In a time when so many events are being delayed or simply canceled, some Department of Agriculture students were able to take part in an annual event for food and agricultural students from across the United States. The 2020 Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leaders Conference was conducted online in November, which allowed a group of 10 Illinois State University students to safely build personal and professional skills.
Agriculture Future of America is a group based in Kansas City and coordinates a variety of college-level professional experiences for students in food and agriculture. These events typically come at no cost to students, other than transportation. Traditionally, AFA holds its annual Leaders Conference for selected students in person in Kansas City, Missouri, with about 900 students and hundreds more food and agriculture industry professionals. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s conference was moved online. Leaders of AFA in Kansas City and on campuses like Illinois State University worked diligently to create an outstanding conference experience for everyone. One of those leaders was the Department of Agriculture’s very own Joseph Jangulo, who serves as a campus ambassador for AFA and works to build positive relationships with students at Illinois State and AFA. Behind the scenes, Jangulo ensured Illinois State students were networking, reflecting on what they learn, and understanding how to apply what they learned to their lives, whether that be personally, in internships, or in the Department of Agriculture.
The virtual conference hosted some incredible speakers who taught and inspired the students in attendance. Among the speakers were renowned body language expert Jan Hargrave, Army veteran and Paralympian Melissa Stockwell, as well as countless food and agriculture industry leaders. The conference is broken down into four tracks, which build off each other and allow students to network with peers at the same stage in their college career as themselves. Throughout the four days, students were able to meet with many students and professionals, allowing them to build a strong and diverse network while in school. One of the highlights of the conference includes the Opportunity Fair, which allows students to spend many hours talking with graduate schools and employers. Here, students can share their names, skills, and resumes with schools and employers that are looking for leaders just like them.
While the students from Illinois State were many miles apart, they were able to meet up on Zoom on the final day of the conference. This meeting allowed the Department of Agriculture students to share some of their favorite parts about the conference, as well as have time to reconnect with peers they have not seen since early March. A number of Illinois State students were ranked near the top of the activity board, which shows they were engaged throughout the entire conference. As always, students from the Department of Agriculture here at Illinois State brought open minds and a willingness to learn, which has already made a positive impact on their personal, professional, and academic lives.