- (Public Value) UCANR: Developing a qualified workforce for California
- Author: Mariana Gonzalez Castro
- Contact: Stacey Amparano
On Monday, February 17th, I flew from the San Diego airport to Washington D.C. to attend a rare opportunity. I was one of 20 undergraduate students selected to attend the 96th Annual USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum Future Leaders in Agriculture Program. I participated in USDA planned activities on February 18-19th and attended USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum on February 20-21st, in Arlington, Virginia.
On the first two days of this event, I was able to tour USDA Headquarters and received a first-hand perspective about the structures of various USDA agencies, including the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) and Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS). I met with many USDA officials, including one of the regional directors of NASS and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue. I gained an understanding of how national public policy in agriculture functions by visiting the Russell Senate Office Building and talking with senators' committee members. Since many students, including myself, were visiting Washington D.C. for the first time, the Future Leaders in Agriculture Program scheduled a tour of Washington's greatest landmarks and memorials.
On Thursday and Friday, the days the forum event took place, multiple sessions occurred concurrently with speakers giving presentations on agricultural issues and using innovation as the key to improve and increase global food production. Of the sessions I personally attended, some of the topics discussed were creating more infrastructure in rural communities, adopting precision agriculture, and improving data research methods in public agricultural research. I also attended plenary panels that would discuss challenges in agriculture and rural communities and using innovation as a potential solution. Secretary Perdue would also host fireside chats in which the Secretaries of Agriculture of Argentina, Canada, and Mexico were present to discuss similar topics and issues. Throughout these two days I networked with many USDA agency representatives in a Networking Exhibition Hall. As a result, I received many career opportunities that I intend to apply to.
This trip has opened my eyes to three fundamental realizations.
#1: I arrived in Washington D.C. insecure. I did not have a strong background in agriculture. All I had was my versatility, a couple of college credits, and my top-notched brain. My upbringing in a low-income, rural community left me with a fixed mindset about myself and my future. I was hesitant to get out of my comfort zone and leave the Imperial Valley to pursue my career in mathematics. However, throughout the week I learned so much about public policy in agriculture as well as USDA's history, structure, and services. I explored Washington D.C. and fell in love with the area. I found myself imagining a life there. The thought of this left me surprised, yet excited of the prospect of building myself a future in Washington D.C.
#2: I grew up being told that, as a Hispanic, I am part of a minority group. However, I never felt like I was a minority. I grew up in an area where most of the population is Hispanic. So, imagine my surprise when I find myself being one the very few Hispanic students in this program. Out of 30 selected students, I was one of only 4 students that were Hispanic. I did the math. That is, only 14% of this group of students were Hispanic. Now, don't misunderstand me, every student of my cohort is a minority, one way or another. However, the reason I point this detail out is because of what I felt as a result. There truly is a difference between being told that one is a minority and witnessing that firsthand. This shift in my environment shocked me to my core and I realized that we need more representation in leadership. We have far more representation in leadership compared to 50 years ago, but there is still much to be done and I want to be more involved with continuing to implement diversity inclusion. After all, I am a young Hispanic female STEM major-the ultimate minority. I represent my generation and our nation's future. This fact leads me to my third and final realization.
#3: I got to meet several of the brightest minds of my generation. I bonded with all my fellow colleagues, learned of their stories, shared my story, and had stimulating discussions on several issues in agriculture. Meeting them changed my life because not only did I learn so much about agricultural issues and potential solutions, but they encouraged me to be the best me I can be. In other words, they inspired me. We were no longer students from various universities and disciplines selected to attend an annual agricultural forum. We became a unified cohort that will continue to support each other for years to come. Our brilliant minds and shared passion for agriculture leaves me hopeful of our nation's future.
I cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is for students like me to seek out opportunities in the Imperial Valley. The week I spent with USDA helped me realize just how impactful the Imperial Valley is in agriculture. Our community plays a crucial role in helping feed the world and I did not realize this until my last couple of years in college when I was first introduced to USDA. The agriculture education outreach that has been done must continue in the younger generations because we do make an immense impact.
I returned home with self-confidence, new ideas, and an eagerness to continue what I started in Washington D.C. This event finished shaping my mind on the idea of pursuing a career in agriculture. Any doubts I had before were completely erased. I now know that the career I want to pursue is one with USDA.
