UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three students from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, in September for the annual meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
Dylan Schoemaker, of Robesonia; Katelyn Zembrzycki, of Uniondale; and Isaac Clements, of Prattsburgh, New York, were three of 11 undergraduate students from the country's northeast region to be selected to attend the convention.
NASDA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association that represents elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries and directors of the departments of agriculture in all 50 states and four U.S. territories. As participants in the association's Next Generation program, these students had discussions with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Gov. Dannel Malloy, of Connecticut, about top issues facing agriculture, including international trade, biotechnology, the future of agricultural education, and agricultural labor.
Kellie Bray, senior director of government relations with CropLife America, also spoke with the students about their ideas for recruiting and retaining talent in the agricultural industry. Jean Lonie, relationship manager for Nuffield International Farming Scholars and an alumna of Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, served as the group's facilitator for the week, engaging with the students on how they could serve the agricultural industry as leaders in public service.
The objective of the Next Generation program is to help future leaders in agriculture, food and natural resource industries better understand the roles of state departments of agriculture in policy development, communication and promotion of agriculture. The program was sponsored by Bayer and Syngenta.
"Having Katelyn, Dylan and Isaac participate in the NASDA annual meeting was very meaningful for the students and for the college," said Tracy Hoover, the college's associate dean for undergraduate education. "This is the first time Penn State students had the opportunity to participate in the Next Generation program, and this type of exposure to agricultural policy and the leaders of U.S. agriculture is an unmatched professional development experience for them."
In addition, Hoover said, the students were able to explore agriculture in another state, expand their network of peers from other agricultural colleges, and engage with those who are shaping agriculture across the country.
Schoemaker, a plant sciences major, said he enjoyed learning more about the national association.
"The meeting was my first experience with NASDA, but the event showed me the power state agriculture departments have to help solve some of the most challenging issues in agriculture," he said. "Most importantly, I enjoyed seeing the passion and care the organization has for us young leaders in agriculture. It really wants us to be successful in the industry and is willing to help us reach our goals."
Zembrzycki, an agribusiness management major, added that she and her fellow students learned a lot at the conference and had a lot of fun, too.
"It was truly a privilege to attend the conference," she said. "I was blown away by the conversations and camaraderie of all the members, staff, sponsors and the other scholars."
Clements, also an agribusiness management major, recommends students take the opportunity to participate in the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture conference.
"It was an eye-opening experience," he said. "It was interesting to see how policymakers work to keep agriculture moving forward within our society. Also, it was a great networking opportunity. I was able to meet many professionals within the agricultural industry, and I was able to build lasting friendships with my Next Generation classmates."
Hoover noted that the NASDA Next Generation participants can carry this new knowledge back to their fellow students in the College of Agricultural Sciences and share how important agricultural policy and public sector work is for the industry.
"We couldn't have asked for better representatives of Penn State than these three outstanding students," she said.