Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from USDA’s own Katina Hanson, Chief of Staff to the Associate Administrator for Policy and Programs at the Farm Service Agency (FSA). In addition to her duties as Chief of Staff, Katina led the successful implementation of the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP), a multimillion dollar investment to make renewable fuels more available to consumers across the country. She is also an active member of USDA’s Women in Ag network, serving as co-chair of the FSA chapter and on the USDA Women in Ag Executive Committee. She has a Bachelor of Science in Rangeland Ecology & Management from Texas A&M University and a Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Katina grew up on the Gulf Coast of Texas, living on a sailboat until she was 6 and later in a house located between two bayous.
1. Tell us about your background. How did you end up at USDA?
I chose an ag major in college in part because of the time I spent on my uncle’s farm, visiting the cows. I took some time off to volunteer with AmeriCorps, and then spent about 7 years in Hawaii working on water quality and broader conservation issues where I made my entrance into USDA in the Natural Resources Conservation Service Pacific Islands area office. It was an amazing job, and I probably would have stayed there, but moving to D.C. was the best decision for me and my family and allowed me to pursue my dream of impacting national policy.
I accepted a job with FSA in their Conservation and Environmental Programs Division, and over the course of about 10 years, I worked my way up through the organization to my current position as Chief of Staff to the Associate Administrator for Policy and Programs, who oversees farm programs, farm loan programs, commodity operations and external affairs.
2. What does a typical day look like for you?
As a working mom, I am always juggling work and home life. Usually, my day starts by taking at least one of my 2 children to school. My job at FSA is never dull. I help ensure that all of our policies and programs are working well and troubleshoot the most difficult issues. I still often sit in meetings where I am the only woman in the room and it’s exciting to see that some of those meetings have become more diverse over the years. I honestly never know how my day will end up. Sometimes I stay late to help ensure agency and department priorities are on track, and other days, I rush out early to pick up the kids or make an important family event.
3. We're starting to see more and more renewable fuel options available across the country thanks in part to the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership. What was your role in getting that program off the ground?
I have been involved with the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) since its infancy. I was very nervous about taking on the responsibility as Team Lead because I was already extremely busy, but I took a leap of faith and agreed to lead the effort for the Agency. I oversaw the implementation of the project, including streamlining the review process, balancing risk and helping coordinate the communication of partnership results while also fulfilling my duties as Chief of Staff to our Associate Administrator.
Together, our team not only provided $100 million in grant funds but also leveraged about $120 million from state and private sources. Infrastructure has already been built under this program and continues to grow, providing a foundation for the future of the ethanol market in this country. This work could not have been done without the strong team of extraordinary individuals. Many men and women helped make the partnership a success, but I would regret it with this audience if I didn’t mention at least some of the incredible women that have helped make this partnership a success, including Acting FSA Energy Advisor Kelly Novak, Program Specialist Jennifer Fiser, Regulatory Review Director Deirdre Holder, and Attorney Maureen James.
4. How did you get involved in the Women in Ag initiative at USDA?
My involvement in USDA Women in Ag began from a forwarded email. After one meeting, I was hooked. Watching Former Deputy Secretary Harden speak so passionately about women in agriculture and how we can support each other was so inspiring. I also quickly became a strong supporter of our agency Women in Ag chapter.
5. Who are your role models?
My mother, Dr. Patricia Casey, has been the strongest role model in my life. She worked her way up from a teacher to a principal and at the age of 50 went back to earn her doctorate in educational administration and is a professor to this day (even after retirement). She taught me that I could be whatever I wanted in life as long as I worked hard, and she also taught me that I had a responsibility to use my gifts to help others. She led by example, working multiple jobs, including teaching English as a second language classes and is always willing to help anyone who needed help.
Also, in recent years I have been highly influenced by Sheryl Sandberg and her book Lean In.
6. What advice do you have for your fellow women in ag, both here at USDA and all across the globe?
First, I have to say that I am honored to provide advice to such an amazing group of women. I truly believe that it is so important that we all step forward with our best ideas and “take a seat at the table”. We also need to continue to work to support each other in our careers and work to achieve shared goals together rather than tearing each other down. Take chances and don't ever give up. I am a rape survivor and in my darkest days could never have anticipated the joy and success that would happen for me later in life. Hang in there!