Young Women in Agriculture Career & Leadership Seminar

By: Samantha Wallace
Senior Agricultural Communication major

sam-quincy-crystalAt Cal Poly, every student is required to conduct a senior project prior to graduation. Having the opportunity to collaborate with such a driven individual, Crystal Avila, is the reason I decided to undertake a project substantially bigger than anything I had planned.

Crystal and I lead the efforts in organizing the 2nd Annual Young Women in Agriculture Career and Leadership Seminar hosted at Cal Poly on October 9th. The purpose of this seminar is to invite young women to explore their full potential and expose them to agriculture through professional women in the industry.

At last year’s seminar, high school students put their best “Boot” forward, as they took their next step into the agricultural industry. To carry out the tradition, Crystal and I wanted to emphasize and teach the young women to “Brand Yourself”. We encouraged them to be authentic, unique, promote themselves and their mission in the agriculture industry and wherever life takes them.

Together, Crystal and I hand-picked six dynamic speakers who inspire, motivate and are passionate “AGvocates”. All coming from diverse backgrounds, they shared their unique perspective and wisdom about branding yourself to stand apart from the crowd. Our goal for the young women in attendance was to encourage them to develop and enhance their skills as successful agricultural leaders.

Our speakers included Celeste Settrini, Quincy Freeman, JoAnnWall, Brooke Helsel, Leslie
Friend and Chris Koch. Celeste, is the owner of CS Connections, a boutique graphic design and communications business. Quincy, is a true rodeo cowgirl and owner of her western fashion company “Rodeo Quincy“.  JoAnn is an entrepreneurial business woman, as she has started three real estate land appraisal companies and was named one of the Top 50 Women in Business by the Pacific Times Business News. Brooke is employed by MWI Animal Health and owner of the successful “Meet your Beef” blog. Leslie works for Valent Corporation as their Communications Activation Manager for Row Crop and Seed Protection. Crystal and I are so grateful for the exceptional contributions these women made to our seminar!


“I was beyond excited for the incredible speakers who lead this day to success. In the end, their words of wisdom came down to a couple things.. We don’t have to compete with anyone, just be yourself. Secondly, don’t be a mean girl, be a support system for your fellow peers.” – Crystal Avila 

sam-and-chrisThe final keynote speaker was Chris Koch, who did not leave a dry eye in the house. A Canadian farmer, born without arms and legs, Koch travels the world sharing his story called “If I can”. The heart of his story surrounds the idea if he can do it, then what is stopping you? Early on in life, he decided he would not be treated with pity and partakes in activities such as marathons, snowboarding, skydiving, etc. He may not have arms or legs, but he has a good head on his shoulders and with that anything is possible.

“If you’re worried about how you look, you’re cheating yourself out of opportunity,” said Koch with a smile on his face.  

All together, we had a total of 50 guests in attendance. Initially, Crystal and I were aiming for a larger turnout, however, we continually heard how pleasant it was to have a more intimate setting. The one-on-one interaction with the speakers allowed for a unique networking experience and fostered professional friendships between women with shared backgrounds, interests and goals.

Throughout the seminar, several young women approached me and expressed how much they appreciated us organizing this event. It made the countless hours of planning all worth it. My personal goal was to have one guest leave more educated about all the endless opportunities they had; little did I know several women would be greatly impacted! I am truly excited about the passion and raw enthusiasm I continue to see in women in agriculture.
Yellow Group .jpg

“Thank you for the amazing opportunity to speak at YWALS this weekend. Not only did you absolutely crush it at planning and orchestrating a flawless event, but you brought a bunch of people together to learn, network, and develop themselves–in a fun, safe, and welcoming environment no less! We are all fortunate to have been present for such a thing; gathering together to grow is the stuff of life. I appreciate the chance the be a part of it!” – Leslie Friend

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to our speakers, guests and volunteers for helping  make this seminar a success. And a special thank you to our advisor, Ms. Freeman! She helped with organization, planning, and most of all a continual cheerleader to Crystal and I throughout this process.


As women in agriculture face a unique set of challenges as they look to take on leadership roles, I hope to see this tradition of empowering each other continue on for years to come.  As I reflect on this day, little did I know how much I would gain from my senior project. I am overwhelmed with joy that it was a huge success and I will never forget this incredible learning experience. It was truly wonderful to see all our efforts over the past four months come together so perfectly. I look forward to the future of this event carried out by others as a senior project.

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