Kiah Twisselman, graduating student
University of California, Davis
April 9, 2014
Just a little over a week ago, I walked across the stage of the soon-to-be closing Freeborn Hall for the last time of my college career. I placed my notes on the podium, lifted my head to the microphone, and squinted into the bright lights obstructing my view of the audience of thousands of FFA students and advisors staring up at me.
At this moment, a rush of emotions came over me—nerves that my stalling act would be a flop as we waited for the final tabulations for the remaining contests, fear that ag teachers and contestants were not satisfied with my performance as the 2014 UC Davis Field Day Coordinator, and a strong wave of bittersweet reminiscence. I was once in those chairs, mixed among the sea of blue jackets, wide eyed and doubtful that I would ever be the one behind that microphone, but there I was. I’m not sure if it was the exciting and terrifying altogether realization that in two weeks I would be a college graduate, or just a sudden awareness of just how instrumental agriculture education was in getting me to where I am today, days away from graduating from the #1 university in the world for agriculture, but at this moment I was immeasurably grateful.
I grew up on a sixth-generation cattle ranch in Carrisa Plains, Calif.—that rural area on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo Country that only country folks know about. Needless to say, cattle ranching is as much a part of me as the freckles on my face or the blue in my eyes. Cattle ranching was always simply the way of life, in my eyes, nothing out of the ordinary.
Growing up, I was heavily involved in 4-H and FFA, with my favorite projects, of course, being my beef cattle. In my junior year of high school I started my very own commercial cattle herd, separate from the family’s which still continues today. I learned at a young age the importance of hard work, dedication, family, and love. There is no greater industry than agriculture to exemplify the qualities of life that I hold nearest and dearest to my heart. You know how they say you only really know how much you love something once its gone? Well, I have anecdotal evidence that this holds true.
After graduating from Atascadero High, I made the life-changing experience to attend UC Davis for my undergraduate studies. It’s not as though Davis is a booming metropolis, but it was still a large change from my rural way of life where the nearest grocery store or gas station was an hour away. While my plan was to enter with nursing school as my end goal, I must admit that the smell of cows when I first visited campus was what ultimately solidified my decision. It felt like home.
While my major at UC Davis is not what most would perceive as being agriculturally related—human development major with an education minor—fortunately for me it still falls under the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Having the innate drive to be involved in leadership and surrounded by those that share my passions, I immediately got involved with organizations on and off campus. All four years of my college career I have been a part of the UC Davis Aggie Ambassadors in which I currently serve as the outreach coordinator. Holding true to my roots, I also became a part of the Young Cattlemen’s Association, in which I am serving my second term as media coordinator.
Leaving the ranch was a great first step, but my cravings for leadership and agriculture grew as I continued to seek out opportunities beyond my campus borders, as well as California’s borders. It was in November 2012 that my life, my goals, and my dreams were changed after attending my first Agriculture Future of America Leaders Conference in Kansas City. My eyes were opened to the endless possibilities within the industry and the way that I myself play a key role. The world never felt so large, yet so accessible all at the same time. I was refueled in my passions and newly armed with the tools and resources to better serve my industry.
It was here that I first discovered my specific passions for advocating for agriculture and being the voice for the industry to create transparency and build understanding between producers and consumers. From here I continued my journey as an advocate, participating in the U.S. Grains Council and National FFA Organization sponsored International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership Program in 2013, traveling to Brazil to learn about international agriculture and global marketing.
Playing a more active role in educating the public about agricultural topics, I joined the National Collegiate Agriculture Ambassador program to engage in community outreach and workshops to groups of all ages. While growing up, my role was in beef cattle production; my role has since shifted to public advocacy and telling the stories of agriculture. I hope to pursue a career in agricultural communications, drawing together my two greatest passions in this world—people and agriculture.
Our industry is in a particularly difficult time period—faced with environmental impacts such as drastic droughts, public scrutiny due to media driven misconceptions, increasing demand for food with a rapidly growing population, and restrictive governmental regulations. While these may be challenging issues to face, never before has the young generation of agriculturalists been so fundamental to the future of the industry. We have a big job to do, but a great passion to do it, and do it well. Agriculture is the world’s most vital industry, touching every individual on the planet. Our industry is nothing short of great, but it is the people within it that make it so.
- Kiah Twisselman, UC Davis, firstname.lastname@example.org