Students Reach New Heights at the Agriculture Future of America Leaders Conference

By: Sarah Dreyer, Junior animal science major

The first week of November, seventeen Cal Poly students attended the Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leaders Conference in Kansas City, Missouri where they experienced four days of professional development, industry networking, motivational speakers, and career preparation.

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Cal Poly students attending the conference

This year’s theme was SOAR, Reach New Heights. Through this theme, students engaged in different activities depending on their current personal and professional development needs to help in preparing to take flight into a successful future career. Each student was on their own unique flight path. Through AFA, students are given the skills to excel in their field and reach new heights through industry connections, goal setting, and personal development. This year AFA brought together over 800 college-aged students and over 500 industry professionals fostering positive growth and developing connections to help forge a stronger agricultural and food industry in the future.

AFA is a national leadership organization that was founded in 1996 by a philanthropist in Kansas City who believed in the next generation of young leaders and the value that professional development can provide to students early in their career. The Kemper legacy has been carried on through AFA for the past 21 years affecting the lives of thousands of students and giving them the skills to bloom where they are planted. AFA has impacted the lives of more than 15,000 young leaders representing 150 majors from over 200 colleges and universities across 43 states.


During the Leaders Conference students are assigned a track and take on the challenge of determining how to take the information and knowledge they gain at AFA Leaders Conference and translate this into their own lives, back at home, and on their respective campuses. Students in Track 1 gained skills in personal assessment, career exploration, resume building, and goal setting. The skills that Track 1 delegates are exposed to will be fundamental in their college and career development.  Track 2 delegates centered their discussions and breakout sessions around communication skills and learning how to effectively build their own brand, take on team leadership roles, think critically, and understand the power of positive body language. Juniors and seniors in attendance at the conference attended Track 3 where they focused on valuing change, learning how to adapt to a work environment, gained perspective on global agriculture, and heard from several industry executives on the skills they need to develop before entering the workforce.  The capstone AFA experience comes with Track 4 which is for students that have previously attended Track 3 of AFA Leaders Conference. This smaller group is very interactive as the program is participant directed and the discussions are based around the transition from college to their career and the role they can play to make an impact on agriculture globally. All the students representing Cal Poly shared that they enjoyed their track programing and worked to reach new heights, new people and new goals during their time at conference.

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Cal Poly’s Sigma Alpha Chapter was well represented

In addition to the track workshops, panel discussions, breakouts, and motivational speakers, delegates attend the AFA Opportunity Fair and have the chance to speak with industry professionals about potential full-time jobs, internships, and trainee programs within their company. Six out of the seventeen Cal Poly students were awarded a scholarship through AFA and the California Cotton Alliance where they were identified as leaders with a strong passion and commitment to the food and agricultural industry.  Friday night of Conference is the Leader in Agriculture Award dinner where AFA honored two individuals within the industry for their commitment, dedication, and support towards the agricultural industry. The receptions, dinners, and social networking opportunities give students the first-hand experience to meet and talk with over 500 industry professionals working to build a bridge and develop a professional relationship.

AFA Leaders Conference is a unique experience for any college student to hear from motivational speakers, network with industry professionals and their fellow peers, take part in discussions on the future of the agricultural industry, and build skills to develop personally and professionally. The key takeaways from the main speakers were that you are never flying solo. Collectively as the next generation of agricultural leaders, we will work to face the challenges, celebrate the achievements, and together help others and ourselves grow and develop.

If you are interested in learning more about AFA programs and applying to attend next year’s AFA Leaders Conference, any AFA Institute, or serving as an AFA student leader please feel free to contact Sarah Dreyer, 2017 Cal Poly AFA Campus Ambassador, or visit

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