture Management program. Many will not be surprised to learn that Nicole’s journey to Olds began with a suggestion from Frank.

“Towards the end of my masters, he knew I was searching for what to do next. He just kind of tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me of all the teaching experience I had and how much I actually loved being in the classroom.” 

“He suggested that I reach out to connections I had made at other secondary institutions and send my resume around.”

Zukiwsky reached out to James Benkie at Olds College, then Dean of the Werklund School of Agricultural Technology, where all the livestock production and courses are located. He let her know that an opportunity was available, she sent her resume, they met, and the rest is history. 

“When he told me about the opportunity, I jumped on it because an opportunity like this for teaching doesn’t happen often.” 

Zukiwsky teaches in a program called Agriculture Management and her livestock production courses include Principles of Animal Agriculture and Livestock Nutrition. She is shifting gears a bit this year as well and taking on an applied research course for the Bachelor of Applied Science and Agribusiness degree at the college. 

The new course will involve teaching students about research, not only in theory but actually mentoring them in hands-on research projects of their own. They will work with industry partners solving problems and using research as the foundation. 

“I also work with the teaching and learning center of innovation (TLCI) at the college, which is general support for teaching and learning, focussing on pedagogy,” she continued. “I do special projects for them and support the team there as well as a lot of curriculum development working on programs, course reviews, alignment and what enhances the student experience, focusing on pedagogy.”

Zukiwsky is handling a lot for a newly graduated teacher. The work with TLCI is exciting and moves her from part time to full time work. 

“It’s basically about developing a better experience for the students and building a better curriculum. “

The Werklund School of Agriculture Technology and the Agricultural Management Program is one of the most popular programs at Olds College of Agriculture and Technology, with steadily growing student enrollment. They also offer opportunities to work at the Olds College Smart Farm, a cutting-edge venue for commercial scale applied research. 

“Experiential learning is the primary focus of what we try to do here at the college in general,” explained Nicole. “For livestock, we have the smart farm, and we try to incorporate that into our courses as much as possible.”

“For all my student labs, I connect them with the animals, working with the farm team and different technologies and tools that industry uses. They can apply this on their own farm directly or use as they need. I want to give them that hands-on experiential learning experience to take away.”

“The farm encompasses livestock, but we also have crop production and there is research tied into all of that. We have our own research team here at the college and research, the farm team, and academics all work together.”

“I love it.”

Words of advice to new graduates 

Zukiwsky highly recommends the idea of just sending your resume far and wide, even if there is no job posting at the time, developing connections, networking and being open to whatever might be out there, waiting for you. 

“I know it can be scary and daunting to be in a room full of industry people, wondering how to approach them. Be confident and know that they value you. Thay want to hear from students, and they want to know students. So be yourself.”

“Go to conferences and workshops and if you connect with someone, follow up. Ask if they know of any opportunities or know of anyone who is hiring. Making that connection shows that you care and that you want in.” 

“You don’t need to have your life planned out, because there might be an opportunity behind a door that you don’t even know Is there,” she continued. “There could be a whole other world that you might discover.”  

Click here to learn more about Olds College of Agriculture and Technology and the Smart Farm.

About the author(s)

+ posts