CHADRON – The current Mrs. South Dakota and Chadron State College alumna Jenita (Qualm) Derga, of Onida, South Dakota, competed for the 2023 Mrs. America title in Las Vegas in August.  

Derga is the founder and CEO of Wild Prairie Solutions LLC, where she works as a licensed crop insurance agent. According to Derga, her company specializes in helping ranchers and grass managers create grazing strategies and soil health that increases the profitability of operations and increase the ecological viability of their grassland ecosystem. 

Derga was crowned Mrs. South Dakota in April, but her journey began a couple of years ago when she reached out to a former Mrs. South Dakota on social media inquiring about what the title required.

“I knew I didn’t have the ability to give up my career to pursue the title,” Derga said, “but she (former Mrs. South Dakota) let me know that the title should be considered a hobby and should not require your full-time investment. I decided this year would be a good time to give it a shot.”

She said she felt called to talk about the things that are important to her. Additionally, she said she enjoys the pageant lifestyle. Working in agriculture in rural South Dakota, Derga said she doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to get dressed up.

“I spend most of my days in jeans and boots out on the land,” Derga said. “I love that I can be a country girl who is comfortable in jeans and boots as well as a woman who enjoys doing full glam hair and makeup and putting on a ballgown. Both of these things are a part of me, and they each create unique opportunities to connect with people in completely different ways.”

As Mrs. South Dakota, Derga has been able to highlight topics and events related to agriculture such as South Dakota Cattlemen's Prime Time Gala, an event that fundraises for Feeding South Dakota, an organization where cattlemen provide beef for food security programs in South Dakota. She has also been able to speak about the South Dakota Grassland Coalition and its work to empower ranching families and grass managers.

All state title holders in the Mrs. America System compete in the Mrs. America Pageant, but Derga’s desire to hold the title stems from her passion for rural America and her belief that the area is often underrepresented.

“I knew going into the Mrs. America Pageant that the same reasons I wanted to be Mrs. South Dakota apply to why I want to be Mrs. America,” Derga said. “I’m passionate about rural America and I think that the people in rural America are often not represented on a national platform, yet we have amazing and unique stories to tell.”

Derga, originally from Ericson, Nebraska, graduated from CSC with a degree in Rangeland Ecology.

After graduation, Derga spent time working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as well as the U.S. Forest Service for 10 years. She has worked in agriculture in New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota. She left her career as a grazing specialist for NRCS when the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation introduced new programs geared toward livestock producers and grassland managers in the late 2010s.

Derga said she started Wild Prairie Solutions LLC because she didn’t want to leave behind the work she was doing on rangelands with ranchers as a grazing specialist and her new business allowed her to continue as a grazing consultant in South Dakota and surrounding states.

Derga also noted that a large number of her clients come from graduates of the South Dakota Grassland Coalition grazing schools where she teaches each summer.

Derga believes that her Rangeland Ecology degree has helped her in many ways during her time as Mrs. South Dakota.

“My degree ultimately took me into five different states for my career and countless others in pursuit of continued knowledge or experience,” Derga said. “The experiences I had are what makes me so passionate about rural communities and the work happening within them that I strive to highlight as Mrs. South Dakota.”

Although the Mrs. America Pageant is over, Derga looks forward to the remaining seven months she has as reigning Mrs. South Dakota and intends to continue to positively impact South Dakota and beyond with the time she has left.

Farmer is October Project Strive/TRiO Student of the Month

CHADRON – Chadron State College Student Cordell Farmer of Kit Carson, Colorado, is the Project Strive/TRiO Student of the Month for the month of October.  

Farmer, a senior Biology major with a minor in Social Psychology, said he chose Chadron State College because of the opportunities presented to him to play college football. Additionally, he was deciding between going into law or medicine and CSC offered degrees in both.

After a knee injury in high school, Farmer said he was unable to play his first semester at CSC. After recovering, he was able to play for a few weeks during his second semester before being injured again. According to Farmer, that was when he knew he was done with football and needed to focus on his academic career.

While injury ultimately ended Farmer’s football career, he credits his numerous injuries throughout high school and college to his interest in becoming an orthopedic physician.

“I’ve experienced a lot of orthopedic medicine during my recoveries, and I want to be able to give athletes the same type of orthopedic care that I received,” said Farmer.

Farmer said he placed his focus on football over academics as a freshman but learned to love biology as he reflected on his future and decided he had a strong interest in the medical field.

Other experiences Farmer attributes to his decision to begin his journey to medical school stem from job shadowing Head Team Physician for the Denver Broncos Dr. Martin Boublik.

“I got the opportunity to job shadow Dr. Boublik after he operated on me and I was able to form a relationship with him,” Farmer said. “He inspired me because he was incredibly generous and helpful. I found him to be a very good caretaker and an outstanding physician.”

Farmer credits Boublik for encouraging his career path.

“When I mentioned shadowing him, he assisted me in going through all the proper channels to make it happen. I’ve had the opportunity to observe other medical fields and while it might be the work Boublik did specifically that caught my attention, none of them interested me as much as this one did,” said Farmer.

Farmer chose to minor in Social Psychology because he believes it will be an advantage when he applies to medical school and in his career.

“I like psychological theory and being able to understand why people do the things they do, which I feel will help me out greatly as a physician,” he said.

After graduating in May 2024, Farmer plans to relocate to attend University of Colorado School Anschutz Medical Campus, his first choice. The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) is his second choice.

Farmer said he is unsure of his exact plans after medical school, but owning his own practice or practicing overseas have both crossed his mind; he believes he will have a better idea of what he wants to do after completing medical school.

Farmer is a member of Blue Key, Health Professions Club, TriBeta, and Eagle Mentors in addition to Project Strive. He is a mentor for Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Dr. Rachelle Rider’s 200-level anatomy class. He said these organizations and responsibilities have all helped him, but being an Eagle Mentor is one of the most important.

“I became an Eagle Mentor because I wanted to be able to provide support to incoming students,” said Farmer. “My Eagle Mentor was not very active when I had one my freshman year, so I wanted to be the mentor I never had. I wanted to be able to provide support and answer the questions I wish I would’ve had answers to when I was an incoming student.”

He also noted that Blue Key has helped provide him with public service opportunities and involvement in community events he would not have had otherwise. He serves as the club’s secretary and treasurer.

Chadron State College’s Project Strive/TRiO program, located in the lower level of the King Library, is an academic enrichment program committed to help students succeed. Project Strive also focuses on career exploration, cultural and social enrichment, and self-awareness. To be eligible for the program, a student must be one of the following: A first-generation student where neither parent has a four-year degree, meet low-income status based on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services criteria, or have a documented disability. For more information, visit