Like most working in agriculture, Dr. Josie Coverdale ’99 was familiar with early mornings. As an associate professor of equine science at Texas A&M University, an average day would find her waking up before dawn to collect research samples with her graduate students on a horse farm. Coverdale’s colleagues look back in amazement at how she managed to finish her work on the farm before driving to campus to give two lectures, conduct office hours, attend departmental and committee meetings, review papers and still have time to ride her own horses when she returned home.
“She had high expectations of herself,” said Dr. Amanda Bradbery ’14, a former student, colleague and friend of Coverdale’s. It was important to Coverdale that she do the dirty work—the menial tasks that make up any research project—alongside her students. She didn’t like to delegate from her office. As Bradbery put it, “she led from the front.”
Five years after her tragic passing, Bradbery, another former student and colleague, Dr. Jessica Leatherwood ’07, and Coverdale’s husband, Mark, are preserving the impact of her leadership with an especially reflective gift.
A Horse Girl from North Texas
Coverdale grew up in Krum, Texas, a rural town just outside of Denton. She found her lifelong passion early on showing horses through 4-H, FFA and open events across the state. After graduating high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science at Texas A&M. During her undergraduate career, Coverdale struggled to decide on her career path until a course on feeds and feeding sparked her interest in animal nutrition. Upon graduation, she decided to pursue an academic career, earning both an M.S. and Ph.D. in equine nutrition from Iowa State University.
It was during this time that she met Mark and discovered an unexpected passion for teaching. “Josie’s professor at Iowa State was very teaching-oriented, and he had her teach courses for another professor who was retiring,” Mark said. “She hadn’t taught anything before, but she fell in love with it.”
After finishing her graduate program, Josie took a faculty position at the University of Georgia. Speaking with PleasureHorse.com (now Show Horse Magazine) in 2015, Coverdale claimed that her time in Georgia solidified her love for teaching. When a similar position opened up at Texas A&M, she, in her words, “jumped at the chance to return to Texas and work for [her] alma mater.”
Back in the Saddle
In an academic landscape where professors are often inclined to prefer either teaching or conducting research, Coverdale devoted her fullest energy to both endeavors, yielding respect from her academic peers and loyalty from her students. Her thorough processes and ability to garner high-level data collection from her graduate students were lauded throughout the equine science department and leaders in her field.
However, it was Coverdale’s renowned ability to bring out the best in her students that sticks out most prominently in the minds of those who knew her. A Virginia native, Bradbery chose to move nearly 1,400 miles away from home and pursue her graduate education at Texas A&M in no small part because of the immediate connection she made with Coverdale over the phone. “She became much more than an adviser to me,” Bradbery said. “She loved her job and treated her graduate students as family. We were a very tight-knit unit.”
Leatherwood echoed Bradbery’s statements. “Josie was committed to undergraduate education and her students overall,” Leatherwood said, “especially with her graduate program. She wanted to learn about us personally as well as professionally. I could always pick up the phone and call her if I had a question, even after I graduated from Texas A&M. She was so great at giving sound advice… something I miss about her quite a bit.”
Passionate and Present
On the morning of Feb. 12, 2016, Coverdale was involved in an auto accident while driving to work. She passed away the following afternoon due to complications from her wounds. She was 38 years old.
Though Josie had never directly mentioned wanting to give back to Texas A&M, Leatherwood and Bradbery quickly convened with Mark and decided she would have wanted to continue impacting graduate students. With help from Josie’s students, family and friends, the three created the Dr. Josie A. Coverdale Endowed Fund for Graduate Research through the Texas A&M Foundation to benefit graduate students studying animal nutrition. The scholarship aims to carry on Coverdale’s everlasting support for and recognition of excellent graduate students. “We knew we wanted to give back and continue her legacy that way,” Bradbery said.
When talking about Coverdale with her closest friends and loved ones, a few adjectives are oft-repeated: passionate, driven, caring, available and always present. A student working alone with Coverdale could bet on her ensuring the job got done right but could also bet on leaving her company feeling truly seen. To her, students were people first and helpers second; she never missed a chance to know someone a little more than she knew them before. Coverdale was applauded for her work, but she is remembered for her heart.
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