Students attend agriculture leadership conference

Austin Ebert, junior in biological systems engineering, is one of multiple students that attended the 2015 Ag Future of America conference from Nov. 5-8, 2015, in Kansas City, Missouri. The AFA conference was dedicated to personal and professional development for students scross the country who are interested in agriculture-related careers. (Jessica Robbins | The Collegian)

In early November, 47 K-State students interested in the agriculture industry attended the 2015 Agriculture Future of America Leaders Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

Each year, AFA hosts a conference focused on supporting men and women in college who are interested in agriculture-related careers, developing personal and professional skills and networking with peers and industry leaders from across the country. The conference is separated into four “tracks,” offering different conference experiences designed to match the students’ years in college.

Darby Schmidt, freshman in agribusiness, attended the conference for the first time in track one and said some of her favorite experiences came from listening to the speakers and presenters.

“The (speakers’) messages were very different — a lot more authentic than we sometimes hear from other people,” Schmidt said. “It was stuff that you could really apply in jobs and in the industry. One speaker talked about advocating for agriculture and the way she handled it, and the examples she gave showed me that these are things that I can put into practice right now.”

Schmidt said she also took advantage of networking opportunities with others at the conference.

“I really liked not only networking with people from K-State’s College of Agriculture, but also from other states,” Schmidt said. “I networked with people from South Dakota and Alabama, and I got to see people I had met in 4-H. It was great being able to network with ag students and also ag professionals. At the career fair, they were focused on freshmen and they wanted to talk to freshmen, and that was a really great experience.”

Austin Ebert, junior in biological systems engineering, attended track two last year and experienced track three this year. He said he enjoyed the opportunity to stay in touch with peers that are involved in agriculture.

“Going from track two into track three, I saw people that I had met just a year earlier and we still had those connections …” Ebert said. “Since I am in the College of Engineering, it was nice to get back to seeing all of the agriculture students and do stuff with agriculture more than I normally would in the engineering department.”

As a returner, Ebert said he recognized differences between the two years he attended.

“Track three is looking towards your career as a professional, giving you opportunities to talk with people that are already in the industry and giving you more ways to develop yourself as well,” Ebert said. “In track two, they talk more about what to do in college to make yourself stand out, while in track three, you are going from college to the professional world. I think they smooth the process out and show you better ways to do things.”

Ebert said there were other opportunities in track three, such as getting to speak with industry leaders about what they believe major agriculture issues are.

“I liked being able to talk with the industry professionals,” Ebert said. “It was interesting because I got to see what they thought was a global issue for their company, which varied a lot between the companies that I talked to. Each of them recognized issues that they are working on within their company, but also issues that are facing agriculture as a whole.”

Marie Annexstad, senior in agricultural communications and journalism, said attending the conference and being in track four helped her understand the transition from college to the workplace.

“When you’re a senior, you are used to leading and being on top,” Annexstad said. “Now, it’s like me transitioning from high school to college, and I will be back on the bottom, but track four helped me learn that everyone goes through it. We talked about how to take responsibility and how to effectively voice our opinions at work.”

The transition to the workplace was just one of the key features of track four, Annexstad said.

“Track four was student-led,” she said. “We presented and facilitated to each other. It was great because we got to make it what we wanted it to be, so we directed the track to things that we were concerned about.”

Annexstad said she chose to attend the conference for various reasons.

“If you’re looking to go into the ag industry and you want to make a difference, AFA is the place to go to look for those avenues and make those connections with the industry and peers,” Annexstad said.