A compilation image of Ag students swimming, in chemistry lab and diving.

Agriculture student-athletes

June 18, 2024 Written by Nya Wynn

Between offering so many amazing undergraduate majors and some of the top performing athletes in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) conference, the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) was bound to have some superstars. 

From the laboratory to the farm and from the track field to the swimming pool, CANR student-athletes are starring in their courses and in the athletic arena.


Jahnia Hodge in the lab and on the track.
Jahnia Hodge excels in the lab and on the track.

Jahnia Hodge

Jahnia Hodge, a UD Class of 2024 animal biosciences major and Track & Field student-athlete, says that she chose CANR because it offered her the perfect blend of hands-on animal science, while also preparing her to pursue a master’s degree. 

“Originally coming in, I didn't know what I wanted to do and I was interested in veterinary medicine, but I didn’t want to be stuck having just one career option,” said Hodge, who specializes in  the triple jump and short sprints. “Animal biosciences was perfect for me because it’s a great medium between the two disciplines.”

The class that opened her mind was Animal and Food Science Exploration (ANFS111). For the first time in her life, the New York native worked in close proximity to large animals.

“Being from New York, I didn't have much experience with farm animals, only companion animals like dogs and cats, and some reptiles,” Hodge said. “But every week we did something with a new animal from cows, sheep, horses, and chickens. That course quickly became one of my favorites.”

Hodge is now preparing to get a masters degree in animal science, with the end goal of going into veterinary management. This summer, she will be working in a research laboratory and applying to graduate programs. She says that through her One Health Certificate offered by CANR, she understands the interconnectedness between humans, animals and the environment, which will help her in her desired career field. 

“One Health is something that we talk a lot about in CANR,” Hodge said. “In our first One Health (AGRI224) course,  we learn about zoonotic diseases and how things are transported between humans and animals, and how the environment plays a role. It’s nice to have that advantage to know not only the animal aspect but also the human aspect.” 

Hodge’s is not alone in this belief that CANR prepares students for a diverse set of career paths; other student athletes share the same attitude.


Philip Townsend in the middle of a high dive. Only sky is behind him.
Philip takes the plunge.

Philip Townsend

Delawarean Philip Townsend, UD Class of 2025 plant science major and UD Swimming & Diving student-athlete, always had an eye on UD. But Townsend was not as familiar with plant science until they started taking high school courses. 

“When I was in high school, I was introduced to a lot of the topics that we cover in my major now,” Townsend said. “Delaware was like the perfect storm because it had all my interests and we have one of the best programs in the country.” 

Townsend, who led UD Men’s Swimming & Diving to second place in the 2024 CAA Conference Championships, earned all-conference honors for the 3-meter dive. Townsend firmly believes that the plant science program has prepared them to go into many different plant-science related fields.  

“For post grad, I’ve had a couple of different ideas of things I wanted to go into, but with plant science I can go anywhere,” Townsend said. “I have a passion for plants in general, but I could go the genetics route, or I could do stuff with florals, landscaping design, anything like that.”


Olivia Willemsen (center) posing with her swim team.
Olivia (center) celebrates victory with her teammates.

Olivia Willemsen

But student-athletes are not only drawn to applied science. CANR offers such a wide breadth of majors, including in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics

A two-time CAA champion in 400 free relay and 800 free relay, UD Class of 2027 undergraduate student Olivia Willemsen, came to UD because of the uniqueness of the food and agribusiness marketing and management major and the community feel of her swim team and CANR. 

“I thought food and agribusiness marketing and management was very different,” Willemsen said. “I was thinking about being a pastry chef or going into the food business, so I wanted to learn about where food came from, but also the business side of it. I really like that it just mashed the two together.

“I liked the sports team because the environment with them felt very family-like,” she added. “But even the academics I loved. UD was just the school for me, it checked off all my boxes of things that I was looking for.”

Part of CANR’s charm is that students are able to cultivate close relationships with their peers and professors since the college is relatively smaller than the other colleges. 

“Since it’s a smaller college, we get to have more one-on-one experience with our professors,” Townsend said. “One professor in particular is Nicole Donofrio; she is just such a light of a person and she explained things in a way that really worked with the way that I learned.” 

As a freshman, Townsend took Fermentation Sciences (PLSC218) with Donofrio, and came back for more this semester to take Introductory Plant Pathology (PLSC303) and Molecular Plant Pathology (PLSC411). 

On top of practice and classes, these student-athletes go above and beyond to pack their schedule with different clubs, volunteering opportunities and even other sports. 

“Through UD Athletics, we are engaged with a bunch of different stuff,” Townsend said. “I do intramural volleyball and I am on the executive board of UDress, UD’s student-run fashion publication.” 

“I am an Ag Ambassador, so I give tours to prospective students and I actually opened up the Worrilow Hall after they redid it,” Hodge added. “We are also involved with the Blue and Golden Saturdays with the parents and students that come in to see the school.” 

Student-athletes often engage with the UD and Newark community through team volunteering and outreach. 

“Our team has a lot of involvement with UDance and different volunteer organizations,” Townsend said. “We have done roadside trash pickups and volunteered at local shelters together.”

Hodge is also involved with outreach and advocacy, but particularly within CANR. She is one of two undergraduate students who serve on CANR’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Board, which strives to create a supportive environment for all faculty, staff and students. This is achieved through planning different activities, seminars and other student programs.


Supporting each other

In addition to supporting the surrounding community, these athletes come together to support each other through different avenues. 

“I just got accepted into the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a student-athlete-led program,” Willemsen said. “Athletes all across the university get together to discuss issues that could help all the other programs get more attention from the student body. And then we do this whole athletes’ banquet with all different sports and athletes get awards for accomplishments throughout their seasons.” 

“There are a few CANR students on the track and field team with me,” Hodge said. “So we’ve definitely bonded through some similar classes, and there's some freshmen on the team who can always ask us for advice about classes or professors.” 

With their hands in so many different pots, one would think these students would have to compromise somewhere, but they truly do not. Between 20 hours a week at practice, a full course load, being active in many on-campus Registered Student Organizations (RSO) and doing community outreach they don’t miss a beat. CANR student-athletes really do it all.


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