The Next Chapter

The following was written by Caryn Dawson, our student administrative assistant at CAST since January 2018. Best wishes to her on the next chapter of her life!

Potential. According to the Google search engine, potential is defined as “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.” Everyone has potential. Everyone has the opportunity and capacity to grow and better themselves. To some, it may come naturally, to others they may need a little push. I was one that needed a little push. When people ask me how I got involved or interested in agriculture and natural resources, I attribute it to my rural Iowa community that I grew up in and its resources such as 4-H and FFA. To be specific, I joined a 4-H master gardening project in Webster County where I met a gentleman and the project leader. He saw the potential in me. He started asking me challenging questions that I’d never thought of and soon I came to realize my potential and my motivation grew even more. This realization opened a world of possibilities for me including participating as a Rotary exchange student in Argentina and enrolling at Iowa State University.

I remember sitting in my advisor’s office during my freshman orientation telling her about my experience in Argentina as an exchange student and the different types of agriculture I saw as well as the issues in agriculture. I remember telling her my passion started in FFA and 4-H. I didn’t know it then but I was building something for myself that would set me apart as a person and as a professional. I’ve always been a pretty determined person. Once I set my mind on something, I know exactly what I want and make a plan to reach my set goal. I set my mind on Iowa State, I got in, but not on the first try. I set my mind on a thoughtful combination of study, Global Resource Systems and Horticulture with minors in Animal Science and Spanish, I did it. I set my mind on continuing to travel and experience the world. I did it, visiting 3 more countries (Brazil, Colombia, and Italy). I set my mind on maintaining 2 of the same jobs through college but taking the summer to try different internships. I did it, I’m proud to say that I’ve worked as a part time employee for the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) and the Seed Science Center for the past 3-4 years while completing two internships during the summer, at Henry’s Fork Foundation in Ashton, Idaho, and Bayer Crop Science in Huxley, Iowa.

Through all of these accomplishments there were various setbacks. My first application of admission to Iowa State was denied because I was short 3 credits. So, I took the liberty of registering for an online class during my gap year in Argentina to reapply and gain acceptance for the following year. My international internship to Austria and India through IFYE was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I was able to substitute an internship at Bayer Crop Science and I was able to spend more time with my family. The last year of online courses was hard. It tested me, and I put all of my focus on my academics which threw me off balance. I am the kind of person that craves and enjoys change. I like doing things differently and changing up my routine. I had been so motivated during the beginning years but when my world came to a stop like many others it took a toll on me. I began feeling burnt out. It took a while to pick myself back up and pull through but I had to tell myself to finish what I started and consider new ways to take care and nurture myself. And boy when I realized that, I felt recharged and ready to go.

I finished my last semester at Iowa State with a 3.7, graduated on the dean’s list and with distinction. Early on in my college career I knew I wanted to work with farmers in extension and outreach but I wasn’t sure what that would look like for me. I had been applying to jobs since December but had little luck until the last few months of the spring semester. The only offer I had in hand was a farm manager job in Oregon, which I thought was pretty cool. As soon as I started moving forward with Oregon, I received a call from another job I had applied for in Michigan. Little did I know, this job is the start of my career goal to work in extension with farmers. When my advisor forwarded me the email announcement of the job and that they were specifically looking for someone with experience and interest in both environment/natural resources AND agriculture, I said “that’s me!” My senior thesis on the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices in developing countries shaped my career goal even more to strive to help farmers create more efficient and sustainable systems using practices that work in harmony with the ecosystems they are a part of. The more I learned about this position, the more I saw how it was the right puzzle piece for the next and first step in my career. My final accomplishment in this chapter of my life was landing a position as the Michigan Agriculture and Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) Technician in Grand Haven, Michigan. I am looking forward to this new chapter and experience in Michigan. I still plan to continue traveling when I am able to. The world has so much to offer and experience. I also am planning to go to graduate school in a few years after I gain some work experience.

Looking back on my college experience, I learned a lot through mistakes and trying different things. If I could give advice to my freshman year self, I would say:

I am thankful for those that supported me in this chapter; the staff at both CAST and SSC, my advisors and professors, my family and friends and my mentors. Here is to the next chapter.

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