“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 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.
I am so excited to introduce you to my first guest feature, Kayla! I met Kayla through our involvement in AFA. I know we started out as freshman in the program together, but I didn’t get to know her until a few years later when we went to a couple of country concerts together with our mutual friend Lance. As we both got involved with AFA leadership, I learned that this girl has simple, steadfast love for agriculture. She’s genuine, very sharp and has a great sense of humor. Part of the reason I chose Kayla for my first feature is because I admire her strength. As she’ll share below, she comes from a family farm and her first job has taken her 2,000 miles away. I also come from a family business and I understand that when your family’s livelihood is such a big part of your everyday life, it makes it even harder to leave those things behind.
When I reached out to Kayla about being featured she shared that the quote above that I partially chose the name of this series from, is actually her favorite quote. I am not one to believe in coincidences and that in itself, encourages me. Kayla’s story is unique, but it is also relatable and I’m hoping like me, there is something in it that either inspires you and just makes you feel a little less alone on the journey of being a young professional. – Amanda
Name: Kayla J. Petree
Hometown: Tipton, MO
College: State Fair Community College and University of Missouri
Degree(s): Plant Sciences, Crop Management emphasis (MU) and Associates Degree, Chemistry (SFCC)
Current Location: Chico, CA
Current Job: Production and Supply Development Program Associate, Syngenta
I have your average Midwest farm kid story. I grew up in Tipton, MO, a small town smack dab in the middle of the state on a family farm as the second oldest of five children—Marcus, myself, Laura, Jessica and Angela. Our farming operation includes both crop and cattle. We grow corn, wheat and soybeans on rotation, have hay ground for our own use, and raise Black Angus cow/calf pairs. When I wasn’t helping out on the farm growing up, I was playing every sport I could—mainly softball and basketball—and being very active in CTSOs (Career Technical Student Organizations)—FFA, FBLA and FCCLA. I held many officer positions over the years, showed steers at the county fair, and participated on several contest teams. My favorite contest by far was Parliamentary Procedure because of the impromptu nature of the performance and because our team was First Runner-Up in state my junior year.
Throughout my childhood, the farm was always the main focus. We were all expected to help out, whether it was working ground, helping plant, putting up hay, working cattle, combining the crops and/or dumping trucks. We all helped out with everything. The ‘family’ aspect of our family farm was and still is the most integral part. The farm is where I learned to drive a truck across the pasture sitting on my knees while dad tossed hay to the cows. It’s where dad taught me to drive a stick shift grain truck by telling me to get it to the edge of the corn field. (I killed it a few times, but I made it.) It’s where my siblings and I bucked bales that were about the same size as us and led steers around the corral way after the sun when down. Most importantly it’s the place where my parents instilled in me a hard-working determination, an appreciation of the little things in life, and a love for my family. It’s where my passion for agriculture began and it is the place where I hope to return someday.
No disaster can overtake you, no plague come near your tent; He has given he angels orders about you, to guard you wherever you go. -Psalm 91:10-11
How did you choose your college and your major?
My senior year of high school, I had my heart set on going to the University of Missouri, majoring in Hotel Restaurant Management, opening a floral shop, and becoming a wedding and event planner. However with the cost of tuition, my parents thought it made more sense for me to attend the local community college and commute from home. (I think my dad secretly also wanted me to hang around a few more years to help him with the farm.) While I wasn’t thrilled about it at the time, I do not regret attending State Fair at all. I left debt free and had some really great advisors and professors. One in particular was my Chemistry teacher. Jack was a really inspiring professor who taught using a hands-on approach, forced me to think critically, and taught me to look beyond just getting the answer correct. This type of learning atmosphere and a combination of continuing to help my dad out on the farm inspired me to change degree paths when I transferred to the University of Missouri to Biochemistry in hopes of pursuing an agriculture research position. However, after a year into the program, it was obvious biochem was not for me. After talking to several advisors, my parents, and peers, I made another switch into Plant Sciences at MU and finally found my home. I’ve always known the agriculture industry is where I wanted to be, but it took a few tries and forward thinking to find what fit me the best.
What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships?
While at State Fair, I became really involved in PBL (Professional Business Leaders), the collegiate level of FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America). At the end of my freshman year, I became the State Parliamentarian and was able to attend the National Leadership Conference. The following year, I was again elected to my state position and decided to apply for a National Officer position at the encouragement of my adviser, Jodi Fudge. One of the biggest surprises of my life was winning the National PBL Parliamentarian position. It led to a whirlwind year of meetings, trips, conference planning and practice, and meeting people from all over the country. A highlight during my year as an officer was getting the opportunity to attend the National Association of Parliamentarians Convention with other National CTSO Parliamentarians. Call me a nerd, but getting to meet Henry Robert, III and having him sign my Robert’s Rules of Order was incredible!
