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Women Break the Mold

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

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

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

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

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.

Women make up less than 18% of computer science majors in
the U.S. "The reason there aren't more women in computer science is there
aren't enough women in computer science," Sandberg writes in her book.

Mentors are key to women. "WCFA is the beginning of a
network," says Lauritzen, a financial adviser for Farm Financial Strategies,
Inc. Her years as a farm manager led to her 2013 induction into the Hall of
Fame of the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural

Next year's Women Changing the Face of Agriculture will be
held at the John Wood Community College in Quincy, Illinois. 

To learn more about WCFA, visit

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