“Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
This new series highlights young professionals and their stories, because no matter our path we all have a little to share and a lot to learn. Read the series introduction post HERE.
Name: Amanda Spoo
Hometown: Hermiston, OR
College: Kansas State University
Degree(s): Agricultural communications and journalism; Emphasis in Agronomy
Current Location: Arlington, VA (D.C. area)
Current Job: Communications Specialist for U.S. Wheat Associates
I am originally from rural Eastern Oregon along the Columbia River that divides Oregon and Washington. Growing up, I split my time between tagging along with my dad, who was a high school agriculture instructor, and being raised in my family’s third generation flower shop. I was never a great athlete but I kept active in soccer, golf, cross country, tap and dance team, and basketball. I raised market lambs and hogs to show at the county fair, and was really involved in FFA leadership and contests. My favorite was prepared public speaking.
How did you choose your college and your major?
I used to joke that if I had $1 for every time someone asked me how I got to K-State from Oregon, I’d have enough money to pay for my out-of-state tuition. My sophomore year of high school I had to do a report on a college I was interested in and K-State was the only school listed under “agriculture communications” on the website collegeboard.com that my school used for prep. The idea stuck with me, and once I found that there wasn’t any schools in the PNW that had exactly what I wanted, I visited the Mid-West for the first time in my life and knew in my gut that K-State was for me.
I’ve basically known since I was probably 12 years old that I wanted to be in communications, and my parents would probably say they’ve known since I was little. I was the kid who wrote three pages for an assignment that was only supposed to be one page. Overtime that developed into a passion for words, people’s stories and news. The agriculture part developed overtime largely because of my community and FFA.
What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships?
The first two years of college I lived in a women’s scholarship house, a co-op with 45 other girls, where we had cooking, cleaning and leadership responsibilities in exchange for a lower housing cost. That house and the “brother” men’s house end up being the most important community that I had in college, and where I met most of my life-long college friends. I was a College of Ag Ambassador, a member of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow and on staff for three issues of the Agriculturist student magazine, serving as editor my final semester. I had an on-campus job with the grain science department as a student communications specialist at the International Grains Program (IGP), as well as two internships with K-State Research and Extension and ICM, Inc., a biofuels company. The most impactful experience though both professionally and personally, was attending the Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leaders Conference each year and serving on its national student advisory team in 2011.
What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change?
Obviously I got homesick a lot, more than I admitted to my Mom at the time. Every once in a while I’d go through a phase of feeling guilty and get really anxious. How could I miss home and people so much and still love my life in Kansas? How could I possibly be making so many of my own decisions and not make a terribly wrong one? When I failed and had to retake two classes I felt like a joke. Looking back, I know those were growing pains infused with an extreme lack of sleep, but I wouldn’t change anything. Overtime I learned to embrace my independence more and that failures are humbling, but good building blocks to work harder.
What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year?
There are so many little things, but most importantly I would say surround yourself (if you haven’t already) with supportive people who make you feel confident and be sure to enjoy your senior year. I know it’s cliché to say, but I don’t remember the details I was stressing over on the magazine, but I do remember the all-nighter in the ag mag lab with my friends and all of the silly things that distracted us.
Tell us about your career so far?
I spent my first two years post grad as Director of Communications for the Kansas Pork Association. Since it was located in my college town I actually started part-time in February of my senior year until I went full-time after graduation. In March of this year I took a big leap and moved to the D.C. area for a job as Communications Specialist with the U.S. Wheat Associates, the export market development organization for the U.S. wheat industry. I work on a lot of internal and external communication materials, media relations, manage social media accounts and work on special projects with our policy team and 15 overseas offices.
How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad?
My job at IGP and working on the student magazine gave me real experiences that really helped me build a good set of skills that I use in my job every day and a solid understanding of responsibility. Most of all I continue to see the impact of building and investing my network. My time with AFA helped fine tune my personal and professional skills, and taught me the value of relationships.
On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges or differences you’ve experienced post grad that you didn’t expect or didn’t feel prepared for?
One of the things I never imagined would be so hard is building a new social life. In Kansas I had a few friends still nearby after college, but I had no idea how to make new friends outside of a school environment. Now in D.C., I still struggle, but I’ve really tried to change my attitude about it. I’ve learned to really enjoy things that I can do solo (like going to the movie theater!) and I really push myself to always say yes to new experiences and invitations.
