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Alumnus Finds Creative Ways To Give Back

April 14, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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SHSU alumnus Michael Neuman (left) found a unique way to pay tribute to his alma mater when he named his only son Sam Houston. —Photo by Brian Blalock

 

As a high school teacher raising three children—one in college, one college bound, one just now beginning to think about college—Michael Neuman sometimes finds himself tight on time and short on cash.

But he'll do just about anything to serve his community, support his school and applaud his alma mater, Sam Houston State University.

"All the successful people I've known in my life have come from there," said Neuman, an agricultural sciences graduate. "I'm not saying I'm a success, but the professors there have made the biggest difference in my life."

So much so that 12 years ago, when his only son was born, Neuman named him Sam Houston.

"I have no problem saying he's named after the university," Neuman said. "When he was little, he would tell everybody the university was named after him. My wife gave me the opportunity to help name him, and that was my first choice. She thought it was a great idea. That's the effect Sam Houston State University has had on our lives."

Neuman's wife, Caren, graduated from SHSU with a degree in home economics in 1986, the same year Neuman graduated with a degree in animal science. A few years later, Neuman returned for an agricultural education degree, and in 1996 he earned a master's degree in agriculture.

He's been teaching at East Chambers High School in Winnie now for more than 20 years.

"I always hope my students will do bigger and better things, year after year," Neuman said. "They say 'attitude is caught, not taught.' If you have a contagious attitude, your students will catch that positive feeling."

Ever the ag-minded man, Neuman likens his theory of success to Earth's creatures.

"You've heard about the turtle on the fencepost, right? Well, that turtle didn't get there by itself," Neuman said. "Same thing with successful people—they didn't get where they are today by themselves. If SHSU could have that effect on me, then what effect could I have on my students?"

To answer the question—a very positive effect, indeed.

Two of Neuman's students have become FFA state officers, "something to be proud of for a small school in southeast Texas," he said. His students consistently participate in state-level competitions in categories across the board. Most recently, East Chambers High School landed fifth in state at an FFA Radio Broadcasting Leadership Development event at SHSU.

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Robert Lane, professor and former chair in the department of agriculture and industrial sciences at SHSU, said Neuman has established a model for well-run high school agricultural programs.

Lane was a new lecturer at SHSU when Neuman was a new student. Lane, who now has his doctorate, has since admired Neuman's progress in the real world.

Turns out this “old goat” learned some new tricks from his former student.

Several years ago, a breed of meat goat from South Africa, called a Boer, was newly introduced to Texas—a state with an abundant population of Spanish goats, Lane said.

"Mike grabbed a hold of it and became one of the early leaders in getting meat goats into livestock exhibitions and shows around Texas," Lane said. "We began to accumulate our own meat goats at the university. Mike helped us get started—he gave presentations on raising goats, breeding, feeding and preparing them for exhibition. It became huge, absolutely huge."

When Neuman's not gifting goats, he's herding students.

"It's really important we send as many qualified students as we can from Winnie to Sam's agriculture programs," Neuman said.

Jordan Kiker is one of those students. In fact, the only thing Kiker was interested in at East Chambers High School was Neuman's agriculture program.

"It's not that I wasn't smart or anything like that; it's just that the only thing I liked was the ag stuff," said Kiker, 29.

Neuman steered Kiker towards the capable hands of SHSU. After graduating in 2008, Kiker did a stint with the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. He's now a rice farmer in Winnie. Texas, he said, is home to the third largest rice-farming industry in the nation.

There's a certain kinship among people in the ag industry, Kiker said, from farmers to professors and everything in between. It's simply the nature of the beast.

"You're not going to find a closer community of professionals," Kiker said. "People in agriculture understand from a very early age that if they don't stay together, agriculture is going to fade away in this country. We can't let that happen."

Neuman realized it himself at a young age. His father, Eddie, is also an SHSU animal science alumnus.

"I wake up every morning and look forward to my job," Neuman said. "My life is truly a dream come true."

 

 

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