Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
November 25, 1999
Internship for young leaders trains future decision-makers
A unique new internship program at the University of Guelph is addressing a serious shortage of young leaders in agricultural and rural community organizations.
The ‘Internship for Young Leaders' program, which began this year, is designed to link well-established agricultural leaders and agencies with young students interested in agriculture and rural community service. Today's demographics show that most agricultural leaders in Canada are 45 years and older, and most marketing boards and producer organizations are without directors under 40. The internship program is striving to correct this imbalance by giving young people hands-on experience with agricultural organizations through mentoring and leadership training.
"There is so much leadership to be transferred to so few people," says Kathy Biondi, project director and director of agri-food continuing education, Ontario Agricultural College (OAC). "This program is about mentoring future leaders and encouraging young people to take active roles in agricultural organizations."
In addition to Biondi, the program's development team consists of Susan Rimkus, a PhD student in Rural Extension Studies (RES); Elizabeth Debergh and Cassandra Bryant, master's students in RES; and Frank Robbins, facilitator.
Twenty-eight students are enrolled in the pilot certificate program which began in January, 1999. Most of the interns in the program are from rural backgrounds and are attending university. About half are BSc (Agr.) students at Guelph.
The 12-month program requires interns to work with mentors, participate in board meetings, attend orientation programs and three in-class sessions with other interns, and develop a case study on his/her organization. Intended for rural youth between the ages of 18 and 30, the program has a major partner in Junior Farmers of Ontario. Support is also provided by more than 30 participating organizations such as Dairy Farmers of Ontario, AgCare, Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, Ontario Wheat Producers' Marketing Board and Ontario Egg Producers.
For intern Liz Gomes of Linwood, ON, whose mentor is from the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC), the program has revealed the inner workings of "real world" decision making.
"The overall benefit to me is being able to see a board at work and not just read about it in a textbook," says Gomes, who's enrolled in the B.Sc (Agr.), a bachelor of science in agriculture program at the University of Guelph.
Her mentor, OFAC director Mike Cooper, says the internship program is proving to be "a learning experience on both sides of the equation.
"Industry has to look at the program as an opportunity to keep young people in the business of agriculture," says Cooper, who runs Grober Delft Blue in Cambridge, Ont. "There is still a gap in leadership from an age standpoint."
For Reagan Donaldson, a U of G graduate who's now working for his family's swine export business, the internship program is " a good way to get your foot in the door.
"In my experience, people go to school and get an education but they don't get work experience or contacts in industry," says Donaldson, who's partnered with a mentor from Ontario Pork. "This is a really good program for meeting people and gaining experience."
Intern Greg Shantz, a U of G graduate working for John Deere Ltd., says the internship is successfully breaking down barriers between young and old.
"It's a non-threatening way to get young people into the boardroom," says Shantz, whose mentor is from AgCare. "Boards participating in the program are appreciative of the benefits."
Now that the pilot program is nearly completed, immediate goals include finishing a course manual and evaluating the program's learning objectives and effectiveness. And the program is already gearing up for next year's new interns. For more information, contact Kathy Biondi at the OAC dean's office at 519-824-4120, Ext. 3414.
For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338.