Also, taxes! I still don’t get them and have no problem paying someone to do them for me. Really though, there are a lot of a little “adult” things that I wish I had gotten the how-to tutorial for, instead of endless phone calls home to my poor mother. I’m always wondering how people just magically know how to do these things. I can’t be the only one!
What apps, technology and resources do you use regularly to stay organized and do your job?
I’m a little obsessive when it comes to organization and lists, and I need to write EVERYTHING down, so you’ll hardly ever see me without my leather Franklin Covey planner. My favorite phone apps for both work and personal use right now are Typorama, Scannable, Google Drive, Venmo, Spotify, MyWater, WeatherBug, Wallet (for airline tickets) and Timehop.
Hands down my top recommendation is utilizing lists for Twitter and viewing them using a dashboard like TweetDeck. It’s a HUGE time-saver, helps me do my job better and it’s really the only way that I absorb my news.
At this stage, what are a few of your strengths and weaknesses?
Right now I’d say that I am really creative, detail-oriented, reliable and work well with others. I’m usually really positive and work with a lot of energy, but in areas where I lack confidence I tend to be a lot more hesitant and don’t ask as many questions as I should – and then I end up letting my frustration affect my work. My new job continues to have a pretty high learning curve and I wouldn’t necessarily say it is a weakness, but my new job has definitely challenged my writing skills!
How do you stay motivated when work gets really busy or difficult?
I’m motivated by the people around me (a big reason why I started this blog series), so it is important for me to invest in relationships and groups that are passionate about life and their work because that energy is contagious. I also love to get to know the farmers that I work on behalf of. They are some of the kindest, interesting and hardworking people I know, and I want to do my best for them.
Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed?
I know it’s less common, but I grew up in a family who for the most part, genuinely “lives to work” because they really love what they do and find myself striving for that same mindset. I really to try to be “all there” in whatever moment I’m in and make staying organized a top priority so that the details don’t overwhelm me too much. The little things are really important, even if that means just taking a break for a walk outside in the afternoon or not making any weekend plans. I also work really hard to maintain important relationships. It means a lot of time talking on the phone, but those people are my voice of reason and always brighten my day.
What in your #PostGradLife are you most proud of so far?
Recognizing that it was hard for me to feel like I was moving forward still living in my college town and that there was a lot more I wanted to be experience personally and in my career. I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to do something about it.
What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about?
I’ve been in the D.C. area almost seven months and it is the first “city” that I have lived in. There is so much to see here, and always a fun event going on, so I am still enjoying exploring the city. My hobbies include reading, blogging, being crafty, live music, cheering on the Wildcats, practicing with my new camera and traveling home to Kansas and Oregon.
What path are you looking to take next? Any long-term goals?
Honestly I don’t know what’s next. The last few months have been such a whirlwind getting settled in my new job and home. Ultimately the dream would be to eventually move back to the PNW or Kansas someday, but I love my job and where I’m at right now, so I’m focusing on that.
Just for Fun
What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right?
If I can wake up early and get a workout in I feel like a rockstar, but if I’m being honest I struggle pretty regularly with consistent mornings. Every morning while I’m usually still in bed I check my weather app, read a blog post or a few news articles and check my email (we have overseas offices so I like to see what’s happened overnight and get an idea of what to expect when I get into the office.) I try to pick my clothes out the night before because I’m really indecisive and that never fails to make me late. But I really believe that when you look the part and feel good about it, then you perform better (thank you FFA!) At work I write my to-do list at the beginning of each week so every morning I’ll highlight the priorities for the day and quickly scan through my emails to see if there is anything to add.
Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace?
I’m a solid two-cups of coffee a day person. I also have a bad nail-biting habit when I’m stressed or struggling through a writing assignment. In college I found that eating sunflower seeds was a good solution, so I still do that now. Above I mentioned that I obsessively make lists and write everything down so in my workspace you will always find a dozen different types of sticky notes.
If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be?
I’ve always said that my career back up plan was to be hair stylist. I also love sports, so I could see myself in some sort of sports journalism or marketing.
Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college?
Taking a least one nap a day. And all the free stuff. Yes, I have a salary, no I’m not be above free pizza and t-shirts. And obviously, my friends and having the freedom to be really spontaneous. Those are my favorite memories.
Thanks for reading! Tune in nest week for my first guest feature. I am really excited to see how this series evolves!
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