Dana DeRego Catron – A grad’s success story

Dana, Craig, and Jennifer
Dana DeRego Catron (middle) stands next to NMSU colleagues Dr. Craig Gifford (left) and Dr. Jennifer Hernandez Gifford (right). She currently assisting Dr. Gifford to protect and commercialize a health test for cattle

Dana DeRego Catron (’09 BS) grew up in Port Orchard, Washington, and knew she wanted a career in the livestock industry but was not sure exactly what avenue to pursue. When she was a student at South Kitsap High School a fortuitous visit by student ambassadors from the WSU College of Agriculture Human, and Natural Resources Sciences (CAHNRS) steered her toward WSU and a degree in animal sciences.

WSU was the right place!

“Once I got to WSU, I knew I was in the right place – I loved my classes, I had the opportunity to work on research projects, and I gained skills that I continue to use in my current career,” she said. “My animal science degree ingrained in me skills such as critical thinking, the ability to problem solve, and high standards for communication and writing. These [skills] have translated well into every project and position I’ve had since I graduated from WSU.”

Many times, there are people who are especially influential to a student’s present and future successes. DeRego Catron mentions two animal sciences professors – Dr. Zhihua Jiang and Dr. Kristen Johnson – who stand out and still motivate her to work harder and reach higher.

“Dr. Jiang was my undergraduate advisor and was my biggest cheerleader through the ups and downs of a rigorous program. He encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and engage in undergraduate research,” she said. “His mentorship extended past graduation and I’m fortunate to still be in touch with him today.”

“Dr. Johnson was also pivotal [to my success] at WSU and continued to have an influence once I started graduate school,” she remarked. “While one of the toughest and most rigorous professors I’ve had to-date, the lessons from both inside and outside the classroom, and influence she had has encouraged me to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, maintain high standards in my work, and persistently pursue excellence in everything I do.”

Benefits of a BS in Animal Sciences

After graduating from WSU, DeRego Catron began graduate school at New Mexico State University (NMSU) and earned a master’s degree in rhetoric and professional communication in 2011. She is currently working toward a PhD in the same field. The education and skills she gained during her degree program in animal sciences at WSU were invaluable for her post-graduate education and current career.

“I was able to bring a unique perspective to my classes and discussion because no one else had any background in animal sciences and I was able to blend my interest in the livestock industry with what I was engaged in during graduate school,” she said.

During her MS degree program, DeRego Catron was involved in an internship with the New Mexico Livestock Board, whose mission is to protect the state’s livestock from disease, theft, or other losses. She learned the details of brand inspections and brand requests and was even involved in the preparation of a grant proposal focusing on methods to eradicate bovine tuberculosis, a prevalent challenge for the state of New Mexico at the time.

Career Path

As a graduate student, DeRego Catron was fortunate to secure a graduate assistantship at Arrowhead Center, NMSU’s intellectual property and technology transfer office. Her unique skillset that included an ability to write about technologies and innovation, was invaluable to the center and led to her eventual appointment as deputy director in 2021. In this role, she oversees the center’s programs and uses her expertise and insights to foster growth and innovation in the region. She is currently the principal investigator on numerous federal funding awards and oversees more than 20 innovation and entrepreneurial-based programs and almost 40 staff members.

Maintaining ties to Agriculture & The livestock industries

Although she works with clients across the New Mexico, DeRego Catron still uses her background in animal sciences and pursues projects related to agriculture. For example, she secured funding and deployed the state’s first Agriculture Venture Center, which supports agriculture-based businesses throughout the state. She also spearheaded efforts to support the town of Taos, New Mexico, as they deployed a Mobile Matanza unit, a semi-mobile meat processing facility that increases the local animal harvesting capacity for ranchers in northern New Mexico. DeRego Catron is also working with Dr. Craig Gifford, an Extension beef cattle specialist at NMSU to protect and commercialize his BoviPrime Health Test, which identifies bulls who may produce calves with increased resistance to severe cases of bovine respiratory disease.

Advice for students

DeRego Catron knows firsthand that choosing a career path is challenging and offers some advice for today’s students in animal sciences.

“Embrace the challenges of the [animal sciences] program and explore alternative careers that still allow you to be involved with the industry,” she said. “Invest time in building relationships with your professors and immerse yourself in the extracurricular programs available to you. Don’t hesitate to seek assistance when needed.”

DeRego Catron is married with two girls (ages 4 and 7). They recently moved to a property outside of Santa Fe where they have room for horses, cattle, and other livestock. Although she is kept busy with work and coaching a swim team, she makes time to enjoy the homestead life and figure out what she can grow in her garden in the high desert.