Isn’t it funny how sometimes the answer you least predict resonates the most and leaves the biggest impact? I was in a meeting recently when one of my friends and fellow College of ACES student was asked what her greatest opportunity was in the college. This friend is very involved in all kinds of clubs and experiences housed in the College, so I was expecting her to say something about one of her numerous club and committee officer roles, study abroad experiences, or sense of community through her relationships with faculty, advisors, and even the deans. That is likely where I would have started had I been asked that question in that setting.
Instead, however, she replied that her involvement in Agriculture Future of America (AFA) was one of the best student opportunities that she had experienced. AFA is a national organization that builds bridges between college students interested in food, agriculture, or natural resources and professionals working in those industries. It is not a club on campus, but it is a group of some of the top students in the college that frequently “put themselves out there” to grow personally and professionally. They travel the country to learn about the latest technologies and practices in the food and agriculture industry, network with professionals, from recent graduates to top executives, and build friendships with their peers from other universities. This definitely describes my friend!
During the 2018-2019 school year, I’ve had the pleasure to serve on AFA’s student leader team as a Campus Ambassador, so I know personally what kinds of amazing experiences AFA provides. In my role, I helped connect students on my campus with AFA, met with industry partners, and focused on developing my diversity, respect, and inclusion awareness to ensure that these opportunities are available and beneficial for everyone. To this day, I am in several group chats with people that I met through AFA where we share employment and graduate school opportunities; ideas for bettering our own campus’s clubs, student engagement, and recruitment efforts; and encouragement during tough seasons (hello finals week!).
There are thousands of awesome opportunities available right here in Champaign-Urbana. Nonetheless, one of my most meaningful college experiences has taken me away from campus far more than it has kept me here. The College of ACES opened up the AFA door for me just like it did for my friend. I challenge every college student to find ways to get off campus for personal, professional, or academic development. Sometimes we get in the mindset that college is the end of school, but we need to view it as the beginning of the rest of our lives. AFA was perfect for me and my goals, but there are many other pathways off campus such as a professional society or semester abroad. Find what fits and pack your bags!