Successful State Ag Ambassador Conference

By Mary Allen
Senior, agricultural communication major

January 27-29 marked the date of the 2017 State Ag Ambassador Conference. It was the result of much planning, fundraising, meetings, and hard work. It was also my senior project. There is more than meets the eye for this event.

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Let me take you on my conference journey…

In 1995, Cal Poly Ag Ambassadors hosted the State Ag Ambassador Conference and invited a number of college Ag Ambassadors clubs to come share knowledge and promote agriculture and higher education.  Dr. Joe Sabol, retired department head of the Agricultural Communication and Education Department, lead this process because he saw the tremendous value in bringing together Ag Ambassadors from all over California.

“There was a need to bring together the various Ag Ambassador Programs, to share ideas and improve the recruitment and public relations skills and knowledge of the individuals and the Ag Ambassador clubs,” Sabol said.

img_9916Sabol thought the time was right to sharpen the group’s ability to tell the positive story of agriculture to a wide variety of audiences. Students who came to the conference found themselves involved in a not-so-subtle leadership development program.

“Personal growth was a powerful component of every conference,”
Sabol said.

Over the years, the conference grew from a state to a national meeting with over 200 attendees. After 2005, different universities rotated hosting the national event including University of Florida, University of Arizona, North Carolina State University, Sam Houston State University, and UC Davis. The last conference was held in 2010.

“Kenny Goodman, one of our graduate students, shared with me his experience with the Ag Ambassador Conference and encouraged me to consider bringing back the long standing tradition to Cal Poly,” said Ms. Sherri Freeman, current advisor of the Cal Poly Ag Ambassador Club.

Freeman and the current Cal Poly officers met with Sabol and Kellogg to discuss the possibilities. “After that meeting, there was no turning back, we were all hooked,” Freeman said.

Following that meeting, myself, Kenny Goodman, and Ms. Freeman met with Richard Cavaletto, Associate Dean of CAFES, and got the green light to proceed with their full support.

The enthusiasm from past advisors and leadership from the current Cal Poly Ag Ambassadors brought to fruition the 2017 State Ag Ambassador Conference. Four student committees were formed to manage the promotion, scheduling, barn dance, and food. Students made critical decisions to make the event come to life.

img_0065-copyAs a senior agricultural communication major, and President of Cal Poly’s Ag Ambassadors, my role was larger than expected. However, I had a great experience and participated in everything from helping design the conference logo, to hand picking industry speakers, to designing the promotional material. My biggest takeaways over the last four months planning this conference are delegation, collaboration, and working hard. The conference was all student-run under the fearless leadership of our advisor, Ms. Freeman. Throughout the preparation process, she allowed the students opportunities to lead while giving us instruction. I am thoroughly impressed by her example.

More than 75 Ag Ambassadors participated in this three-day conference including students from Fresno State, Cal Poly Pomona, Modesto Junior College, College of Sequoias, Consumes River College, and Reedley College. Associate Dean Cavaletto and Dean Thulin kicked off the conference Friday with a formal welcome. Keynote speaker, Beau Williamson, founder of Greater Potential Leadership, inspired students to be more passionate about agriculture and shared tips about fostering greater leadership from within.

On Saturday, industry leaders from Mission Produce, Helena Chemical Company, Simonich Orchard Services, Sierra Foothill Conservancy, California Teach Ag Campaign, Ag in the Classroom, Wolff Vineyards, and Giumarra Vineyards presented talks. Visiting colleges also hosted workshops to improve Ag Ambassador programs with collaboration. Sunday morning closed out the event with Dr. Sabol reflecting on the weekend. He reminded us all that promoting higher education and agriculture are two uniting factors of the conference.

“I loved seeing the Ag Ambassadors from different colleges sharing information regarding agriculture in their areas and how they advocate for agriculture through their recruiting activities. The networking and friendships that were created this weekend will no doubt have a lasting effect on those who participated!” Freeman said.

A special thanks to Alpha Gamma Rho and the Agricultural Engineering Society who prepared lunch and dinners for the attendees over the weekend. Photos are curtesy of the Brock Center for Agricultural Communication. And a huge thank you to all the Cal Poly Ag Ambassadors who made this event possible.

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We raised over $18,000 to make the event happen. Sponsors included Cal Poly College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences, Modesto Junior College, Harris Ranch Famers, Helena Chemical Company, Community College Deputy Sector Navigator Holly Nolan with the south coast region, and Dr. Bill Kellogg.

 
The journey continues with a bright future ahead. Bringing this annual tradition back to Cal Poly strengthens California agriculture and encourages student leadership within campus’ across the state.


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