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SIU ag

Lindsey McKinzie, right, continues to work with educators Jason and Sarah Bond on the revived Agronomy Society at Southern Illinois University. McKinzie served as president last year.

CARBONDALE — Lindsey McKinzie’s ag journey has barely begun. But she has already come a long way.

A native of Albion in Edwards County, she arrived at Southern Illinois University Carbondale without a clear career path and still doesn’t know exactly what she will be doing.

One thing she does know is that SIU’s Agronomy Society has opened up new doors for her. She served as president of the club for the 2017-18 academic year and is now a graduate student, something she hadn’t considered before setting foot on the Carbondale campus.

“I learned so much, not just from the professional development side, but I grew as a young professional,” she said. “I was doing things that were out of my comfort zone. I really grew a lot in that one year.”

The society is a revival of a plant and soil science club that began in the 1950s. The club shut down in 1999.

At an on-campus soybean workshop, the husband-and-wife team of Jason and Sarah Bond were approached by alumni of the College of Agricultural Sciences, who wondered what happened to the club. The couple — both long-time ag educators — decided that it was a good time to start it up again.

“We came up with the term ‘agronomy society,’” said Jason, a professor of plant pathology at SIU. “We wanted it to be an honor society. SIU has tons of RSOs (registered student organizations), but the majority of students are here only two years because so many transfer from community colleges. We wanted only students who are stable in regard to academic work.”

There are about 70 students in the society. Each must carry a grade point average of 3.0 or better. The monthly meetings include guest speakers, most from ag companies in the region.

SIU made an impression two years ago when members of the club competed for the first time in an annual meeting of a national agronomy society. The club won three awards, including a first-place title.

“That’s competing against Texas A&M, the University of Illinois and other top ag schools,” Bond said. “We’re now taking up to five students a year. We’d like that number to be higher.”

The SIU club’s slogan is “connect, grow, go.” One goal is to provide undecided students like McKinzie with tools for making career decisions.

“We’re trying to help them grow,” said Sarah, who teaches agribusiness economics at SIU. “We let them somewhat guide us. We do surveys, asking that they are interested in, and give them advice on how to negotiate for salary and other things. We bring in experts to help guide them.”

In so-called “gratitude workshops” the students learn skills they may seem passé in the modern world of digital communication, such as how to prepare a hand-written letter of thanks to those who have helped them in some way.

“They have to use complete sentences as opposed to texts,” Sarah Bond said. “They put the letter in an envelope and mail it. That’s certainly not common today.”

McKinzie is doing grad work on processing information collected from drones. The research involves determining how accurate drone scouting is in identifying plant disease. She believes she made the right decision in staying at SIU.

“Going into my senior year, I thought about doing grad school. I was looking at different schools,” she said. “It all came back to SIU, and I’m so glad that I stayed. I don’t really know at this point what I will do. There’s a possibility I could go for my Ph.D. or go into industry. I’ll figure it out one of these days.”

Meanwhile, she serves as a mentor to other students.

“I’ve had a couple of students ask me about what I did my senior year,” she said. “I’m glad I’m able to share that knowledge with them.”

And the club provides the Bonds with a unique opportunity to work together while helping students.

“To be able to walk alongside my husband to provide these opportunities for students is such a blessing,” said Sarah, who started at SIU in 1991.

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NAT WILLIAMS writes for Illinois Farmer Today, a Lee Enterprises sister publication of The Southern.

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