“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 and learn from past feature posts HERE.
I have a love-hate relationship social media (can I say that if social media is a part of my job?). But one of the reasons I love it is that it allows me to keep up with people that I otherwise would completely lose contact with. My next guest is a great example of that. I met Anna in high school through FFA, because we competed against each other in almost everything and by our senior year we became friends. We both ended up going to out of state schools for college, and over the years we’ve kept up with each others lives and transitions into careers. Anna is such a kind person, hard working and so incredibly talented. In high school, she definitely pushed me to be better and now as young professionals, I am happy to see her dedication and love for the agriculture industry.
I hope you enjoy hearing her story as much as I enjoyed catching up on it!
Name: Anna Smith
Hometown: Willamina, Oregon
College: Cornell University
Degree(s): BS Applied Economics & Management, Animal Science, 2013 // working towards MS/MBA at Purdue University
Current Location: Batavia, New York
Current Job: Loan Officer at Farm Credit East, ACA
I grew up on a small ranch outside of Willamina, OR. Like most farm kids, I grew up working on the farm and showing livestock in 4-H and FFA. During high school, I was heavily involved in FFA, which afforded me the opportunity to travel to the National FFA Convention several times. It was at the convention my senior year of high school when I happened to stop at the Cornell booth in the college fair. Had it not been for that chance encounter I would have never considered going to college on the other side of the country. That set me on the path I’m on today, now working as a farm loan officer in rural western New York.
How did you choose your college and your major?
I never considered anything outside of agriculture, but I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to be in the industry. So I applied at several of the big ag schools and ended up choosing Cornell. Previous to my aforementioned stop at the Cornell booth at a college fair, I had barely even heard of the school. Cornell’s Dyson business school is in the College of Ag, but I found that only a handful of my classmates had similar interests to me. After a semester I started taking dairy classes and really became engaged in that. I ended up doing both the business and animal science majors which combined really nicely.
What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships?
Cornell has an amazing Greek life. I was a member of Alpha Zeta, which at Cornell is an actual co-ed fraternity that is primarily ag students. I also was active in Collegiate FFA and the Dairy Fellows program. My senior year I was on the National Dairy Challenge team and spent a lot of time training for that. I interned at Farm Credit East one summer, which is how I ended up in my current role.
What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change?
Sometimes the distance would get to me. My parents were amazing and would send me care packages (and still do) but that’s never quite the same. But at the same time, being away from home in a completely different environment is one of the best growth experiences you can have. And if I could do it over again, I would have spent time even further away and studied abroad!
What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year?
Do more than the minimum. Take all the cool/fun/challenging classes that you can, not because you need them but because when else in your life can you do that? Travel if you can and get to know the area around where you are going to school.
Tell us about your career so far?
I started at Farm Credit five days after graduation and had a portfolio of loans on the first day. That was pretty intimidating, being 22 and having responsibility to make loan decisions and manage those relationships. But farmers are incredible people and immediately I felt welcomed into my new role and new environment. Today I have a $120 million loan portfolio of mainly row crops, fruit and agribusiness. It’s not easy, especially when times are tough in ag, but it’s an incredibly rewarding job. You get to see businesses start, grow and transform and see into the inner workings of very successful farms.
How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad?
Learning to network was huge. I won’t claim to be great at it, but I genuinely enjoy a good cocktail hour.
Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed?
I am lucky to have two close friends nearby, so they are my work-life balance. One has a flock of sheep and when I need to get out of an office rut I go over there and just help with whatever needs to be done. I work a lot, but I try to never let that get in the way of people.
What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about?
I didn’t know many people in the area when I moved to WNY so I started right away getting involved. I’m on the county Farm Bureau board and also volunteer at one of the FFA chapters helping students prepare for their speaking contests and such.
I working toward my MS and MBA through Purdue’s Center for Food and Agribusiness. That program is primarily online and I’m about 25% through. I have a fantastic group of classmates that make you forget that the program is almost all online whenever we get together.
Just for Fun
What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right?
I love my half hour drive to the office. It gives me time to drink my coffee and mentally prepare for the day.
Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace?
I’m counting my car as a second workspace. I spend about half my time meeting with clients at their farms, so I drive around the countryside a ton. Some weeks I live on coffee and sausage egg McMuffins. Its gotten to the point where my friends and coworkers save coupons for them to give to me.
Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college?
Thanks for taking the time to be a guest on my blog Anna! I could have sworn that I had a picture of us saved somewhere from state convention our senior year, but instead I found this from National FFA Convention in college (2010 I think?). I’ve loved keeping up with you and your success over the years!