“I’ve worked in the industry for more years than I care to share and I want to retire,” said one FuSE Campus Connections mentor at the group’s Meet ‘n Greet held during the American Seed Trade Association’s Annual Convention.
This statement seems to be the over-arching sentiment from many of the seed industry’s most experienced professionals—but even more alarming is that they want to retire when there are very few qualified, young graduates and/or professionals coming in to take their place.
Enter FuSE, an initiative started in 2004 as an official sub-committee of ASTA’s Management Skills Committee. Dedicated to educating and supporting future seed industry executives, FuSE developed the Campus Connections program with the intention of bringing together knowledgeable industry veterans and college students entering their senior year currently enrolled in areas of study compatible with the seed industry.
“I had a great time mentoring Aaron Cling. He is a great guy, and is really easy to talk to. I also got to know Andrew Lauver. I’m going to enjoy following their careers over the next few years.”—John Latham
Each year, Campus Connections provides a unique opportunity for students with just one year of undergraduate studies remaining to interact with seed industry professionals and senior executives at major industry events. The students learn more about the various aspects of the seed business, while networking and building a solid foundation with various seed companies. Applicants for the Campus Connections program must be working towards a bachelor’s degree in agronomy, plant sciences/genetics, ag business/economics, biological engineering, horticulture, floriculture or other approved areas of study·
This year’s event was of particular interest for students as the event was held just minutes from the nation’s capital. The convention brought students to Capitol Hill for a “Storm the Hill” day, where they were able to partake in meetings with state senators, representatives and legislators, watch the passing of amendments from the senate gallery and check out the museum within the visitor’s center.
On top of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to D.C., students were invited to attend all four general sessions featuring speakers such as the Honorable Tom Vilsack, United States Secretary of Agriculture; Edward Avalos, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs; and Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, OFW Law Principal and Former Representative from South Dakota who served on the House Agriculture Committee.·
“It was, as always, a wonderful experience! I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know not just my student but a number of them. I would be honored to continue serving as a mentor.”—Risa DeMasi
“Of all the activities and events FuSE facilitates, I am most proud of the Campus Connections program.· There is a pay-it-forward aspect to this program that has shown real results,” said FuSE chairman Elizabeth Pestow.·“Exposing students to the issues we are facing as a whole before completing their undergraduate studies is invaluable.·Not only does it assist them in determining their future path in the seed industry, but it widens their eyes to the scope of the industry, the abundance of opportunities in varying fields and their ability to contribute.”
Opening the Door
“This put a whole new perspective on things for me and was, quite frankly, an experience that I would never be able to access on my own,” said participant Ivy Hoppes, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln horticulture student.
Due to the fact that the students had such a broad range of studies, finding industry experts to serve as mentors wasn’t difficult, and each mentor eagerly stepped up to the challenge. This year’s mentors included Greg Lamka of DuPont Pioneer, John Latham of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds, Fred Mohr of Seedway, Brad Kortsen of INCOTEC, Risa DeMasi of Grassland Oregon, Tom Moore of HM. Clause and Jose Re of RiceTec.
“I had a great time mentoring Aaron Cling. He is a great guy, and is really easy to talk to. I also got to know Andrew Lauver. I’m going to enjoy following their careers over the next few years,” said mentor John Latham.
It isn’t just the students that are subject to a once-in-a-lifetime experience; the mentors also come away with a fresh perspective.
“It was, as always, a wonderful experience. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know not just my student but a number of them. I would be honored to continue serving as a mentor,” said Risa DeMasi.
The FuSE committee will continue to emphasize to industry professionals the notion that “if you want a way out, we have to help students find a way in.” The industry is maturing, changing and evolving at a rapid rate and if the young people of today are not trained to become the professionals of tomorrow, the industry will fail to develop into the industry that needs to feed nine billion people by 2050.
By Paige Collette
Editor’s Note: Paige Collette is the communications manager for Seed World magazine and FuSE Communications Sub-Committee chair.