KANSAS CITY, Mo. – By Ted Harbin – Stephanie Coombes is a world traveler, but she’s not necessarily a tourist.
The Australian woman has a passion for agriculture, and she has carried that across the globe. Her worldly outlook has spread to the Midwestern United States, where Coombes is one of the 2015 Royal Scholars, a group of 10 exceptional college students who serve as ambassadors for the American Royal and are rewarded with $2,500 scholarships each.
“I like to see the world through cows,” she said. “I’m not interested in seeing the main touristic things, but I want to see agriculture. I want to learn what everybody does and how they do it. I take in all those ideas and make them into a melting pot of the ideas I’ve seen.”
Coombes is a graduate student at Kansas State University, working toward a master’s degree in agriculture communications. She was raised in Perth, Australia, a city of nearly 2 million people on the country’s western edge.
She is joined in with nine other Royal Scholars: Morgan Bobb of Wever, Iowa; Jordan Bonham of Washington, Ohio; Zachary Bobb of Ames, Iowa; Wesley Davis of Point Pleasant, W.Va.; Laura Gorecki of Farwell, Neb.; Zake Gouker of Lakeside, Ariz.; Vinz Karl of Arlington, Minn.; Courtney Spencer of Aurora, Mo.; and Evan Woodbury of Quenemo, Kan.
A self-proclaimed city girl, Coombes quickly fell in love with agriculture primarily through McLeod’s Daughters, a television show that showcased the lives of five women that run a cattle station in the Australian Outback.
“I had ridden horses and chased cows, so I knew I could do the horsing,” said Coombes, who obtained her undergraduate degree at the University of Western Australia.
World news helped her understand a little about the American way of life, so when the opportunity came for her to travel to the United States, she took advantage of it.
“We have so much American influence in the media back home,” she said. “We know a lot about America, and with national stories, we just think America is like our cousin, a lot like England and New Zealand. The longer I spend over here, I realize how different America is.
“In agriculture, there are so many differences, the way things work and the mentality of people. It’s great. It’s giving me a new perspective. With ag communications, having that background is giving me a broader perspective.”
That’s a similar experience she is expecting from her term as a Royal Scholar. As American Royal ambassadors, the 10 scholars will tout the American Royal and its primary purpose of promoting education and agrarian values.
“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to talk to young people about agriculture,” Coombes said. “I think I will learn more about what’s going on in America and see what their challenges and opportunities are. I want to learn from people as much as I can while also get some experience in engaging with other scholars.”
Of course, that $2,500 scholarship comes in quite handy.
“That money will be a huge help,” she said. “I was not on any assistance when I got here, so I was funding my education myself. This money will go straight toward my tuition.
“I want to be more involved in American agriculture. I want to be as active in the industry as I can.”
That is what the Royal Scholars program is all about.