By Sarah Dreyer
Sophomore, Animal Science major
November 3-6 found 23 Cal Poly students from the College of Agriculture Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) traveling to Kansas City, MO, for the annual Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leaders Conference. The selected students represented eight majors within CAFES. Identified as leaders with a strong passion and commitment to agriculture, all the conference students were sponsored by industry representatives, their respective university or received an AFA National Scholarship.
The AFA Leader’s Conference is an experience seeking to bridge the gap between academic, leadership and work experience while helping students understand the impact of their decisions. AFA is committed to human capital development meaning they want students to cultivate skills such as professional, entrepreneurialism, and intellectualism in agriculture leaders to enter the industry and help develop the organizations of employment.
Together, the 730 delegates from over 200 universities participated in a four-day conference focused on improving personal and professional skills. Leaders Conference delegates networked with other outstanding college students who share the same passions for agriculture, as well as more than 400 industry executives and representatives.
Students heard from many astonishing speakers including Dr. Ramaswamy, John O’Leary, Orian Samuelson, and many more during breakout sessions, track meetings and industry panel discussions.
AFA Track Recap:
During Leaders Conference, students are separated in four different tracks ranging from one through four based on past AFA involvement and year in school. Each track heard from different speakers and hosted discussions to interact on topics specifically designed for their track.
Track 1 is designed for freshmen and focuses on assessment and the development of fundamental skills crucial for success in college and career. Delegates complete personal assessment tools and receive training in resume development, time management, goal setting and personal skill development while assessing the opportunities available to them within their chosen career path.
Track 2 is designed for sophomores or juniors and focuses on communication skills and preparing for employment. Communication skills – verbal and nonverbal, first impressions, critical thinking, team leadership roles and personal ethics are addressed as a part of this program. Track 2 heard from speakers Adam Carrol, the Money Game, Terri Thompson, Dressing for Success and Rhett Laubach, How to be a Good Presenter.
The Track 3 program prepares juniors and seniors to live and work in a global market. Sessions include managing personal change, stress management and preparing for employment. Delegates participated in discussions focused on rural policy, personal financial management and international agriculture business. Track 3 partook in an Executive Forum on Stewarding Change and learning to be servant leaders.
The Track 4 program is a capstone experience for Seniors who have previously participated in multiple tracks of AFA. Track 4 is the smallest track and is highly interactive and a participant directed program. Sessions focus on making the transition from college to career and discussing individual and collective impacts to global agricultural issues. Track 4 students are able to network with industry representatives and AFA Alliance members.
All delegates attending AFA leaders Conference had the opportunity to engage with a myriad of agricultural and food based food companies at the 2016 Opportunity Fair. Many students spoke with companies about future employment opportunities, and internship opportunities.
Cal Poly Involvement:
This year, Cal Poly fortunately had delegates in every track.
Mark Borges participated in Track 1 and said, “Attending AFA Leaders Conference was a tremendous opportunity to grow professionally. Track 1 gave students the foundation to grow as a young professional in the industry. Through workshops and guest speakers we learned that History Starts Now. The conference gave me the determination to continue building my professional career network and I look forward to being involved in AFA in the future.”
Hannah Brady, an agribusiness sophomore returned to Cal Poly and explained, “At AFA Leaders Conference I enjoyed meeting new people from all over the United States and connecting with new industry leaders. I absorbed all the new information and I am excited to implement all the new experiences in my life.”
Haley Warner, agricultural communications junior, reflected on her experiences at Leaders Conference and said, “AFA allowed me to grow personally and professionally in ways I never have. I learned to apply the skills I have gained from previous experiences at Cal Poly in a more relevant way. AFA is high caliber- it was an honor to be amongst those that will be leading and progressing our industry.”
A senior agribusiness student, Shane Gillard said, “I learned the most about the next steps as an agriculture student after graduation. As a senior looking for jobs, internships or even graduate programs at other universities can be intimidating. AFA Leaders Conference gave me the skills and experience necessary to be successful when connecting with industry leaders, and higher educational outlets. Throughout the four days I was constantly moved by guest speakers that really wanted to see all AFA attendees’ success. I’d recommend any Cal Poly agriculture student to apply.”
Natalie Massa, a senior year agribusiness student, explained, “I attended Track 4 at the AFA Leaders Conference. I collaborated with 70+ other seniors from all across the nation. Since we were in such a small group, I was able to form friendships and bonds that could help me network in the future. In addition, we spent 4 days learning about how to become servant-leaders, facilitators, and I gained a better knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses in group work. The best part was being able to ask current executives and employees the tough questions that every senior is wondering: Should I negotiate salary right out of college? How do I tell a potential employer that I need more time to decide where I want to work?”
Christine Curtis, a senior agribusiness student attended all four tracks of AFA Leaders Conferences since her freshman year. She was campus ambassador for Cal Poly least year and promoted more Leaders Conference attendees. When reflecting Christine said, ”My journey through AFA has been a life changing experience. Through the many one on one professional training opportunities, empowerment, and the people I have met through AFA. I am inspired to go forth and be a catalyst in the agriculture industry. As I think back to my time as a freshmen I would have never guessed I would be where I am today. It’s because AFA invested in me in believing that I am and will continue to refine myself as a leader in agriculture. The community of people that have poured into me through my time at AFA have made a significant impact on my life and my purpose. I am forever thankful for my experiences with AFA because now I know my way, and I will go fourth in confidence in my career. I will continue to choose a purpose driven life.”
As I write this blog, myself, Sarah Dreyer, an animal science student has this to share about AFA, “This year I was honored to be the campus ambassador for Cal Poly and serve as a liaison between the AFA Organization and Cal Poly students. Being a part of the AFA Organization and AFA Leadership Team has allowed me to gain valuable knowledge and experience that reach outside the classroom. I have been able to create connections with industry leaders and students from all around the nation. The connections made have helped me in finding my own passions and determining which career path I wish to pursue. In addition, I have been able to learn about new techniques and leadership methods that I can strive to implement here on the Cal Poly Campus.”
Leaving Conference and Applying the Skills Learned
This year, Leaders Conference ended with a keynote speaker, Jon Petz. Petz is a motivational speaker, stand up magician and comedian. Petz left all AFA delegates reflecting that now is the time to act and each day the actions matters. You might not be expecting the spotlight, but when it hits – we must perform at our best. That’s SHOWTIME!
The theme for Leaders Conference was History Starts Now! Chosen by the AFA Student Leadership Team, it challenged all delegates to understand the decisions one makes on a daily basis impact the future in all aspects whether you expect it or not. The theme paid tribute to the past achievements in agriculture and the importance of their place in the future of the industry. The present is a bridge between the future and the past. Its strength is important. While we look towards the future and reflect upon the past, we must not lose sight of how important our daily choices are, because History Starts Now!
If you are interested in participating in any future AFA Programs or learning about the opportunities for AFA on the Cal Poly campus, please contact Cal Poly AFA Campus Ambassador, Sarah Dreyer, firstname.lastname@example.org. Future opportunities include applying Leaders Conference 2017, Policy Institute, Food Institute, Animal Institute, Crop Institute, Technology Institute.