Ever heard of an externship? I hadn’t either until Iowa Central Community College contacted me this spring about mentoring a local high school English teacher.
Turns out that Iowa Central’s summer externship program matches high school teachers of various academic disciplines with business professionals in the area for a 40-hour learning experience. This gives teachers a better understanding of the business world, so they can use this knowledge to better prepare students for the real world after high school.
I had the privilege of working with Rachel Hemer, an English teacher from East Sac High School in Lake View, Iowa. Rachel has more than 13 years of teaching experience and is an Iowa native, but she’s the first to admit she didn’t know much about agriculture or the wide variety of professional jobs related to ag, including marketing/communications.
Spillin’ the Beans
Rachel joined me on various adventures this summer, from a “Spillin’ the Beans” podcast with the Iowa Soybean Association, where I shared some of my top storytelling tips from a book author’s perspective, to interviews and photo shoots with Mid-Iowa Cooperative for their next print newsletter. As we traveled around rural Iowa, Rachel asked me plenty of great questions during her externship about agriculture in general, careers in ag, and how to become a more effective communicator.
Just as Rachel was willing to get out of her comfort zone to gain new knowledge, I, too, abandoned my comfort zone of focusing on writing, photography and content marketing so I could to teach the teacher. I realized how many of the things I take for granted as common knowledge, from my in-depth knowledge of agriculture to my insights into effective content marketing, aren’t so common to those who don’t live and breathe this every day.
“It was the complete opposite of what I imagined”
I also was reminded just how much the non-farm public doesn’t understand about agriculture, but they are excited to learn. But don’t take my word for it. Here are some of Rachel’s experiences, in her own words:
During the summer, many teachers get used to not waking up to the sound of an alarm blaring before the sun rises. When my alarm woke me on the morning of July 19, it was so dark I thought for sure it must be raining. But then I remembered it was July….in Iowa….we hadn’t had rain for more than two weeks….and I had a great reason to pop out of bed that early! I was heading out for another adventure with Iowa author Darcy Maulsby!
Darcy and I hit the road before 6:30 a.m. on our way to Mid-Iowa Cooperative in Conrad, Iowa. It was time for a quarterly newsletter publication, and Darcy needed to conduct interviews and take photographs. She had told me it was a “jeans and boots” type of day – I hoped my tennis shoes would suffice for what I thought would be a trek through the hot and dusty co-op. I imagined that we would be chatting with the employees as they shoveled out grain bins and fixed machinery.
- Mid-Iowa Cooperative is a significant employer in rural Iowa, with nine locations from Whitten to Haverhill to Garwin to Liscomb, 95 full-time employees, and two to three interns per year. In fact, two of their interns from this past spring are their newest hires, who Darcy had the pleasure of interviewing.
- People from all backgrounds work at Mid-Iowa. Knowledge of agriculture is a must, but the employees’ educational background need not focus on ag. In the marketing department alone, they employ a former manager of Advanced Auto Parts, a dealer at Meskwaki Casino, an architecture major, and only one agriculture major. Not every employee at Mid-Iowa has a college degree, but most have post-secondary education.
- The variety of careers within a cooperative is impressive. We met with Mid-Iowa’s chief operating officer, energy department manager, operations manager, general manager, commodity marketing manager, agronomy sales associate, and an applicator, as well as seeing 15+ other employees working various positions in offices and on-site.
- A cooperative’s job is to figure out the future before it gets here. According to General Manager Mike Kinley, a lot of change is happening within co-ops and Mid-Iowa is trying to figure out how to navigate that.
- Ag writing is fun! Darcy caught up with acquaintances at the same time as taking care of business for the newsletter. We ventured to the Grundy County Fair for pictures and enjoyed fair food and horse events. Every person we talked with was passionate about their work, making it easy for Darcy to showcase them in her newsletter features.
Our day at Mid-Iowa Cooperative was eye opening for this rural (but not a farm girl) Iowan. I had no idea how many employment opportunities a cooperative has. Everywhere I looked, a different department sign showed how many cogs work together to create success. I’m eager to share with my students, who plan to work in agriculture their whole lives, all the paths they can take when they leave my classroom.