Leaders in ag need to "advocate for our industry,” says Penn State sophomore
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Agricultural sciences and leadership are top priorities for Penn State sophomore Mikara Anderson. As the 2019 Pennsylvania State Fair Queen, 2020 Future Farms of America (FFA) state president and active member of the Penn State Dairy Science Club, Anderson continues to build her resume and network as part of the exclusive Presidential Leadership Academy at Penn State.
Mikara Anderson, a sophomore majoring in animal science at Penn State, raises sheep on
her family farm in Huntingdon County. IMAGE: Mikara Anderson
Founded by Penn State supporters and prominent alumni leaders Edward and Helen Hintz in 2009, the Presidential Leadership Academy, also known as PLA, was established with the goal of developing future leaders with crucial critical thinking skills and the ability to act, lead and make decisions in a world filled with complex situations.
Only 30 sophomore students are accepted to PLA each year after applying online or receiving a nomination by a faculty member. Anderson, who is majoring in animal science, was nominated by Rachel Cloninger, advising coordinator in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
“Mikara is an engaged, passionate and a top-notch student and leader,” said Cloninger. “She is a champion for our college, animal science and agriculture. She leads by example in her action and deeds, not just words.”
Anderson grew up in agriculture, helping to raise sheep on the family farm in Huntingdon County. The PLA provides her an opportunity to share her experiences and to learn different perspectives from students without the same background.
“I take for granted the fact that I know where my food comes from and I know how this industry works,” said Anderson, who also is pursuing minors in agribusiness management and wildlife and fisheries science. “However, there are many people who do not, and being involved in the PLA has opened my eyes to what consumers actually think.”
Being a member of the leadership academy has encouraged Anderson to advocate for issues that she feels strongly about, even though her opinion might not be shared by others. “It is definitely nerve-racking to be in a class and have a different opinion than others, but this program has taught me that it is okay if nobody else believes the same thing you do — as long as you have the facts and the passion for your cause, that is all that matters.”
Students who are selected for the academy make a three-year commitment: a seminar during the fall of their sophomore year; subsequent coursework in their junior and senior years; annual field trips and experiences that focus on social and political issues; and the completion of a capstone project during the third and final year.
The curriculum of the program features discussions, guest speakers, webinars and trips. Topics cover a variety of societal issues, such as the impacts of COVID-19, paying college athletes, racial and gender equality, and more.
“Once or twice a week, owners and managers of large companies with Penn State alumni will meet with us via Zoom,” Anderson said. “They have a lot of unique topics, and whenever you attend the seminar, you’re learning how to reflect on your past variances.”
Anderson’s experiences as Pennsylvania State Fair Queen and in FFA inspired her to apply to the academy. In these roles, she advocated for agricultural and tourism industries.
“I am a very outgoing and opinionated person, especially about things I am passionate about, such as agriculture,” she said. “As part of the leadership academy, I have an appreciation for others’ perspectives, and it has helped me become more understanding.”
Cloninger said the Presidential Leadership Academy is an excellent program. “We are thankful that Mikara is a part of it,” she said. “We know she is going to make a tremendous impact on our industry, and this opportunity will certainly help her continue to grow as a leader.”
Anderson hopes to serve the agricultural and natural resources communities through an educational role in federal or state government agencies.
“We need leaders in agriculture to advocate for our industry,” Anderson said. “Livestock and crop producers are not always able to be meet directly with the public and debunk the myths of agriculture. I want to be the connection from the farm to the consumers, and the PLA prepares me to bridge that gap.”