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Office of the Chief Economist
United States Department of Agriculture

Previous Winners

Former program winners agreed that the Forum “opened their eyes” to a larger world and better prepared them for more advanced achievements in agriculture.

2007 Winner
Rena Ruffin, Agricultural Economist with USDA in Montana

Participating in the 2007 USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum Student Diversity Program provided insight on the future of agriculture in America. I am currently working with the USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service as an Agricultural Economist in Bozeman, Montana. I work on a team with three specialists (biology, engineering, & resource conservation), all concerned with improving water quality, health of livestock, soil health, etc. It is a privilege to work in an agency concerned with helping the environment, as well as the farmer or rancher.

2008 Winner
Johnie Jones, Special Assistant with USDA in Washington, DC

I currently work at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan as her Special Assistant. In addition to administrative duties, I also work on local/regional food systems and rural development policy.  Attending the Outlook Forum provided a real world perspective to the curriculum that I studied in the classroom. As a result, I am able to infuse practical elements into our class discussions, and in my writing.      

2008 Winner

Ronald M. Howell, Jr., Accountant with USDA in Washington, DC

Currently, I am working for USDA with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and just finished graduate school at Virginia Tech. I am still actively engaged in my farming operation in Surry, Virginia, and operating a small-scale commercial vegetable wholesale outlet.  The Forum provided me with the opportunity to learn and engage with agricultural leaders who discuss the key issues, policy, and potential challenges surrounding energy and agriculture. Meeting with leaders of businesses and organizations who sponsored the Student Diversity Program was an excellent feature that allowed me to learn about different stakeholders, business functions and processes, research and development, and modern research initiatives going on across the United States. Moreover, one of the greatest things I can remember is USDA's commitment to Student Programs and higher education. Sitting in the WAOB conference room with the senior leaders of the Department was awesome. This opportunity in itself coupled with the Forum Events allowed me and other students to learn about agribusiness, future trends, and policy in contemporary agriculture.

2008 Winner
Meredith Esguerra, USDA Rural Development in Washington, DC

Ms. Esguerra is a procurement analyst with Rural Development in Washington, DC.  Following graduation she began full-time work with Rural Development while she completed her Master’s degree in Business Administration.  Based at USDA headquarters, she now works with 47 state offices across the country.  She stays in touch with many of her university colleagues who also attended the Forum and made important career connections and lifelong friends at the event.  She says the Forum “broadened both my perspective and my curiosity on agriculture on a global scale, and the policies that affect agriculture.”     

2009 Winner
Amber Seibert, Agriculture Teacher in Minnesota

I graduated from the University of Minnesota in May 2010, and am currently working as a high school agriculture instructor and FFA advisor at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. I teach a wide range of hands-on classes, including Animal Science, Veterinary Science, Wildlife and Conservation, Forestry, and Greenhouse and Landscape Management. . The chance to travel to Washington, DC, to learn about agriculture policy in the place where policy is made is once-in-a-lifetime [experience], and one that I will never forget. Attending the Forum has definitely contributed to my education and career as an agriculture teacher.

2010 Winner
Miquel Macias Gonzalez, Graduate Student in California 

Mr. Gonzalez is a graduate student at University of California-Davis in the Horticulture and Agronomy Graduate group where he is doing research with genetic mapping of resistance genes to lettuce tipburn. The Forum gave him a completely new experience because he met with the heads of companies and USDA leaders. It showed him how to better prepare himself to do more and the pathway to a better preparation for his future. Essentially, he says, the Forum raised the bar showing him how much more he could do to reach new levels. He is still deciding between a career in academia or becoming a plant breeder in private industry.

2010 Winner
Zach Harber, Agriculture Teacher in Arkansas

I am teaching [in Batesville, Arkansas] Agriculture Mechanics, Greenhouse Management, Horticulture, Floriculture, Agriculture Structures, Small Gas Engines, Electricity, and Landscape and Design in a 2-instructor agriculture program that also offers Animal Science courses, Agriculture Metal Fabrication, Equine Science, and Beef Cattle Management. The Forum contributed to my education by broadening my horizons beyond a national scale. I have become very interested in international markets and how our agricultural industry affects other countries in the world. By attending the Forum, my resume has launched itself to the top of every employers list.

2010 Winner
Brittany Ramsburg with USDA Farm Service Agency in Maryland

Ms. Ramsburg currently works for the Farm Service Agency in Montgomery County Maryland. “I was lucky,” she says of her employment with USDA. She knew she wanted to help farmers and thrives in the atmosphere where she gets to know producers personally. Originally, she imagined herself working for a corporation, but after the Forum she took a new direction. She’s looking forward to the new Farm Bill, knowing that it will require a great deal of work and learning demands, which she wholeheartedly welcomes.


If you would like to share your Forum experiences, please contact Brenda Chapin at or call her at 202-720-5447.