Agriculture Future of America Leadership Conference -- Student Perspective

Posted: December 6, 2012

From November 1-4, I spent four days in Kansas City, Missouri for the Agriculture Future of America Leadership Conference. Being selected out of the top 550 student agricultural leaders in the U.S., I was honored to attend the conference as an Ag Advocate and as a student leader in the College of Agricultural Sciences with five fellow Penn Staters. Little did I know, it would be one of the most inspirational experiences of my life and I would meet so many outstanding Ag Alumni along the way.
L-R, Allyson Schonfeld, Heather Stutzman, Jena Sigel, Kierstin Dawes, Courtney Moskios, and Denise Beam

L-R, Allyson Schonfeld, Heather Stutzman, Jena Sigel, Kierstin Dawes, Courtney Moskios, and Denise Beam

By Jena Sigel, Ag Alumni Relations Intern

Traveling with me was graduate student, Allyson Schonfeld, and students Heather Stutzman, Kiersten Dawes, Courtney Moskios and Denise Beam all studying in the College of Agricultural Sciences. I checked one of my items off of my bucket list during this trip, and that was to fly on an airplane for the first time.

When we arrived in Kansas City, MO our first place on our agenda to visit was the Alpha Gamma Rho headquarters. Giving us a tour was Emily Harrison, '11 AG BM. Emily is the Development Specialist at the home base office in Kansas City. She seeks foundational support and gains general information from all of the chapters of AGR from all over the United States. It was interesting to view the home office and see all of the past presidents photos on the wall.

Emily Harrison

Emily Harrison talking about Alpha Gamma Rho

The next few days were spent in mentoring workshops filled with team-building, leadership, industry speakers, family dynamics and a financial management activity. Students were introduced to over 147 companies to lead them to internship, and full-time careers from business' all over the United States and the world. A lot of the companies that I gave resume's to have employed Penn State alumni. My favorite part of the trip was interacting with a few companies including Elanco Animal Health, The Andersons' Inc., and ConAgra foods. It was interesting to network and learn more about the companies and what they do. Through this conference I was able to connect one-on-one with industry leaders through round-table discussions.

Another exciting adventure that AFA allowed me to do was hear two individuals in the field of agriculture speak. Howard G. Buffet and Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh received the 2012 AFA Leadership in Agriculture award. It was an incredible experience to meet Dr. Flinchbaugh and get to know him as one of our own Penn State Ag Alumni. Dr. Flinchbaugh is a '64 Agricultural Science Industry and a '67g Agriculture Economics alumnus who is currently teaching Ag Economics at Kansas State University. He has been named Outstanding Teacher in the College of Agriculture by his students three times during his 41 year tenure at Kansas State.

Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh
Dr. Flinchbaugh with his AFA Leadership in Agriculture Award

In addition to teaching, Flinchbaugh is an agriculture policy expert. He lectures throughout the nation and has assisted in the development of every farm bill since 1968. From 1984 until 2004, he served as the Kansas Extension Leader of Agricultural Economics. He has participated in many international agricultural affairs including two Japanese Trade Missions and led Kansas Agricultural People-to-People tours to the Soviet Union, Europe, China and Africa.

Dr. Flinchbaugh and Jena Sigel

Ag Alumni Society Intern, Jena Sigel with Dr. Flinchbaugh

The second speaker, Howard G. Buffet is an Illinois farmer, who demonstrates his passion for agriculture through his philanthropic work. The Howard G. Buffet Foundation's mission is to improve the standard of living and quality of life for the world's most impoverished and marginalized populations, focusing on international agriculture development and food security programs. Through these efforts, Buffet oversees 13.067 acres of research farmland in Illinois, Arizona and South Africa. He has participated on the Commission on Presidential Debates and as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Against Hunger of the World Food Program. Buffet has received many awards including an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from The Pennsylvania State University and has been recognized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

Both of these inspirational figures in agriculture were so pleased and happy to see the participation and were honored to support the mission of AFA. Both of them described life as a "winning or losing" lottery ticket when it comes to having food, clothing and shelter to live. Some people get a winning lottery ticket, but a lot of people get a losing lottery ticket. Their mission is have a lot more winning lottery tickets for people in the world and fight world hunger.

This conference gave me a wider picture to the world and I started to see things a little differently. I left with a heavy mind and a larger heart, and my goals that I had previous to this conference seemed so small and made me reevaluate my priorities. The AFA Leadership conference has inspired me to think bigger, not just about my small community back home, but what I could contribute to the world as a figure in agriculture. This conference has helped me as an individual in my personal and professional leadership including family dynamics, the job search, resume building and financial management. I highly encourage other Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences students to attend the AFA Leadership Conference next year!

For more information, contact Jena Sigel, Ag Alumni Relations Intern at