Iowa State hosts Women in Ag Leadership Conference


Jack McClellan

Laila Down pictured during her presentation titled “Leading With Grace and Growth.”

Women from the world of agriculture convened in Ames for the 6th Annual Women in Ag Leadership Conference this week, participating in a variety of workshops and presentations from experienced speakers.

The conference takes place over two days, starting with a full day of workshops and activities on Tuesday. Events are set to continue through Wednesday afternoon. Tuesday’s events included a presentation on the role of grace in leadership, campus tours and leadership workshops.

One of the keynote speakers, Amy Cronin, who is an agricultural advocate and business owner, said that including both men and women in the workforce will lead to greater impacts.

“I think it is important to promote the different set of skills women can bring to the table,” Cronin said. “Better decisions are made when both men and women collaborate and work together.”

Cronin hopes that with the story she plans to share on Wednesday, other women aspiring to be in the agricultural and business field would realize that countless possibilities can happen simply with initiation.

“I want to help them realize that the world is their oyster and that there are all kinds of possibilities, and everyone just needs to start somewhere,” Cronin said.

Participants of the Women in Ag Leadership Conference had the opportunity to tour a variety of different locations on campus. Pictured are two participants who toured the Student Innovation Center while recording their own PSA in the building’s Digital Media Workshop. (Jack McClellan)

Cronin said the conference was different from any other women’s leadership events she has attended in the past because the topics being discussed were real and tangible. She thought that the information talked about was something everyone can take home and then use to improve their respective fields.

Laila Down, the owner of Point One Development, gave a presentation for the first general session of the conference. Her presentation, titled “Leading with Grace and Growth,” outlined the importance of grace in leadership.

Down defined grace as growing in radical, authentic, compassionate and empowering behaviors. Down said grace should be fundamental to how people interact with others and behave in groups.

“There are fundamentals. So, what are those fundamentals? I believe that it is to give grace and only a little grace,” Down said. “I don’t believe that grace is in giant form. I don’t think grace is grand. I think grace is small, in the little things.”

Down’s session also included brief activities for the participants to get involved in. During the session, pieces of paper with single letters on them were dispersed to the audience. Participants were tasked to collaborate with others in order to use their letters to form words.

At the end of the activity, it was clear some of the letters had more potential uses than others. While one participant who had an R found plenty of applications for her letter, others with letters like Q had a harder time finding others with letters to correspond with and together create a word.

During Laila Down’s presentation, the audience participated in an activity in which they collaborated with peers to assemble words using large sheets of paper with individual letters. (Jack McClellan)

“And again, I’m not going to tell you what to think, that’s the thing here,” Down said, “But I’ll just ask you to think, like, what does this tell us about our roles as women in agriculture?”

Attendees were also brought to Iowa State‘s campus, where they were given the opportunity to participate in tours showcasing different agricultural facilities at the university. The tours included Student Innovation Center with Media Experience, Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering, Feed Mill, Poultry and Turkey Farms, Steam Tunnels and CALS History Walk, and the Equine Program’s Horses and Barns.

Kylie Rosonke, a junior majoring in agricultural studies, said she enjoyed all of the first day of the conference, including a tour of the Student Innovation Center, Down’s presentation and the breakout sessions of the evening.

“I liked the talk with Laila Downs, I found that really helpful and informational,” Rosonke said. “And then the breakout sessions that we had, I did the ‘Discover Your Leadership Strengths,’ I knew what I was, but like it helped me really narrow it down.”

Kiley Allan is a sophomore majoring in agriculture and life sciences, as well as an intern with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Allan said her experience was unique because she worked part-time for Women in Ag, on top of serving on the committee for the Women in Ag Leadership Conference.

“So, myself and the other two interns, we looked at ideas of who we wanted for speakers and brought suggestions to the committee,” Allan said. “We looked at past data, what the participants wanted as far as the layout of the day, specific topics they wanted for the Committee’s, things like that.”

Allan said she had the opportunity to be involved in the conference both as an organizer and as a participant.

“So that’s the really fun thing is that now, as committee members, everything is kind of in place and rolling, so we get the opportunity to, for the most part, step back and just enjoy things,” Allan said. “We do the occasional introduction of a speaker, but aside from that, we just get to absorb it and network with everybody.”

Allan said that the big aspect the committee wanted to focus on when planning the conference was opportunities for mentorships and building relationships with other women in business.

“We’ve got a whole bunch of people from different facets of life, different walks of life, and they’re all in different places, generationally, or in their career,” Allan said. “And it’s been really exciting to connect with them and network and get that mentoring relationship.”

The conference is set to proceed on Wednesday with further presentations from keynote and capstone speakers. An array of concurrent presentations is also set to take place on the same day, followed by a panel providing insights on board leadership.

Cronin, the keystone speaker, will be sharing her leadership journey and ten lessons she lives by through her presentation titled “Changing the World One Step at a Time.”

Cleophus Franklin Jr., the capstone speaker, will share ways how to partner with, purpose, and establish strong advocacy platforms through his presentation, “Partnering with Purpose: Building Meaningful Partnerships That Win!”