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The Agriculturist

Legends in the Making

Sarah Wilson

Legends in the Making

Wind-blown hair and dusty boots met with friendly smiles and southern hospitality as students from all over the nation arrive in Lubbock, Texas, with one common goal " to discover their inner legend.

Each year members of the student-led organization, Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (ACT), are invited to attend an annual professional development conference (PDC). The event is hosted by one of the various ACT chapters located anywhere from Guelph, Ontario, to Gainesville, Fla., and everywhere in between. This year, Texas Tech University"s own ACT chapter would fit the bill as conference hosts with big plans to inspire the guests.

The infamous West Texas wind, sunny skies, and 143 visiting agricultural communicators were all present in Lubbock during the last weekend in February 2012. ACT students and advisers from 14 different universities made their way to the South Plains with a hankering to experience the region"s legendary agriculture, education and entertainment.

With "Legends in the Making" as the theme for the event, Texas Tech ACT members were excited to host the most attended professional development conference yet. The group was even more excited to show off all the work and effort they put into making the conference one to remember. They relied heavily on social media to promote the conference, creating not only a Facebook page, but also a website, several YouTube videos and a Twitter hashtag. The high use of social media to advertise the conference was absolutely key in high attendance and overall success of the event.

The 2012 PDC planning committee chairwoman, Holly Harrison, said she could not have asked for a better group of enthusiastic students to work with in the planning and execution of this conference. She, along with Texas Tech"s ACT advisers, Erica Irlbeck, Ed.D., and Courtney Meyers, Ph.D., and other ACT members developed a lineup that was unique to West Texas and would hopefully be enjoyed by all those attending the event.

"A well oiled machine is the best way I can describe the event," Harrison said. "Each Texas Tech ACT member was an essential contributor to its success."

Hannah Thompson, ACT member from The Ohio State University, said quite a few freshman members of her own ACT chapter had never experienced a professional conference before their trip to Lubbock. This 1,200-mile trip from Columbus, Ohio, offered the Buckeyes a look into the various opportunities available through their agricultural communications degrees.

"We were really interested and excited to get a different perspective on the agricultural industry that we may not have had before," Thompson said.

Complete with three different tours, keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and of course, Texas barbecue, the 2012 PDC went off without a hitch. During the first evening at the conference, attendees partook in food and fellowship beginning with a networking game similar to speed dating. The room buzzed as the students got to know other students with similar interests but different backgrounds.

The following day was jam-packed, beginning at the National Ranching Heritage Center with a presentation by Texas Tech wildlife management alumnus and the official State Photographer of Texas, Wyman Meinzer. Students greeted Meinzer with praise at the conclusion of his lecture and continued to ask questions about his accomplishments and experiences as a legendary professional photographer and agriculturalist.

Following Meinzer"s presentation attendees boarded busses that took them to three locations: American Museum of Agriculture, Llano Estacado Winery, and American Cotton Growers Denim Mill. From these tours, guests experienced Texas agriculture firsthand and gained knowledge about working for a non-profit agency, viticulture and enology, and the cotton industry.

That evening, guests made their way to the American Wind Power Museum for a traditional Texas supper and etiquette lesson that served as practice for future business dinners. The students and advisers were greeted at the event by a beautiful West Texas sunset that painted a serene background for the windmills.

The third and final day was spent in the Student Union Building on the Texas Tech campus. That morning attendees participated in breakout sessions focused on social media, advocacy and event planning. An optional campus tour was given, which about 20 students attended. Also, students participated in a panel discussion on r"sum"s, interviewing techniques, and professionalism, which was a success due to the amount of questions and comments from the audience.
During the conference, attendees were eager to share the interesting and important information learned from the solid keynote speakers, tours and functions in which they participated. Twitter and Facebook were primarily utilized to quickly share brief key points and photos to those ACT members across the nation who were not able to attend the successful conference.

The keynote speaker for the conference, Rodger Wasson from the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, spoke about what it takes to achieve effective communication between the producer and consumer. He addressed four main points: engage, acknowledge, share, and earn trust. Leaving the audience with a desire to share agriculture"s compelling history and importance, his speech ended the conference on the high note.

As the conference officially came to an end, Harrison said the Texas Tech"s ACT members" goal of hosting a well-rounded and reputable conference was achieved. Positive feedback from attendees of the conference was overflowing. Smiling, enthusiastic faces could easily be seen from those who had discovered their inner legend through their participation in the conference. The event"s Twitter page was flooded with only favorable messages about the attendees" experiences and newfound ambition triggered by the influential event.

"We learned a lot of useful information such as how to be an advocate for agriculture," Thompson said, "and being educated and involved in discussing agriculture to other people in a productive manner."

The week following the end of the event was still busy for those Texas Tech ACT members and advisers who put time, effort and care into the 2012 ACT Professional Development Conference. A few bills were left to pay, offices were in need of some organizing, and students were discovering ample free time that was once devoted to PDC tasks. Texas Tech"s ACT chapter just hosted an event that would have an impact on all those who attended and organized it. This event had not been hosted by Texas Tech since 2005, and probably will not be here again for another eight to 10 years. Meyers said she was especially pleased with the reactions from those who attended and was thankful the speakers and tours inspired and informed the students in a way that will benefit them in the future.

"If our students can be better equipped and more confident in answering consumers" questions and concerns about agricultural practices," Meyers said, "then that will only serve to strengthen the agricultural industry, which is truly legendary in this region."

© 2012 Texas Tech Department of Agricultural Education & Communications