Washington, D.C., may not be the first place to come to mind when thinking about agriculture. However, when one wants to learn more about agriculture policy in the U.S. government, D.C. is the premiere destination. 

This spring, eight students from the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences traveled to Washington, D.C., for the opportunity to meet government agriculture representatives to discuss the future of agriculture.

“Professors tell us about the career opportunities we have as agricultural majors, but I have never realized how far those opportunities can stretch until this trip,” said Lauren Knaresboro, a senior in animal and poultry sciences from Chesterfield, Virginia. “Getting to meet passionate directors and scientists from different agencies inspired me to keep searching for a STEM career that best fits me.”

These students are a subset of a larger group referred to as STEM Scholars and are part of a research project entitled Empowering Students to Achieve Academic Success, led by professors Mike Denbow, Rebecca Cockrum, and Katharine Knowlton.

“The STEM Scholars program through departments of Animal and Poultry Science and Dairy Science was designed to provide financial assistance to truly exceptional students so that students can participate in more experiential learning opportunities and not have to focus on how to pay for their education,” said Cockrum, assistant professor of dairy science.

During their trip to D.C., the students met with representatives from the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the USDA-Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (USDA-BARC), the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and the National Association of States Departments of Agriculture.

At NIFA, the group learned more about current agriculture research funding opportunities, as well as internships and jobs within the agency. Director Sonny Ramaswamy stopped by to address the students and share his personal career path that included a call from the White House asking him to become the director of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture in 2012. NIFA works with land-grant universities, such as Virginia Tech, as well as other academic institutions to accomplish their mission.

After spending the morning at NIFA, the students traveled to Beltsville, Maryland, to tour and learn more about the USDA-BARC. The agency focuses on research broken down into seven goals, including such areas as sustainable use of natural resources, human nutrition, food safety, and local and global food supply and security.

While touring USDA-BARC, students met with scientists currently conducting research in sheep genomics and dairy science and they discussed different research techniques.

The trip allowed students to gain further appreciation for those representing agriculture within the government, as well as provided them with an unforgettable chance to network, learn of new opportunities, and expand their current understanding of agricultural research, policy, and law.

-   Written by Sarah Martin, a senior from Bracey, Virginia, majoring in animal and poultry sciences

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