Connor Frame was in the thick of finals in December 2018 when he learned he had joined the ranks of students from The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) who get a job offer before crossing the stage to accept a diploma.
Majoring in agribusiness and applied economics, Frame joined 80% of his peers from the CFAES Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics (AEDE) who had committed to full-time jobs prior to graduation.
A June 2019 report issued by 24/7 Wall St. and published in USA Today looked at employment rates among the top 25 undergraduate majors. Agricultural economics, at 0.74%, had the second lowest unemployment rate among all college majors.
“The agribusiness and applied economics major sets up graduates for well-paid employment in the agribusiness and other business sectors because it combines applied business training with highly desired data analytics skills and a broader understanding of the economic environment where businesses operate,” said Tim Haab, department chair of AEDE.
Other agricultural majors that made that top 25 list included animal sciences—ranking 14th, with an unemployment rate of 1.52%. Soil science ranked 12th, with unemployment of 1.40%. Miscellaneous agriculture majors ranked 9th, with an unemployment rate of 1.35%.
Considering that nearly two million college students graduate each year with a bachelor’s degree, the recent report reinforces the bright outlook for students majoring in agricultural fields of study.
Frame Joins Heartland Bank
Having accepted a job offer as an agribusiness assistant at Heartland Bank in Columbus, Ohio, back in December, Frame juggled working the position part-time while finishing his undergraduate degree and graduating this past May.
He said that a summer internship at Heartland two years prior had prepared him to hit the ground running. For his internship project, he designed an informational guide to help farmers make business decisions regarding building an integrated barn. The project required that he learn accounting and build Microsoft Excel balance sheets, new skills he was able to successfully apply to his accouting class when he returned to campus.
“You have an idea of where work in class is taking you, but when you apply it in real life it makes much more sense,” Frame said.
Although he interned in the agribusiness department at Heartland Bank, Frame also benefited from exposure to other facets of the bank’s business: consumer and mortgage loans, retail banking, and accounting.
In his current role, he is one of the agribusiness team’s primary contacts for behind-the-scenes efforts to connect origination, approval, and closing of loans for farmers and other agricultural businesses.
Alissa Griffith, vice president and director of human resources at Heartland Bank, said that internships help her company find candidates, like Frame, who have a strong work ethic.
“It helped that we had prior experience with his work,” she said. “He had already demonstrated his ability to translate knowledge acquired in the classroom to the business world.”
AEDE’s agribusiness and applied economics program is in the top 1% of agricultural business programs in U.S. colleges and universities and is ranked seventh in the nation. Employers actively recruit its students knowing the students come armed with a firm foundation in finance, marketing, and strategy, along with insight into modern agribusiness practices and trends.
Internship to job pipeline
According to Anna Parkman, a senior lecturer and internship coordinator in AEDE, most students complete their internships the summer prior to their senior year. By then, they have completed coursework that allows them to apply what they have learned to the business setting.
AEDE courses that cover data analysis, managerial records, finance, management, and marketing offer students a perspective on how to apply data. The skills they walk away with set them apart, she said.
“Understanding each functional unit within a company and how each one contributes to its success is key,” Parkman said.
Students in the major have interned at 157 different sites, both in Ohio and nationwide. Many report getting a real-world view of the complex nature of internal and external forces that affect decision making by company leaders. Others report the greatest internship benefit as being able to see the practical applications of economic concepts.
“Skills like translating agribusiness and applied economic concepts onto spreadsheets are highly valued,” said Brian Roe, a professor and the undergraduate studies leader in AEDE.
He said students regularly report that their classroom training has prepared them to succeed during internships, which are required to graduate.
Other internship-to-job-success stories
Fayette County, Ohio, native Natalie Miller will graduate in August and is already working as an applications engineer with Trimble Inc., near Denver, Colorado. There, she will explore a new role with the company’s agriculture division each six months in a two-year rotational program. She completed three different commodity merchandising internships with ADM in Indiana, Ohio, and Missouri before working as a financial services intern with Farm Credit Mid-America in Washington Court House, Ohio.
Haylee Zwick of Akron, Ohio, completed two, four-month commodity merchandising internships with Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), one in Oklahoma and another in Illinois, before she graduated last December. One month later, she was working full time as an ADM commodity merchandiser based in Columbus, Ohio. She just completed seven months with the company.
Megan Ritter of Lima, Ohio, just graduated in May and began working full time that same month as an associate territory manager for Corteva Agriscience in Findlay, Ohio. Corteva is the agricultural division of DowDuPont. She completed internships with DuPont Pioneer in Ohio and Michigan as an Encirca services intern, combining the latest technology for weather, soils, agronomy, and analytics to help growers maximize crop yields and reduce risk. She also interned as a grain risk management intern in Bowling Green, Ohio, with INTL FCStone Inc., a financial services organization headquartered in New York City.
Cassie Jo Arend is another graduate of the college who benefited from the internship-to-job pipeline. As an undergraduate majoring in agricultural communication, along with agribusiness, she was able to get an internship at Cooper Farms, a family-owned farm based in Northwest and West Central Ohio.
The summer before her junior year, Arend interned in the company’s human resources department.
“The experience taught me you have to be able to move beyond book smarts,” she said. “I went into the experience eager to learn and build relationships.” That approach paid off.
When she graduated in 2006, she reached out to Jim Cooper, CEO of Cooper Farms, and convinced him the company needed a communications department. Arend said that because she had an established relationship with decision-makers at Cooper Farms, she knew she could dive in and centralize the system that relied on 15 team members to manage and complete communication-related tasks.
Now, 12 years later, Arend leads a team of seven as the company’s corporate communications manager for an Ohio company that includes not only farming, but food manufacturing and processing, farm equipment, livestock equipment and service, food wholesaling, and even a catering and banquet facility.
What sets CFAES students apart
Kathy Christian, Ohio Valley regional human resources specialist for Louisville-based Consolidated Grain and Barge Co., travels the region looking for talented students to fill internship positions and jobs at the company, which buys, sells, and transports grain worldwide.
In order to get to know students, she interacts with them outside of career fairs by attending their activities and events sponsored by their fraternities and sororities. She also interacts with professors and participates in mock interview sessions.
Consolidated Grain and Barge hires CFAES student interns and looks for students who can move into full-time management roles within the company.
“Students in the college have so many opportunities to be coached and supported through their academic education, career development, interviewing process, and job search,” Christian said. “The students are very well prepared.”
Christian shared that some of her most promising recent hires have come out of the college. And most of them interned with her company at some point as well.
With more agribusiness jobs than graduates to fill them, employers want to promote fresh recruits to fill leadership roles sooner than the grads might feel ready because the employers do not have a deep labor pool to choose from. She said recruiters have to examine candidates up front and ask themselves, “Does this person have what it takes to lead and move into a management role?”
“The best of the best will learn from being pushed and use it as an opportunity,” said Christian. “But they have to be prepared to be uncomfortable because if they are doing well, they’re going to be uncomfortable a lot.”
Career development is a lifelong process that begins the first year of college, said Adam Cahill, CFAES career development manager, whose career development office offers events, workshops, and individualized career coaching.
“Our Career Expos help students meet and begin to build relationships with employers,” said Cahill. “These important connections can lead to internships and employment down the road.”
CFAES career outcome data for 2016–17 shows that 93.2% of college graduates were employed or in graduate school within six months, working for 362 different companies, of which, almost 77% were in Ohio. Students landed the most jobs at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Cargill, and The Ohio State University.