Learning to Agvocate Outside the Classroom: College Aggies Online

Erica Ballmer, a graduate student at Purdue University and first place winner of the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s 2017 College Aggies Online program, shares why other agriculture students should sign up for the scholarship competition.

Erica Ballmer, graduate student at Purdue University

In a collegiate setting, especially in graduate school, learning through practice is not necessarily as common as it should be. Many times lectures and classroom discussions focus on theory rather than the practical applications of the research. Therefore, there are not many opportunities to gain practical, hands-on learning experiences. To gain some practical experience, the past two fall semesters I participated in the College Aggies Online program. College Aggies Online provides participants with a real-life learning experience outside the classroom through various opportunities to learn from and network with agricultural professionals and provide an outlet to be creative while advocating for agriculture.

Learn From the Pros

One of the best parts about competing in College Aggies Online is learning from industry mentors from all different aspects of animal agriculture. Throughout the contest industry professionals host webinars to share tips and tricks for agvocating and engaging with the non-farm public online. From the webinars, I learned about various issues the agriculture industry is facing, as well as how to handle negative trolls and how to use hashtags to break through the agriculture bubble and reach consumers who are not as familiar with agriculture. In addition, for each assignment, an industry mentor judges the submissions and provides useful feedback on how to improve on creating social media content that will engage consumers online.

Networking

College Aggies Online winners at the 2017 Summit

Participating in College Aggies Online allowed me to interact and engage with not only agricultural students, but also agricultural professionals from throughout the United States. This led to not only an increase in my social media followers, but also opportunities to learn. Through various conversations, mostly on Twitter, I learned from industry professionals – about their careers as well as how to navigate issues facing the agriculture industry. (And, if you are one of the top individuals, you’ll get to meet and converse with many of these social media stars in person at the Animal Ag Alliance’s Stakeholders Summit too!)

Agvocating in a Creative Way

Finally, my favorite part of College Aggies Online is that each week I was inspired to let the creative juices flow and create original posts for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I got to share about why agriculture is important to us all and clear up misconceptions about issues, such as animal antibiotic use, in the agriculture industry. Most importantly, I enjoyed the creative freedom to create social media content to advocate for agriculture, as it was a tremendous relief from the monotony of academic writing.

College Aggies Online was a fantastic opportunity to gain real, hands-on experience in advocating for agriculture, while stuck in the mundane routine of graduate school. I am thankful for everything I learned throughout the competition and look forward to applying the skills I gained through College Aggies Online in my future career.

To sign up for this year’s College Aggies Online scholarship program, visit http://collegeaggies.animalagalliance.org.

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