Students Find Their Place in Conservation at the AFA Sustainability Institute

Four College of Agricultural and Life Sciences students represented the University of Florida at the Agriculture Future for America (AFA) Sustainability Institute in New Orleans. Planned in conjunction with the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), the conference was designed for college students to discuss ways to conserve natural resources and to find their place in the fields of conservation, agriculture and natural resources management.

Student participants receiving VP Promise funding from UF/IFAS CALS were:

  • Nehemie Cyriaque, food and resource economics junior
  • Maddie Dvorak, food and resource economics senior
  • Elanie Mason, agricultural education and communication senior
  • Tylre Potter, agricultural education and communication senior
A close up of sugarcane plants on a table.
LSU AgCenter sugarcane plants

Kim LaFleur, a Massachusetts cranberry farmer and the first female president of the NACD, kicked off the institute by giving participants a 30,000-foot view of how all-encompassing the term sustainability really is. LaFleur also moderated a executive panel discussion with representation from companies including BASF and Valent. Executives offered insight on the future of their companies as it relates to sustainability, conservation and natural resource management.

“Attending the AFA Sustainability Institute has been a pivotal moment in my professional development,” said Cyriaque. “Not only did I further my network outside of my home state, but I also began to understand other students’ agricultural backgrounds and relate their passions to my interests, generating purposeful conversations.”

25-lb bags of oysters that will be used to provide a natural barrier and spat habitat

Cyriaque, Dvorak, Mason and Potter participated in industry and research tours ranging from the Louisiana State University AgCenter Sugar Research Station and a Cargill grain elevator to a Ducks Unlimited conservation site and an oyster restoration project.

Potter and Mason got hands-on conservation experience through oyster restoration. They cleaned and packaged oyster shells from local restaurants into 25-pound bags. Those bags were used for restoring the natural barrier on the coast and provide a habitat for juvenile oysters known as spat to live and grow on.

Sustainability and conservation career round tables allowed students to explore interests including academia and Extension, apparel and textiles, fisheries, livestock/ranch management, food waste, forestry, and soil and nutrient management. Professionals shared their career journeys and information about their current roles.

“I took courses for the UF global leadership and change certificate in which I learned about the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals and investigated sustainability practices,” Potter said. “[The AFA Sustainability Institute] was a great experience for me to take the work I have done in the classroom and apply it to real-world scenarios.”

Dvorak reflected on the institute by saying, “I felt very thankful for the experience to view sustainability through the lens of agriculture and natural resources.”

The VP Promise is an initiative to provide financial assistance for students pursuing experiences in agriculture, life sciences and natural resources. CALS supports student success both inside and outside of the classroom and encourages students to broaden their perspectives through enriching opportunities such as study abroad programs and travel to conferences. For more information on the VP Promise visit the CALS website.


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Posted: June 26, 2023

Category: UF/IFAS Teaching
Tags: AFA, Sustainability, VP Promise

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