Agriculture communication and journalism majors from 12 North American universities worked to “Grow Something Great at Ohio State” as OSU’s chapter of Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow hosted the 2011 National ACT Professional Development Conference Thursday through Saturday.
Organizers said the conference theme, a play on OSU’s slogan “do something great,” represented the purpose of the conference: for students to grow as professionals, sharpening their skills and broadening their networks.
“The first objective is to build these students as communicators,” said Hannah Thompson, a fourth-year in agricultural communication and vice president of the OSU ACT chapter. “We also wanted them to leave with a positive impression of our university.”
The annual conference is a staple of the National ACT organization, said Lyndsey Murphy, a fourth-year in agricultural communication and president of the OSU chapter.
“Not only do we get to network with all the conference participants, but also hear from the best experts in social media, photography, print design, web design and media ethics,” Murphy said.
More than 100 members attended from the dozen chapters involved in the conference, including students from Canada, Murphy said.
“We like to boast we’re going international this year,” Murphy said.
OSU’s vice president for agriculture administration, Bobby Moser, explained the importance of developing professional communicators in agriculture as he opened the conference’s first session.
“Ohio is a relatively small state geographically, but we have 11 million people, and a $100 billion food and agriculture industry,” Moser said.
He told participants that agriculture and food production comprises the state’s No. 1 industry.
“We don’t have all these people congregated in one area, like a Chicago or Los Angeles,” Moser said.
He said while Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati have over 1 million citizens each, the bulk of the state’s residents are dispersed in smaller towns and cities surrounded by farms and Ohio’s natural resource base.
“We have a society growing up several generations removed from the farm,” Moser said. “They don’t have a full understanding of where food comes from, so we need an ongoing communication effort.”
Keynote speaker John Buck, of Ohio-based TurnKey Leadership Group, challenged the conference participants to develop strong interpersonal communication skills in the face of technological temptations.
“There’s no app for that,” Buck said. “There’s no substitute for meeting people and building strong relationships.”
Buck shared his own passion for using technology in communication, displaying his laptop, netbook, iPad and two smartphones.
Opening his address, Buck ordered students to turn off their cell phones and hand them to their chapter adviser.
Participants complied amidst audible grumbling and laughter, as Buck called for a balance between using technology and relying on strong personal relationships to communicate about food and agriculture.
“I wanted them to realize you can’t hide behind technology,” Buck said. “We can’t hide behind e-mail or Facebook to solve big challenges.”
Participants could follow the conference’s “official hashtag” on Twitter, and could “like” the event’s Facebook page.
Thompson said gathering with other future communicators in the food and natural resource industries reinforced the importance of agriculture communications as a major.
“We’re required to take a higher level of science classes, which makes sense because agriculture is a science, so we need that additional educational background,” Thompson said.
Moser agreed that strong communication in agriculture is important.
“Agriculture is made up of people,” Moser said. “It’s families, it’s rural communities and people who love the land and love what they do.”
Moser said communicating with, for and about those people is increasingly important as the population of consumers increases at a near-exponential pace.
OSU’s chapter of ACT includes between 25 and 30 members, and Murphy said more than half participated in the planning and execution of the National Professional Development Conference.
The group is scheduled to attend the next National ACT gathering, at the Ag Media Summit, July 23-27 in New Orleans.