Dr. Loree Branham is accustomed to seeing these three words on her evaluation from Angelo State University students: hard but fair.
It never gets old.
An associate professor of animal science, Branham teaches students from across the campus in her intro to food science course. Those who take the class needing a convenient elective are shocked by how much Branham challenges them … and by how much they learn.
“I like that,” she said. “But they also enjoyed it enough to write a positive review. It doesn’t matter if you care nothing about agriculture; you eat food! So you’re going to get something out of this class.”
At age 37, Branham will soon apply for a full professorship at her dream university. She earned two degrees at ASU, initially aiming to become a 4-H agent. A mentor urged her to pursue her Ph.D. As she was graduating with her doctorate, the mentor left ASU, opening the spot into which she was hired.
“At ASU, everything is student-focused,” she said. “If we do research, it’s got to be linked back to the student. If we do outreach events, it’s got to benefit our students. I really like that motivation.”
Branham is also a research scientist, focused on improving the safety of meat products, either before or after the animal is processed. Last year, she spearheaded ASU’s hosting of the national conference for the American Meat Science Association – an event that had always been held at a large, tier I university. The 800 attendees from industry and science raved about the experience.
“It was really a chance for ASU and San Angelo as a whole to shine on a national level,” Branham said. “And we did that.”
Away from campus, Branham is moved by her work with Rust Street Ministries. The faith-based charity helps those facing financial burdens by providing food, clothing and home furnishings. Branham calls it being “the hands and feet of Jesus.” As necessary as those material goods are, she said, the most vital provision Rust Street gives is prayer, as volunteers seek to help their neighbors get to a “better place.”
“It’s a humbling experience to have to come in and ask for that kind of help,” she said. “But helping them get through that challenge and be smiling when they leave and a little less downtrodden than when they came in – that’s what God wants us to do.”
Branham uses painting and drawing as a stress reliever and as a way to help causes in which she believes. She donates her works to help raise funds for nonprofits. Her volunteer works focus on youth … and circles back to the 4-H model: using head, heart, hands and health to serve others.
“Our society is in rough shape,” Branham said. “Part of it is just caring about other people. If we can encourage that in little kids, they’re going to learn it and it’s going to be part of who they are. And then it’s with them forever.”