Pipeline to Success

Today in the agricultural industry there is a growing importance for qualified individuals who understand the industry and all its moving parts. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is helping fill that void with leaders who are well educated about the industry.

In the fall of 2017, the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University selected its first cohort for the Matador Institute for Leadership Engagement, a program that has been long in the works.

The idea for a leadership program for students within the college was on the table for years, according to Steve Fraze Ph.D., who was the CASNR interim dean during the CASNR MILE development and played an instrumental role in starting the program.

CASNR wanted to give students an opportunity to develop leadership skills that would set them apart as they enter the workforce.

“This program will create a pipeline of trained young agricultural leaders,” Fraze said, “who are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and understanding of the issues and challenges facing our industry.”

Lindsay Kennedy, MILE program director and a graduate of the TALL program, along with Fraze, began talking with key individuals outside of Texas Tech. These individuals were supportive of a possible leadership program, and many of whom were also TALL graduates.

It is unique. The MILE program offers students an experience different than a lot of the other activities we have within the college.

Many aspects of the MILE program were designed with the Texas Agriculture Lifetime Leadership program in mind. The TALL program focuses on getting participants out of their comfort zones and experiencing different sectors of the agriculture industry. These are two important factors of the MILE.

“It is unique,” Kennedy said. “The MILE program offers students an experience different than a lot of the other activities we have within the college.”

Kennedy said she hopes the MILE program will be a trademark of work ethic, professionalism and the leadership ability of CASNR students. The program aims to give students a broad understanding of agriculture and its key issues while teaching students to advocate for the industry.

Developing a network is also a key goal for the MILE program. Students will have the opportunity to meet and network with people involved in every aspect of agriculture, including livestock, crops, conservation, and policy

Selecting the First Cohort

Once the program was developed, CASNR began accepting applications for the MILE program’s first cohort. Selected applicants then participated in an interview with the MILE advisory committee, which is comprised of industry leaders and CASNR personnel.

“We wanted the cream of the crop,” Kennedy said. “I was really impressed with the quality students who applied for our first cohort.”

Tanya Foerster, advertising director for Capital Farm Credit, is a member of the advisory board for the CASNR MILE program and participated in the interview process.

“Wow, what a hard job to have,” Foerster said. “They were very highly qualified individuals, and it was really hard to narrow it down and pick a group. I was very impressed, and it made me feel good to be an alumnus of Texas Tech and [CASNR].”

Fourteen students representing five of the six CASNR departments were selected to be in the first CASNR MILE cohort.

Each cohort will run for three semesters and will require participants to enroll in a MILE-specific course each semester.

During their time in the program, students will tour farms, ranches, livestock facilities, processing facilities and will ultimately travel to Washington, D.C. and Austin to meet with federal and state policymakers and agencies. MILE members are also required to complete an internship during their cohort.

“You can put slide shows up all day,” Kennedy said, “but when you go and stand in a field and talk to somebody and experience the different areas of ag, that’s when you develop an understanding for how all those segments fit into our industry.”

The MILE program is also geared to teach students professional and communication skills, including dining etiquette, understanding social etiquette, and possessing communication skills are essential when advocating for a cause.

Heath Hadley undergoes media training regarding controversial topics in agriculture. Photo courtesy of CASNR MILE.

Maggie Pipkin, a sophomore agricultural communications major from Spearman, Texas, is a member of the first MILE cohort.

Pipkin said she applied for MILE because of the variety of professional development opportunities offered through the program. Students are required to wear business professional or business casual anytime the cohort meets.

During one of the first MILE meetings, students learned the tips and tricks of table etiquette. They also received resume and cover letter critiques from professionals at the Texas Tech University Career Center.

“The etiquette dinner was extremely beneficial,” Pipkin said, “and one of my favorite things we have done so far. I learned so much.”

Kaylynn Kiker, a junior majoring in animal science with a business concentration from Allison, Texas, said the opportunities CASNR have been extraordinary so far.

“I like that the CASNR MILE is not a base-level leadership program,” Kiker said. “It’s going to take students who already have a lot of leadership skills and build on those.”

Kiker said she knows this program will have a positive effect on her life, not just from the leadership and communication skills she will obtain, but also from the numerous people she will network with in the industry.

Looking Ahead

As the MILE program continues, Foerster said she thinks it is going to be a snowball effect and the application rate will drastically increase.

“The future looks bright for agriculture,” Foerster said.

She said she feels certain the MILE program will be as beneficial to students as the TALL program was for her. Especially since students are given the opportunity to learn about and tour such a diverse range of agriculture industries.

“It is definitely something that is going to broaden their horizon,” Foerster said.

Fraze said he looks forward to seeing what students in the new MILE program will accomplish in their careers and do for the agriculture industry. The success of the program rides solely on the success of the students once in their careers.

Kiker said she looks forward to seeing how the MILE program will grow with the following cohorts.

“I think this program is going to continue to progress as more cohort members go out into the workforce and take on leadership positions in the industry,” Kiker said. “I can’t wait to see what my peers and the future cohort members following us will accomplish.”