Gabby Fry, Abby Marten, Dakota Cowger, Morgan Dahl
DAYS AWAY FROM DEGREES: (From left) Gabby Fry, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale; Abby Marten, University of Illinois; Dakota Cowger, Illinois State University; and Morgan Dahl, Western Illinois University, will receive ag degrees this spring.

College graduates: Ag’s future looks bright

Where are today’s ag graduates heading after college? Prairie Farmer caught up with four graduating seniors to find out, plus created an infographic offering a look at first-destination statistics.

In a few short weeks, hundreds of ag college graduates will begin a new journey: "adulting."

Effingham native Abby Marten, a senior at the University of Illinois majoring in ag leadership education, secured her first position following her third internship. FLM+, an agricultural marketing agency based in Columbus, Ohio, hired Marten to develop educational tools for clients as an associate engagement specialist.

“I love the fast pace of an agency,” Marten says. Why? Busy is how she rolls, juggling activities with 4-H House Cooperative Sorority, Agricultural Education Club and the Explore ACES Steering Committee.

On the hunt
Nearby at Illinois State University, Dakota Cowger is active with Collegiate Farm Bureau, National Agri- Marketing Association Club and Alpha Zeta, and works for ISU’s Ag Department. “Staying busy is my way of coping with not getting up at 5 a.m. to milk cows,” says Cowger, who grew up on a dairy near Peotone.

Cowger interned with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board for two years and with Illinois Farm Bureau as a legislative intern. He wants to work in digital marketing, but finds companies want a few years of experience for entry-level positions.

“A lot of students my age are dealing with this,” he explains. “We have internship experience and work experience, but we’re college students. It’s not that full-time experience companies want.”

Ready for the next step
Gabby Fry, a Southern Illinois University student from Lindenhurst, knew her post-graduation plans from the get-go. But Fry, an animal science major with a chemistry minor, still had a tough decision on her hands: Oklahoma State, Ohio State, U of I or Purdue veterinary school.

Choosing between four vet schools is a rare honor, says Peter Dirks, who works in placement at SIU. Fry leaned on her professors for guidance and selected Purdue University. “They’ve known me for four years, and they know what might be best,” she explains.  

Morgan Dahl, an Orion native and a senior at Western Illinois University, credits her WIU professors and the hands-on course work for her “real-life experience” during college. Dahl is an agriculture science major focused on animal science, with a minor in agriculture economics. She served as the Illinois Pork Ambassador in 2015 and interned with Purina in 2016.

Purina hired Dahl as a livestock production specialist for its Reynolds location, where she’ll prospect for customers, provide product education and coordinate product trials. “I knew I wanted to work at a job I love,” Dahl notes.

Placement tips from those who know
A Purdue University employment study indicates college seniors with an emphasis in agriculture, food, renewable resources or the environment have a particularly bright future, says Dirks. He offers one key tip for job-seeking college students: Broaden your search. “Students are highly employable if they are willing to relocate,” he explains. Relocation impacts starting salaries, too.

“Salary is really dependent on how far away students are willing to go to find work,” says Andrew Baker, WIU director and professor of ag education. “Students who want to stay in the four-to-five-county area around home may take less salary to secure that job.”

Relocation isn’t the only obstacle. “Driving records are the No. 1 issue companies have hiring interns,” Dirks notes. “You need a clean driving record to drive a company vehicle.”

Opportunities are available if you keep an open mind and a clean driving record, he adds. "It can open up a lifetime of career opportunities."

Check out the infographic below for a look at first-destination statistics:

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