The constant in my college career and an organization I hold dear to my heart is Agriculture Future of America (AFA). As a senior in high school, I was selected to receive the AFA Community Scholarship sponsored by my hometown, which included the opportunity to attend the AFA Leaders Conference held each year. To put it simple, the ‘AFA experience’ blew me away and my journey with AFA hasn’t ended. I attended all four tracks in college, traveled to DC with the Policy Institute served as a Campus Ambassador in 2012, and was fortunate enough to serve as a Student Advisory Team member my fifth year of college. For me, AFA is so much more than a conference. AFA provided critical professional and personal development, opened my eyes to the diversity of an industry, fostered my internship with Syngenta, and introduced me to some of my closest friendships. I can honestly say I don’t know where I would be without my involvement in AFA.
What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change?
Transitioning would probably be my biggest challenge going through college. I’m sure several people have felt the same way when you finally settle into the routine of a semester just as it’s getting over and then you have to begin the next. In my case, the biggest transition was when I moved to the Mizzou my junior year and had no idea what to expect. I went from having classes with friends and about 30 people at the most to 300+ class sizes and not knowing a single person. I’ll be honest; it was scary, intimidating and frustrating. On top of it all, there were classes I had to retake because they didn’t transfer correctly, which added to my uncertainty and frustration. That first year at MU was rough to say the least. However, I wouldn’t change it. I look back on that time as a growing experience. It forced me to get outside of my comfort zone, create new friendships, and really figure out what it was that I wanted to do.
The one thing I might have done differently was to explore additional classes or looking into getting a minor. Based on the things that I now enjoy in my job, I think a communications minor or a few more ag business classes would have been fun and beneficial.
What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year?
I would give two different types of advice. To freshman, I would tell them to take the time your freshman year to explore different interest areas and get involved with several organizations. However over the course of your college career, you need to hone in on what organizations are most meaningful, what experiences will really benefit you in the long run, and what classes will challenge you in a good way. My advice to seniors would be to enjoy your last year to the fullest. Cliché, I know, but extremely true. My senior year/victory lap was my favorite year of college. My classes were the most enjoyable because they aligned with my interests, I spent as much time with my friends as I could going to country concerts and having study nights, and I just soaked up as much as I could about Mizzou and Columbia because I wasn’t sure when/if I would ever be back. So to put it simple, enjoy it.
Tell us about your career so far?
My career so far has been quite the adventure. Never in my life have I lived more than an hour from home. So five months before I was to begin my first big kid job, I found out I would be moving almost 2,000 miles from Missouri to California. To say the least, I was scared and nervous and excited all at the same time. I work for Syngenta in the Production and Supply Development Program. The program allows associates to experience 3 separate rotations within different areas and locations of Syngenta during a two and a half-year time period. My first rotation was in Santa Maria, CA working with brassica (broccoli, cauliflower, endive and celery) production and processing. This past February, I moved to Northern California to work in Glenn, CA in the production and processing technology group for sunflowers. This rotation entailed assisting with the sunflower plots and different trials at the site. My third and final rotation will begin sometime in January when I moved back to the Midwest to work in Waterloo, NE at one of our corn sites.
How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad?
I would definitely have to say that outside of the skills and learning experiences I gained growing up on the farm, AFA would be the biggest experience that helped foster my success in post grad life. AFA’s programming is unlike any other. They provide opportunities for delegates to not only hone their professional skills, but also develop those soft skills and personal skills that employers are looking for in candidates. I also have to mention my parent seed internship with Syngenta in Washington, IA, which lined me up with my current job. During college, I spent most of my summers at home helping out on the farm. The summer before my senior year of college I was able to work in Iowa in parent seed corn production. This experience gave me my first real look into the working world and opened my eyes to the hundreds of opportunities available to me outside of my hometown.
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?
I’m not sure I have enough room for this question. There are hundreds of things I never had to worry about before and another hundred I thought I knew about but was severely mistaken. My biggest struggle without a shadow of a doubt is being so far from home and my family. I never thought in a million years I would be living on the other side of the country so far from mom, dad, Marcus, the girls and the farm. My family is probably my biggest life-line, biggest support system, best friends and comfort zone. Being so far from them is something I still struggle with every day. However, I will say that technology has become my biggest resource for staying connected with them. It’s not the same as being in the same room with the people you love, but I would definitely say it lessens the pain of being so far away.
On another note, no one ever tells you how hard figuring out these first few years of a career can be and how lost you can feel at times. I think sometimes we put blinders on at college graduation and think, “Now I’m finally here. I made it. Adult life here I come.” I’ll admit I was in the mindset that I was going to go out into the working world and make a huge impact right off the bat. Not that I haven’t contributed to in each of my roles, but over the course of my early career I’ve come to realize it’s up to me to find the impact behind the tasks I perform and to seek out the little opportunities of growth in a job. No one is going to hold your hand. No one is going to tell you what you have to do every day. It’s up to you. Your career will become what you make of it.
Last thing, lamps are more expensive than you think, Swiffer Wet Jets need batteries, and always set a timer.
What apps, technology and resources do you use regularly to stay organized and do your job?
