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Ag career enhancement program grows

Jeanne Rosenau, Granite Falls, Minn. (left) and Rachel Schroeder, Redwood Falls, Minn., are two North Dakota State University Students involved in the Ag Futures of American program, which offers scholarships to aspiring agriculture students help in developing their careers in agriculture. Photographed May 7, 2013, Fargo, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

FARGO, N.D. — Rachel Schroeder and Jeanne Rosenau, both juniors at North Dakota State University in Fargo, have a passion for agriculture and want a place in its future.

Both are involved in Ag Futures of America, a career enhancement program available nationwide but lesser-known in the Upper Great Plains states like North Dakota.

Making leaders

The organization has morphed from a scholarship program into more of a leadership development effort. Its annual Leadership Conference this year is Nov. 6 to 9 in Kansas City and includes a Nov. 7 Opportunity Fair, featuring 75 corporations, ag businesses and associations.

Schroeder, an animal science major from Renville, Minn., got involved in the program through mentor Joel Mathiewetz, a farmer from Morgan, Minn. Schroeder helped get other NDSU students involved in the career mentoring program. She was able to participate in the program through contributions from a county “ProAg” professional organization — a scholarship from farmers in Redwood and Renville counties.

She grew up on a corn and soybean farm, participated in 4-H and FFA and was involved in market goat, chicken and pig projects as a youth. This summer, she will be working on the farm and with a 4-H camp program.

Schroeder hasn’t settled on a specific career path.

“There are different options. One is to go into farming, but otherwise I’d like to educate kids about agriculture and have some foreign travel,” she says.

Schroeder says AFA is about building a career — creating profiles and building a portfolio. She was selected for the 40 Chances program, a project backed by the Howard Buffet Foundation. The project operates on the theory that an individual has 40 chances — 40 years to be productive and reach new goals.

Word of mouth

Megan Karlin, AFA marketing and development coordinator, says the AFA Leaders Conference has hosted students from 43 states and 200 colleges and universities. The program is often promoted through word-of-mouth, but also through volunteer campus ambassadors and advisers.

Karlin says the program often involves people who have started in 4-H and moved through FFA, and then are involved in AFA as a capstone experience. It is not member-based but participants apply annually to be selected for combinations of local and national sponsorships, as well as separate but related academic scholarships.

Top-flight thinkers

Schroeder says the conferences include such top-flight national speakers as Temple Grandin, an international authority on animal care issues. Each program builds upon the previous conference. Schroeder says she was particularly impressed with the education on how nonverbal communication plays into getting a job.

“The AFA should be promoted up north more,” says Rosenau, a junior agricultural economics major. Rosenau got involved in AFA and applied for a local and a national scholarship. She got them both and went to the conference.

“I want to go into seed sales or sales/marketing,” says Rosenau, who grew up on a sheep farm that is now a hobby farm. She says one practical piece of advice from the conferences is that it makes more sense to finish college in four years rather than extend college to specialize with a minor degree.

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