“The key to a successful experience here is authenticity.”

-Jonathan Lopez-Valadez

by Heidi Happonen

The vastness of the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California hits you before you even get off the highway. Three exits of directed traffic along four lane highways with all traffic going in one direction – toward the Expo. Pulling into the 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space, dodging lakes of mud puddles in my rental sedan, I finally find a spot to park near Gate 19 – the closest to the education and career pavilion where the Oregon State College of Agricultural Sciences is proudly represented by four student ambassadors, eager to share their passion for Beaver Nation and the opportunities available in AgSci.

The first student to greet me is Jonathan Lopez-Valadez, a senior currently awaiting word on his grad application to OSU’s Ag Ed program.

“My Ag Ed experience in high school had a huge impact on my life,” Lopez-Valadez explained. “It was what drew me into my first club experience with FFA, which ultimately helped me not only gain a meaningful network of friends who had shared interests, but also gave me invaluable leadership skills that I get to use at events like this, talking with prospective OSU students and others just interested in the College.”

I asked Lopez-Valadez to explain why he chose Ag Ed as a career and what inspired him to pursue a graduate degree.

“It wasn’t until I was at OSU that I had my first Hispanic male teacher, Dr. Mata-Gonzales,” he explained. “It really reaffirmed my conviction to give back as an educator so more students in high schools like me can see themselves in their teachers.”

Watching Lopez-Valadez engage with the visitors to the booth, it is clear his passion for agriculture and OSU is contagious.

“The key to a successful experience here is authenticity,” Lopez-Valadez added. “I feel fortunate to be able to join my fellow student ambassadors to encourage future potential AgSci students to check out our College and have the opportunity to show them first-hand what a tight-knight community we are.”

Lopez-Valadez was joined by three other student ambassadors, Ben Nicholas, Kayla Rushing, and Ellie Puttman.

Nicholas, a senior in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences who came to OSU from out of state, was particularly excited to talk with the California high school students coming by the booth to help assuage their fears of being home sick as he shared with them what a great community the College has.

“It’s so exciting to start engaging with prospective students and see their eyes open to all the opportunities in agricultural sciences that they maybe didn’t think was possible,” Nicholas added. “Everything from food science and fermentation to animal science and the kind of research opportunities I’ve been able to pursue since my freshman year in evolutionary ecology and biology.”

Kayla Rushing, a senior animal science major, agreed that helping people understand how large the opportunities are in AgSci is exciting.

“One of my biggest challenges in thinking about my future career is the fact that there are just so many exciting opportunities,” Rushing explained. “Being able to talk through those opportunities and share my enthusiasm for agriculture is really rewarding.”

Rushing, who has explored a number of potential career options as a student, including an internship in law enforcement with animal control and an interest in breeding and genetics work for both dairy and poultry, also noted how amazed she was that an Expo of this size exposed her to even more opportunities she hadn’t thought of before.

“It’s just so exciting to see this many people excited about agriculture.”

That excitement to be in part of such a large event with thousands of people sharing that passion for agriculture was echoed by Ellie Puttman.

Puttman, who is soon to graduate with a major in BioResource Research and only a few weeks ago learned she was accepted to OSU’s Carson School of Veterinary Medicine, shared her enthusiasm for the opportunity to talk with California high school students about the diversity of opportunity Oregon offers.

“We got to speak with one student who was interested in fisheries and wildlife but not sure what path she would want to pursue,” Puttman said. “As we explained the diversity of opportunities available across Oregon state in the different climates we have as well as the many programs at the College, we could see her eyes light up. That was really exciting.”

Another benefit of an experience like this for students like Lopez-Valadez, Nicholas, Rushing, and Puttman is the 760-mile road trip from Corvallis to Tulare.

“It’s a real bonding experience,” Puttman said. “We try to make the most of the opportunity, and took some time this year to stop at the zoo and just connect more as a group of seniors at OSU who come from different backgrounds but share a love of agriculture and a passion for sharing that love with others.”