- Author: Stacey AMPARANO
Our inaugural IV Ag Tours for Teachers was a wonderful success. We can't say thank you enough to the Imperial Valley Community Foundation for the major support of this event and our wonderful ag community for opening their doors to the teachers- donations from Vessey & Company, Inc., Imperial Valley Water - IVH2O, Imperial California Olive Mill, One World Meat Company and guest speakers donating their time from Vessey and Company, Inc, Imperial Irrigation District, El Toro Land & Cattle Co., El Toro Export, University of California Cooperative Extension - Imperial County, and Vegcool
We, of course, cannot forget to mention our continued support for the Farm Smart program through the years from IID, Farm Credit West, Imperial County Farm Bureau, Keithly-Williams Seeds, Golden Valley Seed, and the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers. Their donations help us continue teaching kids(and adults) across the valley the importance of agriculture and where our food comes from.
- Author: Mariana Gonzalez
On October 4th, 2019, I flew from the San Diego airport to attend the 33rd Annual Conference of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, or HACU, as part of the Student Track's Adelante Institute in Chicago Illinois. The conference took place from October 5th to October 7th with about 600 Hispanic college students in attendance. About 230 of these students were sponsored by HACU, higher education institutions, corporations, or federal partners. I was the sole representative of my college, San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, sponsored by USDA.
Each day, the conference hosted various workshops with a focus on leadership development. Representatives from government agencies and service companies conducted the workshops. I gained valuable insight on my leadership skills and received information on how to further improve these skills. Not only did HACU emphasized the importance of developing leadership skills but they also promoted Hispanic diversity in the workplace. They served as a bridge to connect public organizations, agencies, and universities to me. Agencies in attendance sought to increase diversity in their organization and were looking for Hispanic students as potential applicants for their internship programs. Throughout the three-day event, there were many networking opportunities. There was a Networking Exhibition Hall where all organizations in attendance had a designated booth to promote their organization and recruit students into their agencies and programs. Each day, I spoke to different representatives, exchange contact information, and gave copies of my resume to the representatives. I have learned of many career options and am currently applying to these opportunities.
Another impactful aspect of this conference were the people in attendance. I met so many students from different colleges, states, and countries. Attending the conference in Chicago made me witness firsthand just how diverse is the Hispanic community. Most of the population in the Imperial Valley is comprised of Mexican heritage. The Imperial Valley is surrounded by Mexican culture. All I knew about the Hispanic culture was Mexican traditions and customs. I learned more about other Hispanic cultures directly from HACU students who were Puerto Rican, Cuban, Ecuadorian, and Spanish, just to name a few. HACU celebrated our stories and everyone's heritage. It took leaving my hometown, my comfort zone, and a visit to Chicago, a place with multiple cultures, for me see the diversity of Hispanic community.
All the students I met had their own set of obstacles with a strong determination and passion to pursue a higher education. I met fellow USDA Sponsored Scholars and spent time getting to know them. We shared our stories and personal experiences. Most of these students were experiencing their visit to Chicago, like me. Speaking with students with similar backgrounds has encouraged me to not only tell my story, but to be proud of that story. I am proud of my upbringing, my heritage, and my culture. I am proud to be a first-generation college student and to be a Hispanic female in a STEM field. I am proud of the leadership skills I have acquired through USDA. I had my own set of struggles that I overcame. HACU helped me realize that I should proudly tell my story as I am doing so now.
It has been a month since I attended this conference. Needless to say, I have had enough time to process this experience. I can say with absolute certainty that the emotions ignited by this experience still burn passionately within me. I could not have had this experience if it weren't for the USDA sponsorship. My internship with USDA allowed me to gain opportunities outside of the internship. I cannot emphasize how impactful USDA internships are, especially in the Imperial Valley. Being a low-income, first generation student, I found it difficult to see if there were opportunities for me. I thought there were not many options for me and that I had no choice but to leave the Imperial Valley to seek out opportunities. However, ever since I met USDA, I have found so many career opportunities and have learned so much from my experience with USDA internships. I have grown from these experiences and gained skills with constant development and improvement. I could not have had this self-reflecting, eye-opening, amazing experience if it weren't for my USDA internship providing me with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For that, I am eternally grateful.