GAINESVILLE, Fla. – With an interest in marketing and a goal to eventually start her own cattle business, Marlena Moore searched for a college degree program that would allow her to meld those two aspirations together while staying near her hometown of Riverview, Florida.
Moore came across the food and resource economics (FRE) major offered at the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) location in Plant City, Florida. Through curriculum and experiential learning, FRE majors develop the skills to analyze complex situations such as the allocation of natural resources to meet the needs of people in local, state and global communities. This month, UF/IFAS CALS at Plant City graduates its first class of students in the FRE major.
“I met Jason Steward, the UF/IFAS CALS at Plant City academic adviser, at a Hillsborough Community College event,” Moore said. “We talked and the Plant City location of UF seemed like a good fit. This gave me a great way to get into management and learn how to get started (running my own business). Jason will go the extra mile to help you get everything figured out.”
Moore will join more than 400 bachelor’s and master’s students from CALS who graduate on Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. in the Exactech Arena of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. More than 30 CALS students will graduate with doctorate degrees on Dec. 13 at 2 p.m. in the same location.
Amanda Bishop joins Moore in graduating from the FRE major in Plant City. The two soon-to-be graduates attended high school together before earning their associate of arts degrees at different institutions prior to becoming classmates again at UF. Their friendship has grown as they capitalize on their strengths by helping one another – Moore excels in the numbers side of business while Bishop has an affinity for the communications and marketing aspect of business.
“We’re the first class of FRE students at Plant City, so it’s been great because I get a closer relationship with my classmates and professors, and I can ask more questions for more personalized learning,” Moore said.
As part of the FRE major, students study sales, agricultural finance, food and agribusiness marketing, agribusiness management, international agricultural policy, math and economics. Bishop and Moore were able to take the same classes offered to FRE students at the UF main campus in Gainesville through online classes as well as in-person classes taught by UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) faculty member Luis Pena-Levano and other faculty in Plant City.
Through practical case-studies during coursework, Pena-Levano and additional UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics Department faculty who commuted from Gainesville helped Bishop and Moore learn the pros and cons of economic issues. Both students recounted how valuable these lessons were to their personal lives and future careers.
As a part-time employee of her mother’s family-owned business, Bishop applied the current information she learned in her classes directly to the family company. She has since transitioned the business to paperless filing and has consistently branded the company’s marketing designs, slogan and logo.
“Dr. Pena pushed me to research for myself rather than just taking what’s reported at face-value so I can make the best-informed decision for myself or company,” Bishop said. “If you’re going to run a business one day, you always have to be the one to evolve in the industry to stay on top.”
Moore added that the skills they learned are transferrable to any discipline. With examples such as how to buy a car or house and doing taxes, faculty explained business principles in a way that was relatable.
“Professor Pena works hard to help you understand the concepts,” Moore said. “My favorite thing he’s taught us is how to understand what’s going on in the world. If I listen to the news, I know exactly what they are talking about. I feel more connected to what’s going on around me because we write about current events in class and how the content relates to the world’s economy.”
Pena-Levano has made it a priority to help Bishop and Moore gain experiences outside of the classroom, such as networking at the Florida Ag Expo and helping with a Florida FFA retreat. These activities in conjunction with classes have helped the two students form a lasting friendship.
“I think in our future careers, it’ll be great to have support and rely on one another no matter our different industries,” Bishop said.
—Dana Edwards, UF/IFAS