Move over animal agriculture nay sayers and detractors, there’s about to be a new crop of “agvocates” in town ready to promote farming and ranching and ensure that all traces of consumer confusion are eliminated. This fall, for the sixth consecutive year, the Animal Agriculture Alliance will launch its annual College Aggies Online Scholarship Program (CAO) to help college students with an interest in agriculture become confident, positive and proactive communicators. Thanks to a vibrant new partnership with Feedstuffs broadcast editor Andy Vance, this year’s program promises to be stronger than ever.
“We are thrilled to welcome Andy aboard to mentor our CAO participants and share his expertise in partnership with one of the Alliance’s most positive and proactive initiatives,” said Alliance President and CEO Kay Johnson Smith. “There’s nothing more crucial than helping the next generation of farmers, ranchers and agriculture professionals understand the importance of communicating with consumers.”
Vance will serve as the series’ first Program Mentor, and in that capacity will provide students with practical advice on social media best practices, journalistic ethics, and the best way to communicate with consumers about difficult agriculture topics. Widely recognized across the country as a leading agricultural communicator, both through his work for Feedstuffs and as an long-time member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB), Vance will provide a necessary sounding board to this year’s participants as they embark on 11 weeks of challenges meant to force them outside the “ag bubble” and talking to their peers both on campus and online.
“I am thrilled to ‘pay it forward’ by mentoring the next generation of professionals in agriculture,” said Vance of this exciting new collaboration. “After getting to know some of the past CAO participants, I wanted to add value to the program by sharing my experience and insights into the often challenging world of agricultural advocacy and communication.”
The Alliance is also pleased to welcome the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) Foundation as the program’s newest sponsors. NPPC has a long history of connecting consumers to their food supply—through various programs and initiatives. As part of NPPC’s support of the CAO program, students will participate in various challenges throughout National Pork Month, which occurs in October.
“NPPC is proud to support a program that not only will benefit college ag students but also the agriculture community when those students become advocates for farmers and ranchers,” said Dave Warner, Communications Director at NPPC. “Agriculture needs to de a better job telling its story, and the Alliance’s CAO program will help do that by preparing the next generation of story tellers.”
This fall’s competition will include new, creative assignments, increased participant interaction with industry experts, and a more comprehensive internship and career database. Individuals and collegiate agriculture clubs can compete in CAO, in challenges ranging from writing blogs and engaging with stakeholders using social media, to volunteering at food banks and hosting “Meet your Meat” events on their college campuses.
Last month, Alliance staff members exhibited at the American Society of Animal Science convention to further promote the scholarship program to graduate and undergraduate students. In 2013, approximately 730 students from more than 30 universities participated in CAO.
“I wish I could go back to school and participate in this program,” stated Johnson Smith. “With these new partnerships—as well as the existing program support from many of the 2013 sponsors—this year promises to be the most rewarding yet.”
The final points from the 11 unique weekly challenges be tallied in November 2014 and the club with the most points will receive a $5,000 scholarship, national recognition and a trip for two representatives to attend the Alliance’s annual Stakeholders Summit. The first place individual will win a $2,500 scholarship and a trip to Summit.
Scholarships and recognition will also be awarded to the runner-up club as well as to the second and third placing individuals. Other 2014 program sponsors include Ohio Poultry Association, Georgia Cattlemen’s Association and others.
To learn more about the competition and how to sign up, please visit the Alliance website.