The 2010 Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference invited students from around the country to speak competitively about public perceptions of farmers and ranchers in Tulsa, Oklahoma earlier this year.
Cal Poly agricultural communications senior Olivia Gonzales challenged three others national competitors in the final round and took first place.
Gonzales’ win is shared by the agricultural communications department at Cal Poly.
During the collegiate discussion contest, presented by the American Farm Bureau Federation, judges analyzed 38 undergraduate and recently–graduated students’ abilities to offer information and constructive criticism on the topic.
“We talked a lot about accountability and the viral impact of social media, like Facebook and other sites,” Gonzales said. “Social media is one of the best ways to communicate very quickly and effectively.”
Gonzales said social media has created a new way of engaging people and that farmers and ranchers should not be left out.
During the final round, Gonzales and three others from West Virginia, South Dakota and Illinois were asked, “How can we continue to bridge the gap between farmers, ranchers and lawmakers in order to have an influence in the changing political environment?”
Gonzales won a $2,500 scholarship from the CHS Foundation. The foundation’s Web site states the scholarship fund is “committed to investing in the future of rural America, agriculture and cooperative business through education and leadership development.”
Gonzales said most of the money will contribute to the expansion of her family’s dry-farmed walnut brand. Her father currently serves as president of the county farm bureau and the family raises cattle and owns a wine-tasting room in Paso Robles.
Serving as this year’s chair of Young Ranchers and Farmers, Olivia said she worked hard with the help of agriculture professor Scott Vernon to understand the many issues facing American family farmers and ranches.
“Her win helps validate Cal Poly’s strong national reputation in agricultural communication,” Vernon said. “She is a model of the high caliber students we have in the program.”
Vernon teaches in the Agricultural Education Department and serves as the Co-Director of the Brock Center for Agricultural Communication. He currently manages the Livestock Publications Council’s National Writing Contest, and is an adviser to the Cal Poly Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow.
“My role was to help her develop a strategy to communicate the issues in a way that was interesting, original and compelling,” Vernon said.
Vernon, who has coached many national champion speakers, said his experience helped Gonzales be efficient and focused during her preparation.
“She listened closely and executed the communication plan perfectly,” he said.
Gonzales said she has some job offers waiting for her once she graduates in June. She wants to stick to communication once she gets her degree.
“The family business is subsidiary, but a career in agriculture is preferable,” she said.