I am a paper and pencil type of person, so I tend to not use many apps for my job. Now I’m also the type of person who also doesn’t like to plan things out by the minute. I like to have some flexibility in how I work. When I need to buckle down to get something done or plan a meeting, I can set an agenda to get it done. That being said I stay organized without having a set-in-stone schedule by writing lists and I always have my Day Designer planner by my desk when I need to reference my calendar. I use my computer obviously a ton for work, especially Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and my email. The few apps that I do use for work are the weather app, Pandora or Spotify, LinkedIn, and IDWeeds (University of Missouri Extension app). GoogleMaps is by far my best friend when it comes to trying to navigate a new location and area.
At this stage, what are a few of your strengths and weaknesses?
This question is always a tough one to answer. At this point , I would say that some of my strengths revolve around being very hands on in my job, being willing to take on new challenges and new opportunities, communicating well with others, and being very meticulous when working on a project. Areas where I fall short would center around a lack of confidence in myself. I’m still new to the big kid world and I find myself doubting or second guessing my abilities and knowledge base when making decisions. However even during the past year and a half, I have seen myself grow and become more sure of myself. It’s a growing process and one that I feel everyone overcomes and works through at some point in their life and career.
How do you stay motivated when work gets really busy or difficult?
My best friends are some of my biggest life savers. When work bogs me down or stresses me out, I call up a friend. I feel like there are so many of us who are going through the same struggles in their early careers and feeling the same uncertainty as me that it is important to reach out to them. For me, a few hours of talking out a concern or a project with a friend is the main way for me to figure out what my next steps are. It’s also something that I do when I have a success or when I get excited about a new project. Sharing those experiences with someone helps motivate me when things get difficult.
Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed?
Similar to the answer above, staying connected to friends and family is how I stay afloat and refreshed. They are what keeps me going during the day, make me smile and laugh, and talk me through the hard times and challenges I face. A warm bath, good smelling candle, and a glass of wine are my other outlets. And when neither of those options work, I get in my car and do a couple of rounds at the batting cages. There is something about when my bat connects with a ball that relieves my stress. Standing at home plate is the one place where everything disappears and the world makes sense for me. My only goal is making contact.
What in your #PostGradLife are you most proud of so far?
Moving so far from home. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and I am slowly but surely finding exactly where I fit into this whole puzzle. However, moving away from home and everything I had ever known has to be one of my proudest accomplishments thus far. It takes strength, ambition, spunk and a some nerve to move 2,000 miles from home. But it’s been one of the most exciting times in my life because I’ve met so many great people and learned so much about different crops and different parts of the country. Life right now still seems surreal. I joke with my friends and family that most days I still feel like a 12-year-old trying to figure out life. But it makes me proud knowing the knowledge I’m gaining out here and the personal growth that I’ve had since graduating college.
What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about?.
While I work in the agriculture industry, outside of work I am still very passionate about ag. I continue to volunteer my time with AFA by participating in application reviews, programming reviews, and the AFA Leaders Conference. It’s my way of giving back to an organization and an industry that has given me so much.
I try to stay active by playing co-ed softball every week, which has also helped me meet new friends. My other hobbies include exploring Northern California, going to the Chico Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, baking of all forms (especially cookies), checking out the local shops downtown, reading books, and watching sports. My newest hobby would be photography. I bought a Canon camera a few months back and have been getting used to all of the settings and taking pictures any time I can. And of course going to country and red dirt concerts as often as I can!
Just for Fun
What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right?
I wish I could say I’m a morning person, but that card has never been in my stack. So to get my day started off on the right foot, I need coffee, coffee and coffee. If I do not get at least a cup of coffee in the morning, then I basically can’t function. I also have a pretty set in stone makeup routine. I have to wash my face every morning (and can’t go to bed without washing my makeup off).
Do you have a must-have vise like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace?
Coffee is my vise. I make my travel mug of coffee at home, drink it on the way to work, and usually finish at my desk while I check emails and start the day. After I finish my coffee, I switch to iced water with a straw. I also have to have either my Day Designer planner at my desk or some form of paper and a good pen to write my lists. When I need to be super productive, I put my headphones in and listen to some good red dirt country.
If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be?
This is a tough question because I currently love my job and what it allows me to do. While I changed majors in college away from it, I think I would still love to work as a wedding planner or florist. I’ve always loved weddings, the promise they symbolize, and the joy it brings people and families. I’m a sucker for a good love story.
Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college?
My friends!! I miss all of my friends so much! If I didn’t live on the other side of the country, I would probably visit and see my friends more often. However, I’ve been very fortunate that my friends and I do keep in touch by calling one another. I’m also pretty lucky in the sense that I’ve been able to meet so many new friends and make new connections with people. It’s definitely broadened my network.
The other part of college I miss would definitely be Mizzou football and basketball. There is absolutely nothing like Columbia, MO on a Saturday during football season. So much black and gold, tail gates everywhere, and the excitement in the air is addictive. I absolutely love it!!
Kayla, thank you so much for being brave and stepping up to be the first guest in my series!
Next week I’m stepping outside of agriculture to feature a friend who is rocking her career in interior design, with a great guy and toddler to keep her busy…