GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Bernie LeFils and Avery Sams met in high school at the Florida FFA Leadership Training Center, and became engaged during their time at the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS). Bernie majored in food and resource economics while Avery majored in agricultural education and communication, earning their bachelor’s degrees in May 2011. After marrying in 2012, the couple looked for a meaningful way to give back to the college that had provided them with lasting memories and a valuable education.
In 2012, Avery LeFils joined the CALS Alumni and Friends board of directors, and in 2014 she was selected as an alumni representative on a task force directed to restructure the college’s mission, core values and goals. The LeFilses have supported several CALS endowments supporting student scholarships, travel and senior awards.
Bernie and Avery decided to join the CALS Dean’s Circle in 2015, becoming the youngest members to date. This giving society provides funds for the CALS Dean to achieve the college’s highest priorities.
“As students and CALS Ambassadors, it became obvious to us that so many of the gifts that came into the college were earmarked for certain events or projects,” Avery LeFils said. “The Dean’s Circle gives Dean Elaine Turner the flexibility and funds necessary to be able to do the things she needs to accomplish for students and faculty.”
At the Oct. 5 UF/IFAS Dinner of Distinction, the LeFilses were recognized as the recipients of 2018 CALS Horizon Awards for their contributions and potential as leaders in agriculture, natural resource and related industries as well as their support of the college. Horizon Awards recognize outstanding individuals who graduated from CALS within the past 10 years.
“I first remember meeting Avery as a prospective transfer student looking to learn more about UF and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences,” Turner said. “Avery and Bernie contributed so much to our college as CALS Ambassadors, and it’s a pleasure to recognize their professional successes and continued involvement with the college as young alumni.”
Since Bernie LeFils participated in so many CALS Ambassador events as a student, his friends often joked that his second vehicle was a UF/IFAS van. He held several leadership roles in the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and was inducted into Florida Blue Key. In addition to serving as a CALS Ambassador while at UF, Avery LeFils was involved as an officer for the Agricultural Communicators and Leaders of Tomorrow, Sigma Alpha professional agricultural sorority and Alpha Tau Alpha Honors Society.
For the LeFilses, the personal connections with professors, staff, alumni and fellow students in CALS left some of the most memorable impressions on them during their time in college. From attending Ag Hall of Fame dinners as Ambassadors, to connecting with professors for career questions after graduation, the LeFilses said their college network has been instrumental in both their personal and professional lives.
“The college had such a profound impact on us,” Bernie LeFils said. “Even though UF is so big, CALS is such a tightknit community. It’s more like a family. Faces may change, but the atmosphere hasn’t. CALS has given us the opportunity to have a larger impact on the agriculture industry as a whole rather than giving to just one specific industry.”
Supporting CALS is one of the many ways the LeFilses give back to the communities that made an impact on their individual and career development. They enjoy facilitating workshops for industry organizations and their college departments. The two can be found in Gainesville during Saturdays in the fall as Gator Boosters.
Bernie LeFils continues to stay involved with his fraternity as treasurer for both the Alpha Gamma Rho House Association and Educational Foundation, which provide housing and scholarships for members of the organization. A certified public accountant at his family’s company, Bernie LeFils currently serves as the Volusia County Cattlemen’s Association president and was selected as a member of the inaugural class of the Florida Cattlemen’s Leadership Academy.
Avery LeFils is marketing coordinator for Village Farms International, a North American leader of greenhouse grown hydroponic vegetables. Previously, she worked in communications and marketing for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA). While at FFVA, she assisted with the creation of the Emerging Leader Development Program and served as representative on the board of directors for Florida Agriculture in the Classroom. She is the current president of UF Sigma Alpha Alumnae.
The LeFilses recommend that current CALS students make the most of their time in college by making new friends and getting out of their comfort zones.
“Expand your horizons,” Bernie LeFils said. “I’m extremely thankful for being able to take a variety of courses and electives both inside and outside of my major. Experiment a little bit and gain knowledge about a variety of topics.”
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.