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Women Break the Mold

CHERYL TEVIS 04/14/2013 @ 9:04pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

When women are asked about their success in their jobs, they most often credit their hard work, good luck, and a helping hand from others. In her new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Google executive Sheryl Sandberg says men most often attribute their success to their own core skills.

Whether you agree with her or not, research points to the importance of women having a mentor or a mentor network. Agriculture or agribusiness is no different.

That's one reason why efforts like the fourth annual Women Changing the Face of Agriculture (WCFA) Career Fair in Carbondale, Illinois, last month are so vital. The fair attracted high school and college women interested in a range of ag-related careers: commodities, natural resources, veterinary medicine, production, marketing, seed sales, and more.

WCFA is a project of Illinois AgriWomen (IAW), founded by its former president, Penny Lauritzen. Over the past four years, over 1,200 girls have participated. Nearly 120 women working in ag-related careers volunteer their time to talk to the participants about their career possibilities.

This year's fair attracted Ann Bartuska, USDA deputy undersecretary for research, education and economics. She led a workshop on sustainable agriculture.

Maryanna McClure, a high school senior from Dyersburg, Tennessee, accepted an invitation to the event. She is the first student from the Tennessee FFA to win the National FFA Agriscience Fair. Her project involved research about how to breed the natural color of sheep back into the industry.

McClure recently was invited to a White House recognition event for winners of STEM competitions, hosted by President Obama.

STEM (the combined fields of science, technology, engineering and math) education is a big push now. Women historically have been underrepresented in these areas that are vital to food and agricultural science.

According to a U.S. Department of Commerce report, women hold half of all jobs in the economy but only a quarter of STEM jobs. This remains true despite the substantial growth in the number of college-educated women in the U.S. According to a 2011 Economics and Statistics Administration report, women with STEM jobs earned 33% more than women in other fields.

WCFA's career fair slogan, Building steam . . . women in science, technology, engineering, AGRICULTURE, & math, is a takeoff on the buzzword STEM. According to USDA, more than half of all ag science degrees were completed by women in 2009; 53% of master's degrees in ag science were completed by women. Women still are needed to fill engineering jobs.

Some progress is being made in male domains. Sharon Clay, South Dakota State University plant science professor, is serving as the first woman president of the American Society of Agronomy.

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