Are you good at telling your own story? Do you have a passion for what you do? Have you ever communicated through challenges? Eighty-three students from 11 universities received insight from leaders in our industry at the 2016 Student Leadership Conference (SLC) held March 11-12 at the Kansas State University Campus in Olathe, Kansas. This conference was sponsored by the AMSA Student Membership, AMSA Education Foundation, Merck Animal Health and Smithfield Foods. “This was a great opportunity to give students a chance to try out their communication skills by jumping in and doing some radio and on-camera interviews. As students studying in the agriculture industry, it is important for us to work on our communications skills and become advocates for our industry and tell our story when the opportunity arises,” says Morgan Nielson, director for the AMSA Student Board and student at Oklahoma State University. 

Many students arrived Friday morning to take part in the tours prior to the start of SLC. The students were able to tour Bichelmeyer Meats, a family-owned custom processing plant and retail counter since 1946. The group also toured UltraSource, LLC., a company that provides equipment and industrial supplies for the food industry. Students were taken through both plants and given a behind-the-scenes look at the day-to-day operations. After a day of tours, students were in for some great barbecue and networking as they headed into the Friday evening activities. There was a mix of disciplines within Smithfield Foods’ key leadership team that joined the students and provided some great insights on what it is like to work in the meat industry, and the journey each of them took to secure their current position in the company. The evening concluded with a lot of laughs and even a little sass from the students, who were hypnotized by Dr. Al Snyder during the student mixer.

An excellent keynote message kicked off Saturday’s program, delivered by Katie Pinke, a mother of three whose passions include consulting, speaking, writing and, primarily, juggling family life. She provided background and perspectives on why it is critical for each of us to “muster the courage to make a change in how we communicate” and share our story. As a fellow ag blogger, she encouraged the students to take it one day at a time and to put all their interruptions into perspective. As young professionals who like to engage in social media, remember good content always wins; just take it one day, one topic at a time. This set the stage for the rest of the afternoon as students divided into groups and had the opportunity to rotate through sessions focused on interview techniques and tips for camera, print and radio as well as dos and don’ts for engaging in social media.

Wendy Feik Pinkerton is a nationally recognized communications expert in food, agriculture and other science-based issues. For the last 30 years, she has developed, implemented and evaluated crisis management, communications and marketing programs. She shared her experiences with the students as she guided them through print and on-camera interviews. Wendy helped students tailor communications to fit a specific audience, perfect their elevator speech and measure success rate by asking whether a compelling story was told in 30 words or less. A key take-away message from this session, which hit home with a lot of students, was “not to use a $5 word when a $1 word will do” especially important in an industry in which we use a lot of words people do not understand.

Susan Littlefield has been a farm broadcaster since 1990, starting out at WXCE in Amery, Wis., then making the move to WNAX, Yankton, S.D. In 1998, she joined KZEN/Farm and Ranch Market Network, Columbus, Neb. With her extensive background in radio, she was able to shed light on key things to remember when preparing and giving a radio interview.

In her afternoon sessions, Pinke dived into the different social media platforms and gave students advice on things to remember as they engage and useful Web sites, such as, that they can use. She challenged students to pick two social media platforms and develop a SMART social media strategy. This is something that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based, and once this is in place start sharing. Share personal stories, daily adventures, photographs, resources and all the great information that is at your fingertips. As a final thought she offered her father’s words: “Don’t wrestle with the pigs ‘cause you’ll both get dirty in the end and the pig loves it.”

“At the 2016 SLC, students were able to refine their skills that can be directly applied to their current school, future career settings and role as advocates for our industry,” says MaryAnn Matney, director for the AMSA Student Board and student at Kansas State University.  NP