Agriculture students Coral Story and Amber Yoder were the first Cal Poly Pomona students to participate in a new internship program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We were the pilot students so that was a little nerve racking,” said Yoder, a plant science student who is three semesters away from graduating.
The Student Enrichment Program was established in April 2018 when President Soraya M. Coley signed a cooperative agreement with the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Services Division. Cal Poly Pomona is the third university to establish such a program that gives students the opportunity to participate in internships, information on careers with the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Services division (or AMS) and access to USDA’s experts in the different fields within the agency.
Working with the USDA is beneficial to both Cal Poly Pomona and the USDA, said Frances Teves, assistant vice president for government and external affairs at the university.
“Their goal is to develop a diverse workforce,” Teves said. “Cal Poly Pomona is reflective of the diversity within our region and the future workforce.”
Cal Poly Pomona has a diverse student population that includes veterans, she said. In addition, the campus is the only university in Southern California that offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture, so its students are prepared to work for the USDA.
The summer internships offer a meaningful experience that reflects the university’s learn-by-doing approach, Teves said.
“Students take what they learn in the classroom and put it to use in the field,” she said.
USDA internships also allow students to enrich their academic experience by working alongside personnel from the many areas within the vast federal agency, Teves said. Students on campus will also benefit from the partnership by having a chance to meet USDA representatives when they visit campus.
The Student Enrichment Program took Coral Story, who is originally from the Central Valley community of Visalia, to the USDA’s internshipheadquarters in Washington, D.C., for 10 weeks. She was assigned to the AMS Livestock and Poultry program under the Food Safety and Commodities Specification Division.
Her responsibilities included gathering information using a database on the livestock and poultry industries, learning about agricultural policy work and accompanying USDA personnel on poultry farm inspections.
Story, a senior studying agricultural science, found that her Cal Poly Pomona education and training allowed her follow the discussions whenever she sat in on meetings or attended a conference.
“I was able to catch on quickly and I think it was because of all the classes I took at Cal Poly Pomona,” she said.
Yoder, who is originally from Eugene, Oregon, spent nine weeks at the USDA office in Fresno where she worked with agency personnel handling marketing orders that are used to regulate the sale of certain agricultural products. She worked with businesses that produce specialty crops such as table grapes, olives, dates, almonds, pistachios and walnuts.
Not only did Yoder, a military veteran and Mt. SAC transfer student, learn about specialty crops, she also got a glimpse at the agency’s budgeting process, attended scientific lectures in which the USDA addressed questions from the business sector, and even took part in olive oil and almond tasting.
As part of her internship, Yoder spent a few days at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“I met the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue,” Yoder said. “I was a little bit awestruck.”
Students said the internships gave them an opportunity to see how concepts and lessons they studied in class are put into action. They also connected with people working in various areas of the USDA – valuable connections that could lead to future internships and to employment opportunities, they said.
Story can see herself working at an agency field office and working her way to a post within the USDA headquarters.
Yoder would like to work with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, the principal in-house research agency, where she can use her education in plant science.
The students said USDA personnel were welcoming, answered questions and made a point of providing opportunities to network with others within the agency.
Students also felt they made useful contributions to the work of the agency, which is responsible for the safety of the food products the public.
“I felt I was treated like I was a valued employee,” Story said. “I wasn’t the awkward intern in the corner.”
Teves said early reports following the completion of Story and Yoder’s internships are positive.
“I felt the students were very well received,” she said. “Their experiences will also help them build their work experience and their resumes.”