Event gives young women an opportunity to learn about careers in agriculture – AgriNews

GALESBURG, Ill. — Hundreds of young women took the opportunity to interact with women working in the agricultural industry at the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture event.

“I’m terrified. Look around and take a few seconds to soak in the moment,” said Carrie Hawkinson, vice president of academic services at Carl Sandburg College. “You’re sitting here with hundreds of others, and you can share a passion with them.”

Hawkinson, who grew up on a family farm, told high school and college students that he changed majors several times during college. “I have found that I have used the knowledge I gained from my experiences in agriculture and education every day in industry and beyond,” he added.

“Be company with those who want to make a difference and be there for others,” he said at the career exploration event. “Value each person: what they bring what they value and what they need to value.”

Curiosity is an important quality for people of any age. “Learn today and always be curious,” advised the speaker. “Learn from the successes and challenges of all the people you have the privilege of meeting along the way,” he added.

“Go beyond introductions and actively work to bring others into the circle. My experience is that the circle is a table and there is always room for another chair”.

Hawkinson encouraged attendees to interact with company representatives. “Find a deeper understanding of what interests you and what’s at the top of the web. Welcome to a dynamic industry; welcome to agriculture.”

Kelsey Neville, president of Illinois Agri-Women, attended WCFA during her sophomore year of college. “I spoke with a Syngenta representative that year and have worked for Syngenta for the past 10 and a half years as a sales representative,” he said. “I started with Syngenta at WCFA, you never know what can happen.”

Neville suggested that students step out of their comfort zone. “Talk to companies you don’t normally talk to because you might learn something new.”

Corteva Agriscience was one of several companies that participated in the WCFA. Haley Underwood, senior research associate, showed the students how she uses robots in the fields to help with feature selection and gave them a chance to test their robot driving skills.

“I’ve been working with these robots for about five years and at first they weren’t autonomous, I had to manually guide them and I ran into a lot of corn,” Underwood said. “The stand-alone function was added last year, so now they are very easy to operate.”

The robots have cameras that can be adjusted to view different parts of the corn plant. “They can be pointed upwards to see the height of the ear which is very important to our breeders,” said the speaker. “The overhead camera provides a 360-degree view of the foliage.

Underwood earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science from Western Illinois University and a master’s degree from the University of Illinois. “I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I was involved in high school agriculture classes and FFA,” he said. “My dad is a high school science teacher, so when I realized I had a passion for ag and science, I figured out a way to bring those two things together.”

After graduation, Underwood began his career at Monsanto, now Bayer, in St. At the company’s headquarters near Louis, working on soybean diseases. “I’m a small-town girl, so Saint Louis wasn’t really my thing,” she told the students.

“When I was at Western, I interned at the Pioneer office outside of Macomb,” Underwood said. “A position opened up there and I’ve been there for the last six years.”

John Deere representatives gave young women a chance to try welding at WCFA. “When I was in high school, I thought I was going to be a fashion designer and create my own clothes,” said Traci Bertelsen. “I finished high school, got married the same year and my plans changed.”

Bertelsen was looking for a job in 2003 and found out that John Deere was hiring welders. “I came to Carl Sandberg College to get my welding certification and in January of 2004, I had an interview with John Deere one Friday afternoon,” he recalled. “I got a call 20 minutes after I left and they asked me to start on Monday morning.

“I welded for about seven years and then started assembling at John Deere Harvester Works,” Bertelsen said.

After working in assembly, Bertelsen also did quality inspection and in recent years has worked as a paid trainer. “I train in welding, assembly and soft skills,” he said. “I also go to schools and recruit young people to work for John Deere.”

There are many opportunities for John Deere employees. “I didn’t think I wanted to be a welder all my life and I’m not,” the speaker said. “Wherever you start with John Deere, you don’t have to end there.”

One of the benefits offered by the company is support for educational costs. “John Deere will pay for two-thirds of your education after one year of service,” Bertelsen said. “So if I’m a welder and I want to go into finance, I can go to school for that.”

For more information on Women Changing the Face of Agriculture, go

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