Growing up in the rural town of Kuna, Idaho, Jenica Hagler found chores like feeding livestock, helping newborn calves and showing animals at the fair to be life lessons — challenging but satisfying.
“I fell in love with agriculture,” said the 2016 Agricultural Student of the Year at Washington State University, who graduates Saturday, May 7, with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and food systems. “I loved the tie to the land, loved working with animals.
“Now, I realize the real reason I love the ag industry is the people,” she said. “The values and traditions, the passion that everyone has — whether they’re working with the soil every day or, in the role I aspire to, supporting farmers that grow our food, fuel and fiber.
“I’m looking forward to supporting the retailers who support our farmers,” said Hagler, who will work as a salesperson with Dow AgroSciences after graduation. “My biggest dream has always been to serve our farmers and ranchers.”
Research, teaching, international experiences
That dream came into focus through the academic and leadership experiences she enjoyed at WSU. Her agriculture and business economics track gave her a taste of both science and finances.
“It’s a great major, with many different experiences to get involved in,” she said.
Among them was research with WSU Extension economist Michael Brady, looking at trends in the organic fruit and vegetable industries, and a 2015 class trip to Rwanda to do economic research on coffee.
As a teaching assistant, she helped other ag and food systems students experience their senior capstone course.
Legacy of leadership
The most life-changing experience, Hagler said, was with the student organization Agriculture Future of America, which helps students become the ag industry’s next generation of leaders. As a freshman, she was one of two students who traveled to the AFA annual conference.
Afterwards, she campaigned for deeper WSU participation in AFA. WSU became one of three universities nationwide chosen for the University Growth Initiative, which helps students gain leadership training. Hagler became a national liaison and planned the AFA conference in 2014.
“The best part has been watching my friends experience AFA,” she said. More than 40 of her fellow students have taken part in professional development training, attended conferences and taken on national leadership roles.
“The real sign that you’re doing a good job is when you can leave a legacy,” she said.