Author: Katelyn

Why Agriculture?

Over the last several weeks, I’ve had a chance to interact with a wide variety of audiences: high school students, college students studying engineering, policy makers, other professional engineers, and my own friends and family.  The question that most ask me is “Why Agriculture?”.  Afterall, my degree is in mechanical engineering.  I could’ve gone into any industry that I wanted to but here I am working at an agricultural company.

The easy answer is always “well, I wasn’t planning on it but the job offer was adequate and sounded like it had potential” and while that is partially the truth, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

It’s true that I didn’t plan on going into agriculture but it makes sense that I did.  Growing up in a rural area, I was constantly surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans.  Both of my parents’ families were involved in farming, and I remember by dad talking about helping out in the fields when he was a kid.  Farming was the thing that I didn’t think much of when I was young, I just thought it was a normal part of everyday life.  That was, until I went to college and Minneapolis and realized that being surrounded by fields was far from the norm.

In college, I was convinced that I needed to have a job that had a positive affect on people, and to me, that meant going into medical devices.  I romanticized the idea of working on medical devices and building devices that could literally save lives.  After an internship in the field, I realized that the scope of what most medical device jobs entail would likely not satisfy my curiosity and desire to be more hands on.

My senior year of college, I applied to a handful of jobs, including a few in the medical device field.  In the end, it came down to deciding between a job at Beckman Coulter and DuPont Pioneer.  I decided on Pioneer because of the unique opportunity it presented.  Agriculture was certainly something that most of my friends/SWE colleagues were not involved in and I wanted to do something different.

Now that I work in agriculture, I couldn’t imagine it another way.  Agriculture presents an amazing intersection of technology (from gene editing to machine learning) and literally feeding and clothing the world.  There’s no industry in the world that has a more direct impact on peoples’ everyday lives than agriculture.

Agriculture is so much more than the farmers in the field.  It’s the people that work to ensure that a crop provides more yield.  It’s the supply chain experts that ensure that grain gets from the field to a mill.  It’s even the people that consume food everyday and drive the direction of agriculture based on the decisions they make.  Almost every career path there is can be realized by working for an agricultural company.

I am proud to work in agriculture and serve as a voice for the industry.  Educating those that don’t work in agriculture but who are consumers of it (aka everyone) is one of the most rewarding parts of this field.

So now, instead of looking for an answer to the question “Why agriculture?”, I like to think “Why not agriculture?”.

Advocacy at the Highest Level

When most people go to Washington D.C. they see the sights and enjoy our nation’s history.  They spend time at the Smithsonian museums, the various monuments, and the Capitol Building.  A couple weeks ago, I also visited D.C. but while there, I didn’t just do the typical tourist activities.  Instead, I spent time advocating for policies and funding for something I’m very passionate about: STEM.

The Society of Women Engineers hosts a Capitol Hill trip every year, and as an active SWE member, I attended the trip this March.  For the attendees, SWE provides a day of training on advocating.  This training included information on bills and policies that SWE has issued a view on as well as general information on how to speak to our elected representatives and their staff.

The second day of the trip is when the visits occured.  As an Iowa resident, I was scheduled to meet with Senator Chuck Grassley, Senator Joni Ernst, and Congressman Dave Loebsack’s offices.  I also decided to attend a meeting with the Minnesota SWE members to Tina Smith’s office.

The day of visits kicked off with Tina Smith.  Our group of five individuals (myself and four Minnesota residents) headed to her offices early.  We waited in her office and each added our pins to the map of Minnesota (I put my pin in my hometown).  When our assigned meeting time arrived, we were escorted to a room by a staffer who specialized in infrastructure.  She was the one our meeting would be with.

Our group started with explaining what SWE did, it’s mission, and the specific items we wanted to push or to receive funding for.  We each took turns telling our personal stories and explaining why we were passionate about the topics we were talking about.  For me, I emphasized the neeed for funding for STEM education, especially for rural areas and for elementary school teachers.  I grew up in a very rural part of Minnesota, and I experienced firsthand what a lack of funding means and the opportunities that aren’t available because of it.  I also spoke of the teachers that I’ve met while performing outreach — many of them told me that they were intimidated by teaching math and science topics.  These teachers had not been exposed to how to teach these topics as much as other subjects such as reading, history, etc.

After we each finished with our stories, we had the opportunity to meet Tina Smith herself!  She expressed her gratitude for what the Society of Women Engineers does and agreed to take a picture with us.

Tina Smith Picture

After our meeting with Tina Smith, I split off from the Minnesota ladies and went off to meet with the Iowa representatives.  I met with Chuck Grassley’s office, then Dave Loebsack’s office, and finally Joni Ernst’s office.  Each meeting was similar, I had a chance to meet with a member of each office and explain to them the items that I was passionate about.  I focused on STEM Education, Title IX, and breaking down workplace barriers for women.  At each meeting, I balanced a combination of statistics and personal stories to drive my points home.

At the end of the day, I was truly exhausted but I was also filled with pride.  Having the opportunity to meet with the offices of my elected officials was truly an amazing experience and something I will certainly do again.

I’ve had people ask me how they can get involved with policy advocacy.  My advice to those people is to start at a level that is more accessible.  You can start with your local school board, city council, etc.  You can also meet with your state government representatives.  All of these people are there to represent you and to listen to what you care about.  If you’re set on reaching out to your federal representatives, you can visit their websites and correspond with them via email or set up a time to meet with their offices.

STEMs of Advocacy: More Than a Name

Each person roams the world with a story just waiting to be told.  These stories come in all shapes and sizes and can be determined by a lot of different factors: childhood, education, values, etc.  My story is not much different in this regard.  For it too has been determined by a lot of different factors but my story is not done yet.  In fact, my story is just beginning.  And for me, part of that story is doing my part to make this world better in any way that I possibly can.

That’s where this blog comes in.  This blog is about my story, my life, my opinions, my passions and my goals.  The name of the blog is a tribute and call to action for both myself and anyone who reads my blog.  Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is the foundation and supporting structure of the future.  For me, encouraging others to understand and pursue careers in STEM is a passion of mine.

So feel free to read what you’d like, engage with me, ask questions, provide your input, or whatever you feel comfortable with.

I plan to add new posts weekly.  The new posts will vary in topic depending on what has been happening that week.  I’m willing to take suggestions as well, if there’s a specific topic you’d like my opinion on!