Scholarship honors memory of beloved student mentor
Rayann Eaves is just the sort of UC Davis student that the late Nancy Rupp Tibbitts would befriend—highly motivated, academically accomplished and fully engaged in the campus community.
Eaves is a senior in animal science, with an emphasis in livestock and dairy and a minor in global disease biology. She is an Aggie Ambassador, participates in the Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Field Day and is a leader in her sorority. After she graduates in June 2021, she hopes to become a large-animal veterinarian at the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital.
The Maryland native had never been to California before coming to UC Davis as a freshman. Being an out-of-state student meant taking on an additional financial burden, and some folks back home questioned whether she’d be able to afford it.
“I told those who doubted me that there will be people who support me and believe in my abilities,” she said. “I didn’t know it then, but I was exactly right. UC Davis is a family, especially within the college. I have found ways to support my education financially and also to grow as a person through amazing career-building opportunities.”
Eaves is the most recent recipient of the Nancy Rupp Tibbitts Scholarship, established in memory of the beloved internship and career counselor who spent 26 years helping students find their way. “She touched so many lives,” said her husband, George Tibbitts. “When she died in 2009, a lot of people wanted to contribute something to honor her.”
Originally from the Bay Area, Nancy Rupp came to UC Davis in the 1970s and, as Tibbitts said, “got the ag bug.” She earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education in 1980, followed a few years later by a master’s degree in education.
Along the way she became acquainted with Orville Thompson, a professor in the Department of Applied Behavioral Sciences, who found something special about Nancy. “Orville saw in her enthusiasm and drive that could be harnessed,” Tibbitts said. “So in 1983, with his encouragement, she became the coordinator for agricultural and environmental sciences at the Work-Learn Center, which is known today as the Internship and Career Center.”
Less of a job than a calling, her work was to build bridges between the university and industry. “She would see many students every day, cajoling them to get into internships and giving them referrals and leads to jobs in industry once they graduated,” Tibbitts said. “She became very well-known in California agriculture. She was very active and very good at what she did.”
Nancy Rupp and George Tibbitts were both UC Davis students at the same time, but they didn’t start dating until they met a few years after graduation during a Young Farmers and Ranchers meeting at the Yolo County Farm Bureau. Tibbitts, driven by an ambition to become a farmer, earned his bachelor’s in plant science and a master’s in agricultural economics. They married in 1987 and together they built Tibbitts Farming Co., growing rice near Arbuckle. Their youngest son, Carson, who just turned 23, is about to join the operation with his dad.
Tibbitts grew up in Woodland and got his first exposure to rice farming in his youth, working in high school for a family friend, Jim Erdman, who also was a UC Davis alumnus. “He kind of took me under his wing and I spent a lot of time with him,” he said.
Another influential mentor was UC Cooperative Extension rice specialist Jim Hill. “I learned so much about rice doing my graduate work for Jim, running studies—my own research and helping out with his research and other graduate students’ research,” he said. “For a couple of years I was hauling the university’s rice combine around to harvest the yield trials.”
Tibbitts believes one of the core strengths of UC Davis is the huge number of alumni who go on to fulfilling and prominent careers—not just in farming but in a wide range of ag-related businesses. Many alumni recognize that the skills and connections they made as students are an invaluable part of their success and find ways to give back through service and philanthropy. Tibbitts does both.
“Over the long-term, Davis needs to attract the best and the brightest students who have an interest in agriculture to come to Davis and help perpetuate this good thing we have going,” he said. “Alumni play an important role in that because of the visibility they have.”
Certainly, the Nancy Rupp Tibbitts Scholarship made a difference in the life of Rayann Eaves. She recently landed a highly competitive fellowship with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services that will support her journey through vet school.
“I will be helping protect our nation’s production animal agriculture from infectious diseases and likely working on the import and export of animals and veterinary products,” she said. “This is a dream come true. In the future, I also plan to continue helping support and operate my own family’s fifth generation dairy as a veterinarian.”