Former program winners agreed that the Forum “opened their eyes” to a larger world and better prepared them for more advanced achievements in agriculture.
USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Student Diversity Program began in 2007, when 10 students were selected to attend USDA’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum meeting held annually in Arlington, Virginia. Since then, with program partner the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and support from sponsors, including CHS, Inc., Farm Credit, and USDA’s Economic Research Service, Agricultural Research Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service, 145 students have participated. More than a dozen participants have gone on to become USDA employees. We contacted previous winners to find out what they are doing and how the program influenced their careers.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Richard Stonebreaker, USDA Research Biologist in Maryland
During Mr. Stonebreaker’s freshman year at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, he interned as a trainer in plant protection for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – and from that experience knew he wanted to work at USDA. Now he is a research biologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in the Environmental Microbial and Food Safety Laboratory.
Stonebreaker works on MPSS, or manure pathogen survival study, examining how long pathogens can survive in manure. However, his lab also works smaller “field to table” projects. Meanwhile, he aims to finish an MA in education in 2015 through the University of Phoenix. He says the Diversity Program was great: “I got to see all the aspects of agriculture that you could enter. My advice? Do the program if you can!” He stays in touch with other 2012 winners through Facebook and is intrigued with the different fields that everyone has entered.
Candice C. Harvey, USDA Program Analyst in Washington, DC
Ms. Candice Harvey was a Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration’s (GIPSA) USDA 1890 National Scholar from 2009-2013. She was chosen to represent Fort Valley State University at the 2013 Agricultural Outlook Forum and following graduation she was hired as a GIPSA Program Analyst. The Forum served as a pivotal transition for Ms. Harvey. She went from being a student Diversity Program winner in 2013 to a Forum planner and presenter all within one year’s time. As a GIPSA employee, she joined the USDA Forum planning committee in June 2013 where she used her USDA experiences to become key in designing, organizing, and also presenting the 2014 session, “@USDA: Tweet, Meet, and Succeed.” “The Forum and my intern experiences” she says, “gave me the insight I needed to be a part of the future for USDA. These opportunities showed me how to do it and how to help others!”
Kaitlyn Sanson, Student in Florida
“The Conference in Washington, DC, was a highlight in my life and greatly strengthened my commitment to my education in agriculture. It helped me make connections with the academic classes that I am taking and the authentic workings of the USDA. I saw how the ability to share a vision is key to a plan’s success.”
Fatma Rekik, Agricultural Science Student, Cornell University
"The student diversity program is a great initiative that has opened up many doors for me. To be able to attend the 2015 USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum, meet professionals, researchers, legislators and agricultural economists, and attend the career fair was something beyond my own reach, but the Diversity Program made it happen. Thanks to the program, I was able to make valuable connections and build networks that will hopefully serve well throughout my professional career."
If you would like to share your Forum experiences, please contact Brenda Chapin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 202-720-5447.