Like many high school seniors, Jenica Hagler searched for scholarships to help fund her college education. When her FFA advisor suggested she apply for a Leader and Academic Scholarship from Agriculture Future of America (AFA), she had some doubts. The leader portion of the scholarship would require her attendance at AFA Leaders Conference the fall of her freshman year of college. However, she decided to fill out the form and was selected to receive the $1,600 academic scholarship and much more.
“I went to AFA Leaders Conference and forgot about the academic scholarship because Conference was so beneficial,” said Hagler, who is from Kuna, Idaho.
Based in downtown Kansas City, Mo., AFA has served as a catalyst in the preparation of a new generation of agriculture leaders since 1996. It provides support to young leaders through academic scholarships, exposing students to experiential learning opportunities and through leader development training such as AFA Leaders Conference.
A Different Experience
Hagler—who has attended the AFA Leaders Conference twice, participated in the 2013 AFA Policy Institute and served as an AFA Campus Ambassador on her Washington State University campus—said she had been involved in a lot of other organizations, but none of them provided the experience AFA has.
“AFA combines not only your personal development and your career skills,” she said, “but it combines that with how it’s going to look in the agriculture industry. Before becoming part of AFA, I never really thought about how I’m going to contribute to agriculture and what difference I’m going to make.”
AFA selects students based on talent, passion and commitment to agriculture. By bringing together a highly-qualified group of students and connecting them with agriculture professionals, AFA creates an environment where students increase their professionalism and prepare for their future careers. Michael Baird, a former AFA Student Advisory Team member at Purdue University, said there was a noticeable difference in his friends after they returned from Conference.
“I didn’t become involved with AFA my freshman year. I thought it was going to be just another conference, but I had a lot of friends who went. When they came back, I knew I missed something,” said Baird, now a seed advisor for Beck’s Hybrids. “I could tell a difference in them and knew their excitement and passion for agriculture had increased.”
An Invaluable Network
Not only do AFA students create a network of peers, they also have the opportunity to interact with recognized agriculture leaders.
At each AFA leader development event, industry leaders host professional development sessions covering soft skills, such as communication and project management, as well as current agriculture issues. In the AFA Leaders Conference Environment, students specifically interact with company recruiters at the AFA Opportunity Fair.
“I feel like AFA has been an awesome way to network with corporate representatives from processing or manufacturing or even governmental sectors of agriculture,” said Chandler Mulvaney, an AFA student from Opelika, Ala. “It’s really broadened my awareness of the magnitude and complexity and the importance of agriculture careers.”
Katelyn Robledo, a former AFA student from Hollister, Calif., agrees that her participation in AFA expanded her view of agriculture. Growing up in an area that predominantly produces fruits and vegetables, Robledo didn’t fully grasp the breadth of agriculture before AFA.
“Traveling around the country with AFA as part of the Student Advisory Team really opened my eyes to the size of the industry and how many different types of jobs there are within agriculture,” she said.
Now Robledo works in vegetable seed sales at Enza Zaden. She said she enjoys being directly connected to agriculture and the food system while still being a part of the business world.
“I work with farmers and growers and processors to develop the best vegetable varieties for their needs,” she said. “I have a hands-on job right in the heart of the industry, but I know if I ever want to do something different I have opportunities in marketing, project management or even something more science-based.”
Hagler agrees there is a multitude of career options in agriculture, but she said no matter what she chooses, she will feel she is making a valuable contribution. She appreciates the way AFA has allowed her to explore opportunities and help her find her place in agriculture.
“Some students may overlook AFA because of the location or the time commitment, but it’s been the biggest return on investment of any time I’ve spent throughout my collegiate and high school careers.”