Creating Pathways for Underrepresented Students

CoBank is a sponsor of the Farm Credit Multicultural Ambassador Program, which raises awareness among underrepresented students in California’s Central Valley and Central Coast of opportunities in the field of agriculture.

CoBank is proud to be part of an industry team that is reaching out to high school and college students from underrepresented communities to promote opportunities available in the field of agriculture. The Farm Credit Multicultural Ambassador program was established in 2013 by four members of the Farm Credit System — AgWest Farm Credit, American AgCredit, CoBank and Fresno Madera Farm Credit — in partnership with the Jordan College of Agricultural Science and Technology at California State University, Fresno (Fresno State).

The program provides recruitment activities, career fairs, farm tours and educational days to raise awareness among underrepresented students about careers in agriculture. In addition, undergraduate students majoring in agriculture serve as ambassadors, visiting high schools and community colleges in California’s Central Valley and Central Coast to advise prospective students about opportunities at Fresno State and to serve as mentors. In the 2021-22 school year, the program organized 50 outreach events throughout the region that reached 620 high school and community college students.

The Central Valley of California is the largest producer of agricultural commodities in the nation, and agriculture is by far the largest segment of the region’s economy. But as Dr. Sharon Freeman, an assistant professor at Fresno State puts it, the state’s changing demographics mean agriculture has to change as well.

“To remain competitive, we need to encourage Latinos and other underrepresented students to continue their education through our hands-on learning programs and to become future leaders for the agricultural industry in California,” she said. Keith Hesterberg, president and CEO of Fresno Madera Farm Credit, said that supporting diversity and equity in agriculture is a must.

“Fresno State’s Jordan College provides agricultural programs that are preparing the next generation of agriculturalists,” Hesterberg said. “Ensuring these programs are accessible to all students who want to attend college and better prepare themselves for employment in the agriculture industry is crucial to the future of California agriculture.” Current Fresno State students say participating in the program’s activities while still in high school made a profound impact on them.

“It was eye-opening,” recalled Abelino Garza II, a freshman from Bakersfield majoring in biochemistry. “We’d take the tours of the farm laboratories and animal units, and then have time to walk around the campus to see what it had to offer. I could see this was an agricultural college and there was an opportunity to pursue a career in many ways.”

Mark Littlefield, president and CEO of AgWest Farm Credit, is pleased to see the program’s continued growth and outreach to underrepresented students.

“Farming feeds the world, but unfortunately there are many people who aren’t aware of all the careers available in agriculture — in animal and plant science, engineering and technology, along with developing better ways to grow the food the nation and the world depend on,” Littlefield said. “The Ambassadors Program has provided thousands of students with that information over the years, and Farm Credit looks forward to working with Fresno State to grow this great program even more.”

Since its inception, CoBank and other Farm Credit institutions have donated more than $700,000 to support the program. “It’s a significant investment for CoBank and our association partners,” said Brendan Ronayne, vice president Farm Credit Banking. “We’ve seen the power this program has to capture the imagination of students and open their eyes to all that a career in agricultural has to offer. We’re looking forward to the many important roles they will play in the future of the industry.”

This story was originally published in the CoBank 2022 Sustainability Report.