Door to discovery: Olivo builds on childhood dream as agricultural engineer at Nebraska
June 1, 2021 | By Courtney Van Hoosen
Since he was a boy, Agustín Olivo has cultivated a passion for agriculture and the science behind it. Growing up across from a field in the small town of San Antonio de Litin in Córdoba, Argentina, Olivo realized early on his answer to the age-old question of what to be when he grew up.
“Even when I was in elementary, I said that I would be an agricultural engineer!” said Olivo. “We had this event where we had to dress up what we would like to be in the future, and I remember dressing like some sort of farmer.”
For Olivo, becoming an agricultural engineer wasn’t just a childhood dream – it was the fuel behind his current career that has led him from Córdoba to Nebraska for his master’s degree and now to New York where he’s pursuing his Ph.D. in animal science. In fact, that dream was only the beginning of a journey that would encourage Olivo to discover new areas of agriculture and embrace the diversity of working with people from different backgrounds.
At 18, Olivo moved to the bustling city of Córdoba to begin his bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. While there, he pursued a variety of opportunities with a passion for discovery that eventually led him to the Friends of Fulbright Argentina program and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in January 2017. The program, sponsored by the Fulbright Commission Argentina and the U.S. Embassy in Argentina, provides scholarships to upper-level Argentine university students to come to the U.S. for six weeks and study the English language and American culture, observe classes in their academic disciplines, and participate in cultural activities.
“During that time I got to know more about the American education system and meet with several faculty members within the university,” explained Olivo. “After this experience, I was impressed with the quality of graduate programs and ag-related research at UNL, as well as many other opportunities within the university and Lincoln. These points, along with everyone’s hospitality and a special interest on the research team I joined, all supported my decision of coming to UNL!”
In the fall of 2018, Olivo began his master’s degree in mechanized systems management and served as a graduate research assistant with Amy Schmidt in the Biological Systems Engineering department.
“After going into my degree, my interests expanded a lot and I discovered many other sides of my profession. That’s why I got involved in many things, and one of those was research,” said Olivo.
Research became a pivotal experience in Olivo’s career, and he eagerly participated in multiple studies and extension projects with the community. Olivo says his work with research and the university’s Extension teams were some of the most transformational and enjoyable experiences for him.
As part of his master’s thesis, Olivo played a pivotal role in a statewide project funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust educating farmers and the community about the value of using manure and cedar mulch to improve soil fertility and crop production.
“Participating in a statewide initiative, with more than 100 cooperators including multiple organizations and businesses from the private and public sector, has largely enhanced my grad school experience and greatly contributed to my personal and professional growth. Personally, I could not be happier and more grateful I had the chance to meet and interact with all of them,” said Olivo.
Olivo jokes that he at first unsure what he had gotten himself into when he received an email about “fun manure times” from his research lab leader – but he greatly enjoyed the opportunity to meet with farmers at six research sites across the state and educate youth about the importance of agriculture and science. In fact, Olivo was recognized as one of the 2019 Science Slam finalists for his presentation on his research, "Manure is Always Fun."
In addition to his academic studies, Olivo was an active member in the Husker community through his involvement with his department’s Graduate Student Association, the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) Student Advisory Board and serving as a Global Ambassador Leader for another cohort of Argentine exchange students. He believes the university’s emphasis on diversity and inclusive excellence played a key role in his success as a student.
“To get to know the diversity of CASNR’s people during my time at UNL last year and the beginning of my program this fall, has been one of the most transforming experiences I have ever had,” said Olivo. “UNL’s international students and professors, along with the welcoming culture of locals, created a safe environment for people coming from other countries like myself.”