Partnering to nurture diverse ag leaders

By Stacey Mickelbart & Jillian Ellison

All the work in the College of Agriculture’s Office of Multicultural Programs (OMP) connects to a mission staff are passionate about: creating a sense of belonging.

“We want to make sure that everybody within the college is respectful to each other, has a pride and a passion for the work they do in the college, and has a sense of belonging,” says Pamala Morris, associate dean, director of OMP, and professor of agricultural sciences education and communication. “We know that if they feel they belong, they’re going to work to maximize their fullest potential.” To help realize that mission, OMP has connected with agriculture industry partners who share their vision to support current or new OMP programs.

James Monger, who recently retired from his position as the diversity, equity and inclusion champion for Cargill, says the global food corporation was looking to work with more organizations to address social equity and offer underserved populations greater awareness of and access to career paths in agriculture.

To accomplish these goals, Cargill provided a gift to make the Purdue Agribusiness Science Academy(PASA) free for attendees. PASA is an annual summer camp for high school students interested in learning more about agriculture and has now been renamed Cargill-PASA. The company also funded the Cargill Partnership program coordinator position for the next two years.

Farm Credit Mid-America also has a history of partnering with the College of Agriculture, including membership in the Center for Commercial Agriculture and support for the undergraduate advising center in the Department of Agricultural Economics, as well as annual scholarships.

students jumping in front of arch

Students at the 2019 Purdue Agribusiness Science Academy (PASA), now sponsored by Cargill.

“When Purdue College of Ag and the Office of Multicultural Programs approached us about this opportunity, we were eager to learn more, since this addresses two areas that are very important to us: support for future generations of agriculture and diversity in our industry,” says Steve Witges, senior vice president of agricultural lending for Farm Credit Mid-America in Indiana.

That aligned well with OMP’s goals, Morris says. “We wanted something in place that could not only address some of the critical issues in retaining underrepresented minority and first-generation college students, but also serve as a mentoring program that would benefit as many students in the college as possible.”

After some research, OMP landed on the national program LeaderShape. The organization’s one-day Catalyst program, sponsored for the next five years by Farm Credit Mid-America, helps participants develop their individual path, connect to groups and causes they care about, and become a catalyst in their personal development and for the groups to which they belong.

The workshop, with room for up to 60 students, is held twice a year. The first session in April 2022 included undergraduate and graduate students as well as students from Ag Ambassadors and Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS).

Training in leadership and other workplace skills is valuable, but equally important is educating students on the wide range of careers available in the industry. Part of the target audience for the C-PASA program is urban, inner-city students, Monger says, who tend to be less aware of the opportunities awaiting them in the field of agriculture.

“What we have discovered is at the professional level, we are really struggling to attract more minorities into the field, and a lot has to do with historical stereotypes,” Monger says. “We are working hard to change the image and thought around working in ag.

“Agriculture is processing, marketing and shipping. It’s adding new value to products,” he says. “And it’s because of those things there are so many more opportunities outside of purely being a farmer.”

Monger says one of Cargill’s biggest goals through the partnership with Purdue is to encourage other industry organizations to step forward and work arm in arm toward a more balanced and inclusive landscape.

“The industry as a whole has a gender and minority parity issue, and as a university, I knew Purdue would do a great job being part of the solution,” Monger says.

Witges also sees Purdue Agriculture as an ideal partner to ensure that agriculture is a welcoming place for a diverse community. “Through these investments, we’re supporting future generations of ag leaders, investing in agriculture, supporting the way of life important to farm families and helping to build rural communities,” he says.

Banner Photo: Purdue Ag students participate in the LeaderShape Catalyst program sponsored by Farm Credit Mid-America. Photo by Zachary Brown