Alumna helps us find our Western spirit

Story by Angie Dixon (’94)

What is 111 years old, runs for 16 days in January and has 15,000 heads (of cattle, hog and poultry livestock, that is)?

If you answered the National Western Stock Show, then chances are you have been one of the 680,000 annual visitors from 32 countries who have experienced the “Super Bowl” of livestock shows. Boasting one of the world’s richest professional rodeos, the country’s largest horse shows, and Colorado’s largest Western trade shows, the National Western Stock Show is one of the most historic Western cultural events around.

Keeping the Western spirit alive and serving agriculture producers and consumers throughout the world is at the heart of the National Western Stock Show. To some, this mission of agriculture education might seem like a nearly impossible task in this age of urbanization. But not for Colorado State University alumna Karen Woods (’90).

As the public relations and marketing director for the National Western Stock Show, Woods welcomes the ongoing challenge of connecting people to the animals, the food sources, and the American history and traditions of Western agriculture.

“During the show, we see visitors who are third-generation ranchers and then people who have never seen a large animal,” said Woods. “We work some long hours, but when we get to see the look on a child’s face after they have petted a goat or been up close to horse, it is all worth it.”

To fulfill its mission, for 16 days in January, the National Western Stock Show is host to more than 300 events, such as PBR Bull Riding, family fun dog shows, and the Mexican Rodeo, along with dozens of exhibits and shows, including the Coors Western Exhibit and Art Sale and the Citizen of the West Dinner.

Enrichment and youth education programs that foster awareness and appreciation for animals, farming and ranching come to life through pony rides, a barnyard petting farm with more than 60 animals including pygmy goats and donkeys, and exhibits such as CSU’s own Ag Adventure exhibit. Ag Adventure is where children, through hands-on experience, learn about animal and crop production. Schools from around the state bring hundreds of students daily for stock show visits.

The National Western Scholarship Trust supports these programs and helps keep the future of agriculture thriving. Funded by events like the Coors Western Art Exhibit, the Citizen of the West Dinner and the Junior Livestock Auction, the trust enables the National Western Stock Show to award approximately 80 scholarships annually to students studying agriculture, rural medicine and veterinary medicine. Since 1983, more than $8 million in scholarships have been awarded.

CSU Day at the National Western Stock Show, Jan. 14

Join CSU for this annual tradition featuring future Rams in the mutton bustin’ competition and CSU leadership riding the stage coach in the 11 a.m. Pro Rodeo. Visit the Hall of Education for great CSU giveaways and a special appearance by CAM the Ram. Click here for discounted tickets.

CSU and the National Western Center

CSU is a key partner in the reimagining of the National Western Center, a combined 250-acre site near interstates 70 and 25 in North Denver, which is a planned year-round educational and entertainment hub for the city.

CSU is one of five partners – including the City and County of Denver, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, History Colorado, and National Western Stock Show – that have come together to create a shared vision for the future of the National Western Stock Show Complex site as part of the Mayor’s North Cornerstone Collaborative Initiative. For more information visit

Stock show has a life of its own

Because of this comprehensive programming, Woods admits the National Western Stock Show has a life of its own.

“We have a very short 16-day window to invite people to come out and experience the stock show,” she said, “and we capitalize on every minute.”

Capitalizing on every minute means that Woods is up at 5 a.m. handling media requests, fulfilling sponsorship agreements, creating daily event programs, and communicating through all social media channels to keep attendees informed and engaged.

“We try to be at, and market, every piece of our show,” Woods said. “From the start of each livestock event to the end of a rodeo, we want to be there sharing results and insider information.”

With her bachelor of science in apparel and merchandise marketing, Woods credits her CSU education for being able to juggle the demands of her job.

“I learned time management, how to be organized, and the responsibility of keeping good grades,” Woods said. “I also worked full-time and part-time jobs through school, so I constantly had to balance school work and jobs. There were so many veins that came out of my major. Whether it was marketing or design, I could find my area of expertise.”

What excites Woods the most about the future of the National Western Stock Show?

“Obviously the new National Western Center,” she said. “Watching this evolve and the amount of people who embrace it is very exciting, and CSU is the perfect partner for this initiative.”

Trying to innovate while maintaining tradition is important to Woods.

“With the farm-to-table trend, people are paying more attention to food sources, and being able to showcase the food sources raised by ranchers 10 miles outside of the city is very rewarding,” she said.

But helping people find their Western spirit is something Woods relishes.

“When we first launched our ‘Find Your Western Spirit’ campaign, we went around the city and asked people what that meant to them,” she said. “So many people had a story to share, and it became clear that the western spirit is inside of us, we just need to make time to unlock it. My hope is that they do it at the National Western Stock Show.”