Each year the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development chooses 12 students from across the United States to participate in their Future Leaders Forum. This program allows students to be put in contact with industry leaders in international development in agriculture. It also gives them the opportunity to see the inner workings of global organizations based in Washington, District of Columbia.
Taya Brown, a graduate student in the ALEC department, had the honor of being chosen as one of the 2015 FLF participants.
“There was a lot of support from all over,” Brown said. “I’m sure it cost a pretty penny to get us there and give us that opportunity. I am very grateful.”
The FLF participants began the week by attending AIARD’s 51st annual conference, May 31 to June 2, 2015.
“I felt like we were kind of a highlight,” Brown said. The conference attendees were asked to interact with the participants as much as possible. The students were able to witness how the professionals dialogue with each other, the presentations they make and the kinds of projects they are currently working on.
Brown mentioned that she was interested in seeing if her ideas about the way things work in international development are accurate. She said she found it interesting that the discussions these professionals had were over the exact topics she thought they would be talking about.
“They are talking about real things and a lot of them were actually fairly critical of how we do our work in development,” Brown said. “That was really interesting to hear. They’re saying that we can always do better and let’s strive for that.”
After the conference, the FLF participants spent the next day and a half touring organizations based in the district. Robert Haggerty, Ph.D., from the University of Idaho and Mike McWhorter, Ph.D., from Texas A&M University, accompanied the students as they toured the capital.
“I think that it has given me more motivation now that I know some faces and feel connected to some of these big scary names like USAID, FAO and World Bank,” Brown said. She is excited to work and collaborate with these professionals in the future.
Brown said that there were three objectives each time they visited an organization. One was to hear about the organization itself and how it functions. The second was to learn about the various professionals’ personal career paths that led them to their current positions and the roles they play. The other was any advice that they had for the students specifically.
“Just the all-around support shows how much these people do care about the affect that they have on the world, whether it is a student from the U.S. or a community in Africa or South America,” she said.
In the days before the conference, Brown mentioned how excited she was to meet the other FLF participants and hear about their research. She said her motivation to continue forward increased after spending nearly half a week with students who have similar interests and studies.
“When we are in these really specialized fields it is heartening to be able to talk to people who are in the exact same kind of field and have similar interests, like travel and agriculture combined,” Brown said.
The genuine offers of advice and assistance, as well as the interests shown to her current project further motivated her to be a part of the movement. While at the conference, Brown promoted her project consisting of a passive air solar food dehydrator. She said that she is now in direct correspondence with multiple people about the project and finding funding.
“To have them turn around and say wow this is a great idea I’d really like to see this move forward or how can I find out more about this project that I am working on was really cool,” she said.
Brown said she hopes to continue her involvement with AIARD. During the conference, the students were asked to facilitate a session of round-table discussions about what the members thought the association could improve on.
“I got to hear first-hand what some of the AIARD members actually think could be improved,” she said. “That gave me some ideas that I hope to move forward with.”
She is interested in working on a committee or possibly forming a student-led committee to help with various minor issues, such as keeping up the website throughout the year. Brown said she wants to stay involved to help give back to the members who have sacrificed and helped her and the other FLF participants.
“I am really thankful for the idea of bringing us there and all of the follow-up to actually make it happen,” Brown said.
Also recognized at the conference was Samantha Alvis, a Texas A&M student pursuing a doctoral degree in International Agricultural Development and Agricultural Communications. Alvis received the 2015 Young Professional Award for her commitment to AIARD’s mission.
For more information on Brown and the Future Leaders Forum click here. (http://alecnews.tamu.edu/?p=2201)