CLEMSON, S.C. — Four students in Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS) were invited to attend several Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Institute Conferences.
Sam Talley and Sarah Shore were invited to attend the Animal Institute, and Dina Graves and Katie Hannahs were invited to attend the Food Institute.
AFA’s mission is to create bridges for young leaders to foster engagement and innovation in food and agriculture. They hope to build transformational leaders by fostering professionalism, intellectualism, and what they call “intrapreneurialism” through experimental learning opportunities.
AFA Institute experiences include: Food Institute, Technology Institute, Policy Institute, Annual Institute and Crop Science Institute. Their goal is to provide undergraduate college students with specialized professional development opportunities that they couldn’t get on their college campuses. These institutes provide professional peer networking opportunities, exclusive company tours, and panels and discussions about trending industry topics.
Sixty students are selected from hundreds of applicants based on GPA and other criteria.
Paula Beecher, director of the Bookhart Student Services Center and Career Service and Employer Relations for CAFLS, says that promoting this opportunity to students was a big deal.
“All CAFLS students were sent the information in an email; we included it in our weekly job newsletters and also pushed it out on social media,” she said.
Talley, a sophomore Animal and Veterinary Sciences major, first heard about the AFA through Joey McCannon, an AFA institute ambassador. After connecting with him, Talley attended the AFA’s Leadership Conference in the fall of 2020.
“I had a really good time with the leaders conference in the fall. It was a great experience and I got to make a ton of connections in the agriculture industry and worked on my networking skills,” he said.
From there, Talley learned about the AFA Animal Institute Conference.
“I liked the idea of the animal institute because it was similar to the leaders conference, but on a more concentrated level and more focused on animal agriculture, which is what I want to go into,” he said.
With plans to get his master’s degree in beef cattle reproduction, Talley believes that this conference will allow him to gain a needed experience.
“I hope to gain more knowledge and more networking. I’m really excited to see some of the talks. You learn so much from just talking with the professionals for 15 minutes. They’re super friendly and they want to give you advice and want you to succeed. So, I’m excited to get to network a little bit and talk with them some more,” he said.
Hannahs, a junior Food Science and Technology major from Buffalo Grove, Ill., agreed with Talley that the conference will be helpful toward her future goals of earning a master’s degree and securing a career with a food company.
“I feel that this conference will be very beneficial,” she said. “Not only will it expose me to different aspects of the food industry, but I will also have the opportunity to network and meet many other students and industry professionals from across the country.”
She said that her passion for the food industry was the cherry on top for her to attend.
“I hope to gain more knowledge of how all the aspects of the food industry work together to get a product to market and gain more insight to other fields within food,” she said.
Graves, a freshman Food Science major, said that her desire to make connections led her to apply for the conference.
“I wanted to apply to the AFA Food Institute conference because I wanted the chance to make connections with food industry leaders,” she said.
Beecher’s confident the students will grow professionally and academically from attending the conference.
“We have had a few students each year selected to participate in various institutes and have them come back with the feedback that it was a valuable experience,” Beecher said. “Not only do they have the opportunity to tour major companies in their industry, but they are also given the opportunity to have one on one conversations with executives and recruiters from these organizations.”
Beecher believes that all CAFLS students should apply for the AFA Institutes.
“We don’t always get the opportunity to have this caliber of a company on campus every semester, so AFA gives students the chance to explore industry opportunities and to make contact in person with people they may not have otherwise. Institutes like the ones offered by AFA are a great compliment to all of our on-campus opportunities,” she said.