Networking on Campus

Madeline Schultz, Women in Ag Program Manager  • • 515-294-0588

Aileen Keating and Christen Burgett didn’t grow up on farms or in Iowa. They are part of a growing trend of women who come from all walks of life to choose agricultural careers. These women are both respected faculty in the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Animal Sciences Department and they were guest speakers for the Central Iowa Women in Agribusiness Quarterly Networking Event. The ISU Extension and Outreach Women in Ag Program hosted the event on campus in the Animal Science Department on March 27, 2019. The event included a tour of the ISU Meats Lab and meat industry discussion.

The Central Iowa Women in Agribusiness is a networking and mentoring group whose members work in agriculture industries in Des Moines and the surrounding areas. Mekenze Cortum, Sales Development Specialist at Nationwide, leads the group. 

Dr. Joshua Rosenbloom, Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics, addressed the Central Iowa WomeAgribusinessn in  group at Kildee Hall on March 29, 2019.Dr. Joshua Rosenbloom, Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics, welcomed the 20 members and three ISU students in attendance. He was pleased the group was visiting campus and invited members to connect further with the department’s Agricultural Business Club, Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative, Extension and Outreach Women in Ag Program, and other activities. 

Sharing about her most memorable mentor, Aileen Keating explained, “The lady I worked for was a real tough nut, but she was an advocate for women in science, and told all of us, you can wear heals, be a good scientist and be a good mother, too.” Aileen is very proud of her two children, ages 6 and 9. Growing up, Aileen recalls while the boys were playing sports in her rural village in Ireland, the girls were learning to crochet, darn and embroider. Today, Aileen tries to give her daughter and son equal opportunities.

Aileen moved from a small village, surrounded by green hills, cattle and sheep, to the city where she was the first person in her family to attend university. “I tell everyone, you can do this too,” she says. As an Associate Professor of Reproductive Physiology and Toxicology, Aileen mentors graduate students while conducting leading edge research and serving on several university committees. “You have to control your time,” she advises, “avoid the water cooler, turn off emails and close the door when you need to get stuff done.”

Christen grew up in the city and got the animal science bug when she helped her sixth grade friend show dairy cows. As a lecturer, advisor and coach, Christen has a major impact on undergraduate students. She teaches students about the animal agricultural industry through a variety of courses including career preparation, animal handling, and dairy cattle science. When coaching the Dairy Judging and Dairy Challenge teams, she gives team members index cards with inspirational sayings and helpful reminders to keep them motivated. “It is rewarding to help students become more confident and build their professional networks,” Christen shares.   

As a new mother, Christen is still finding ways to balance her multiple rolls. “I had to learn how to draw on the support available to me,” she says. Now she works with an assistant coach who can be there for her students when she cannot be. Christen manages her calendar to keep up to all of the Dairy Science Club activities. With nearly 100 members and activities ranging from a cow milking booth at the Iowa State Fair to preparing meals for those in need through Food at First, she has to stay organized.

Joe Cordray, Professor and Extension Meat Specialist, and Emily Usinger, Extension Program Specialist, led the Central Iowa Women in Agribusiness on a tour of the ISU Meats LabJoe Cordray, Professor and Extension Meat Specialist, and Emily Usinger, Extension Program Specialist, led the group on a tour of the ISU Meats Lab, a federally inspected harvesting and processing facility. More than 1,400 people from 32 states and nine countries participated in meat processing short courses in 2018, making Iowa State University one of the largest training programs in the world. The Meats Lab research and extension activities support more than 100 meat processors in Iowa.

Joe saw many changes in the meat industry over the past five decades. The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) system was created in the 1960’s to prevent food safety problems for astronauts and became widely implemented in the 1990’s.  The first retail fresh meats voluntary naming system was adopted in 1973. Forty years later, a new system of naming over 500 cuts of beef, pork and lamb was designed to provide consumers with better information and include cooking instructions.

The networking group was surprised to learn women are 81 percent of the undergraduates enrolled in the Animal Science major this year. As a comparison, women are 35 percent of the Agricultural Business majors¹. The group discussed ways to make sure there is a level playing field for both men and women. They enjoyed conversation around cell-cultured meat, learning agricultural lingo and jargon, and finding mentors to guide you. One attendee shared, “It makes me proud that ‘my’ Iowa State has these competent women in place as role models and teachers.” Another shared, “I went to Iowa State and never even knew this place [Meats Lab] existed. All the safety pieces were impressive.”