Dr. Jennifer Hernandez Gifford: Distinguished Graduate in Science, Education, & Technology 2024

We proudly announce that Dr. Jennifer Hernandez Gifford was selected as the department’s Distinguished Graduate in Science, Education, and Technology for 2024. She is a professor of animal science in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences at New Mexico State University (NMSU) and was recently appointed as the undergraduate research director for the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at NMSU.

Hernandez Gifford grew up in Roswell, New Mexico, and did not have a background in agriculture before attending university. Thinking she wanted to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine because of her love for animals, she chose to study animal science as an undergraduate student. However, a job as lab aide in an endocrinology lab in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences at NMSU, led by the now late Dr. Dennis Hallford, changed her career trajectory. She quickly tossed the idea of vet school aside after she discovered a passion for animal science, endocrinology, and learning through her experiences in the lab and at the sheep barn. She graduated from NMSU with a BS in animal science in 1999 and stayed in Dr. Hallford’s lab, earning an MS in 2001.

Choosing WSU

Wanting to work with the best researcher in reproductive physiology, Hernandez Gifford came to WSU as a PhD student in Dr. Jerry Reeves’ lab in the Department of Animal Sciences. At first, she was homesick and experienced extreme culture shock her first semester in Pullman.

“I didn’t visit Pullman before coming here, so I didn’t know what to expect. August was okay but the first winter was bad because it was dark ALL the time!” she said. “Dr. Reeves told me he wasn’t sure I would come back to Pullman after I went home that first Christmas.”

But she did come back and earned her PhD in animal sciences in 2004. Her research focused on determining the effectiveness of a vaccine against luteinizing hormone releasing hormone (LHRH) on sterilization of bulls. Some of her most unforgettable memories during her PhD program came from the summers she spent in Brazil vaccinating bulls and collecting carcass data.

“The ranches we went to were remote. We flew into them in small, private airplanes and then had to ride out to the bull herds. I had never ridden a horse before,” Hernandez Gifford said with a little chuckle. “The cowboys gave me a mule that was deemed safe because he was ‘almost dead’ and would stop if I fell off. Well, that mule was SO slow, and I got SO far behind. It wouldn’t move any faster, even when prodded by me and the cowboys who had to keep circling back to check on me.”


After she received her PhD, Hernandez Gifford stayed at WSU as a postdoctoral research associate in the School of Molecular Biosciences. She moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 2008 where she was a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Biology at New Mexico Highlands University. In December 2009, she accepted a position as assistant professor of animal biotechnology in the Department of Animal Science at Oklahoma State University and was promoted to associate professor in July 2015. Later, fate intervened as NMSU actively recruited her to return to the Department of Animal and Range Sciences in July 2016 where she has been ever since, first as an associate professor and then earning a promotion to professor of reproductive physiology in July 2023.

“My career has definitely gone full circle,” Hernandez Gifford said. “I came back to the where it all began. I teach some of the same courses I took as a student, work in the same lab, and oversee the West Sheep Unit where I was originally trained.”

Research Program

Overall, Hernandez Gifford’s research program has focused on female fertility, specifically identifying ovarian signaling pathways that regulate estrogen production and fertility. She hopes that increased understanding will improve fertility in both women and livestock. To accomplish her research goals, she has been awarded more than $2 million in extramural funding and published more than 50 papers. She received the Mobley Family Endowed Distinguished Research Award in 2022 and the Western Section American Society of Animal Sciences Young Investigator Award in 2017.

The future of animal science and livestock production agriculture is in the capable hands of people like Hernandez Gifford. Students and student training are integral to her success, and she is passionate about cultivating new professionals in the field. She has mentored countless undergraduate and graduate students throughout her career. She is extremely excited about the potential impacts she may have on students through her new role as undergraduate research director.

Hernandez Gifford is married to Dr. Craig Gifford, an Extension beef cattle specialist at NMSU. Together they have two children, Jett (13) and Liliana (8). They breed and raise bucking bulls and enjoy the craziness that comes with working with these animals and competing at bucking bull futurities, which are competitions where a bull’s bucking abilities are showcased and judged.