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Finding a place to belong was tough for Jahqethea Johnson as a student. But a chance meeting with the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) team provided her the clarity of sight toward a field of study and career.
Johnson got involved in her school’s FFA chapter as a high schooler in Columbus, Ohio. But she quickly learned that as a young woman of color, she faced unique hurdles in agriculture. She never quite felt at home in agriculture.
“Anytime we went to a conference, our chapter was the only one who looked like us,” Johnson said. “I was never comfortable in those settings, and it had me convinced I was going nowhere near an ag school.”
Entering higher education with a plan
Johnson entered college aspiring to become a physician. A family member’s battle with cancer inspired her to work toward one day eradicating the disease. But it didn’t take long to discover the field of study wasn’t for Johnson, the daughter of two business owners.
“I started not liking biology at all. And I struggled with chemistry so much,” said Johnson, current MANRRS National Graduate Student President. “My advisor didn’t know me by name, and I was afraid I couldn’t pass chemistry to save my life. I wondered what would work for me.”
It was after Johnson transferred to the University of Kentucky when she made the connection that would change her career trajectory completely. Originally to network with other students, Johnson joined MANRRS despite apprehension about agriculture as a field of study or profession. Then, it all clicked.
“I joined, went to the first meeting and they knew me by name before I even got there,” Johnson said. “That's what made it more memorable to me. I felt like I belonged. I felt like it was a safe space.”
Building on initial MANRRS engagement
Through MANRRS involvement, Johnson discovered business as a field of study, which led to her graduation with a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural economics. She’s currently a graduate student in agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska and Northern Plains Region Agricultural Statistician at the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS).
Johnson knows MANRRS has played a huge role in forging her path. That’s true both in her immediate career plans and the role she can play in supporting others with the apprehensions she felt just a few years ago.
“I wanted to eradicate cancer because it's genetic in my family. I am involved in food today, and we know that diet affects health. And that may mean cancer. So in some ways, I’m still doing what I set out to do,” Johnson said. “If it wasn’t for MANRRS, I wouldn’t have looked at agriculture as a viable career. MANRRS showed me I actually have a space in this industry.”
Inspiring others to blaze new trails
As current MANRRS National Graduate Student President, Johnson said she hopes to inspire in students a similar passion she’s developed for agriculture, much the same way her predecessors in the organization did for her.
“I have learned so much about the troubles of minorities and underserved producers, socially disadvantaged producers, and the needs for their representation in the industry. That's my constant reminder, especially as I navigate these uncomfortable spaces,” Johnson said. “There's no growth in comfort, but representation is needed.”
Nationwide understands the importance of MANRRS
Nationwide understands the importance of organizations such as MANRRS to help all voices be heard in the agriculture community.
“The changing face of agriculture is exciting and our new sponsorship of MANRRS allows us to continue to support and embrace diversity of thought at the ag table,” said Nationwide Sr. Consultant Krista Soda. “With MANRRS, we not only have the opportunity to help amplify their mission but we can be a catalyst for helping develop and recruit the next generation of diverse leaders in ag.”
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