Ten UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences students were selected to attend the annual Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leaders Conference in Kansas City, Mo., last month. AFA builds bridges for young leaders in food and agriculture, hosting personal and professional development programs for college students and young professionals. The AFA Leaders Conference is a bridge between college and career for undergraduate students studying food and agriculture. This conference uses a four-track program to provide a tailored experience for students that allows them to attend personal and professional development programming relevant to the different places they are in during their collegiate experience. Kendall Breland, soil and water sciences senior and one of the AFA Leaders Conference attendees, said “AFA was highly geared toward students and keeping them engaged with the content and with one another.”
Attendees hailed from 47 of the 50 United States and nine students in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) were granted VP Promise funding to assist with transportation costs. These students included Breland, Courtney Ball, Maddie Dvorak, Eddie Humphries, Alexis Montoto, William Ortiz, Claire Roffi, Melissa Sacher, and Ashley Wilder. Additionally, Jenny Burke, animal sciences senior, attended the conference as her final duty as an AFA Ambassador.
“Agriculture Future of America brings together young professionals from across the country to further their passion for food and agriculture. The AFA Leaders Conference allows students to network with one another as well as with professionals to learn about the many fields in agriculture,” said Montoto.
Student attendees were excited to leave knowing new people who shared a similar passion for agriculture. Wilder said “At each session and meal I attended, I talked to a different group of students and met many new people from around the country. I also got to meet UF students who I had not yet had a chance to meet. Without this conference, I would not have been able to form connections with all of these people.”
The AFA Leaders Conference also included an opportunity fair where students could learn about career opportunities in the agriculture industry and practice their networking skills. “The opportunity fair was the best part,” Humphries said. “I got to meet representatives from diverse fields of agriculture. From Bayer pharmaceuticals to Hill’s pet food, everyone has a stake in agriculture,” Humphries continued. Maddie Dvorak said, “with companies like the American Farm Bureau Federation, Corteva Agriscience, Merck Animal Health and many others present, conference delegates were given a prime opportunity to network with the industry that will be hiring us in the next 1-4 years.” Opportunities in agriculture are limitless and the AFA Leaders Conference opportunity fair made participants more aware of future career options in agriculture. “I had the opportunity to meet with the leadership of companies I have always wanted to connect with, I learned about job positions I did not even know existed, and I was encouraged to apply for opportunities that I never would have on my own. After just a few short hours, I felt invigorated to expand my horizons, and I now feel more confident in my ability to grow my career.” said Ball
This conference built on ideas and skills students had gained in their classes and allowed them to gain confidence and apply them in a professional setting. “As the conference progressed,” Sacher said, “I realized that many of my courses had prepared me with foundational knowledge and time management strategies.” She continued, “I was lacking practical workforce skills; during the sessions, the speakers taught us about salary negotiation, student loans, interview demeanor and mental health.”
“Looking back, all I can say to everyone who made this possible – AFA, industry partners, and the University of Florida is thank you!” – Claire Roffi
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.