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Farm Credit Mid-America partnership supports diverse future ag leaders

When staff from the College of Agriculture’s Office of Multicultural Programs gathered at a retreat, Pamala Morris, associate dean, director of the Office of Multicultural Programs (OMP) and professor of agricultural sciences education and communication, asked them to think about these questions: “What do you really value?” and “What are you passionate about?” 

Their collective answer, she explains, was a “sense of belonging,” and all the work in their office connects to that passion.  

“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,” Morris said. “We know that if they feel they belong, then 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.

Farm Credit Mid-America has a long 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. 

workshop
Students in the LeaderShape Catalyst program (also photo above) learned to craft their own stories of leadership while connecting with and listening to others. Photos by Zachary Brown.

“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,” said Steve Witges, senior vice president of agricultural lending for Farm Credit Mid-America in Indiana. 

Farm Credit Mid-America is interested in providing exposure to agriculture for students who might not typically encounter it and expanding opportunities for underrepresented minority students in agricultural careers. The company hopes the partnership will provide students with a welcoming environment to develop and fine-tune their leadership and other skills heading into the workforce. 

That aligned well with OMP’s goals, Morris said. “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 they’re a part of. 

The workshop, with room for up to 60 students to enroll, 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). Participants reflected on and learned to craft their own stories of leadership while connecting with and listening to others. Participants also discussed how the strengths of different members of the group can move them to action.  

Farm Credit Mid-America funding also helps support travel to regional workshops and national conferences for MANRRS students.  

“Just as philanthropy is vital to Purdue’s success, our community investment programs are a vital part of our purpose to secure the future of rural communities and agriculture,” Witges said. “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.” 

Nira Grynheim
Nira Grynheim, 2021-2022 president of Purdue MANRRS

The LeaderShape program, Morris said, “creates this sense of belonging, but also helps students to develop leadership skills.” 

And those qualities help both partners achieve their mission. At an open house for Nira Grynheim, who received her bachelor’s degree in animal sciences in May, Morris reflected with Grynheim’s parents how much their daughter had grown as a result of her engagement in the college and as president of MANRRS for the 2021-2022 academic year. 

“I told them, ‘When your daughter first came into the college, she didn’t know many people, but she took my class her first semester. After that, she just seemed to blossom because she joined MANRRS,’” Morris said. 

Grynheim’s mother agreed, telling Morris, “I noticed a difference in her. The confidence that she has in herself is unbelievable.” 

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