Bringing together women in agriculture
Mentorship program connects students with professionals from academic and industry backgrounds
A mentorship program for women in the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS) is connecting students with professionals from academic and industry backgrounds. What makes the program especially unique is the pairing of each student with two mentors – one from the Faculty and one from the agricultural and food sciences industry.
The FAFS Mentorship Program, an initiative of the Prairies NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE) program, is a student-led initiative which introduces students to the structure and environment of the professional world in a supportive community. The inaugural year of the program pairs 20 students with 40 mentors from a broad range of organizations.
Students have the option to explore their career goals, network with women in the field and develop new skills with the guidance of their mentors. The relationship also enables mentors to promote their disciplines, support future industry members and share their passion for agriculture with a larger network.
“We believe that program participants will reap huge benefits from this experience as they share their career passions, goals and insights with one another,” said mentorship program coordinator Siobhan Maas.
“Women studying in the Faculty now have a fantastic opportunity to grow their professional network, develop lasting relationships with professional mentors and, after they graduate, to become leaders in their own right in industry, government and academia.”
Organizers brought the participants together at the first group event held October 16 at the campus pub, the Hub. The event introduced everyone through an interactive game and followed with food and networking. Three additional events are planned throughout the academic year, but the mentor groups have already begun meeting on their own.
Leah McDonald is a 2nd year student in the B.Sc. (Agriculture) program in the Plant Biotechnology option. She has been paired with Pam Bailey, farm safety instructor in the School of Agriculture, and Tiffany Dancho, new product development manager, MacDon Industries.
“This program has given me more confidence and greater clarity on my career, school and personal plans,” said Leah.
She feels the mentorship program has not only helped her grow personally, but has laid the groundwork for her professional network in the agriculture industry.
“Having mentors from both the academic and the industry side really gives me the opportunity for a strong knowledge transfer.”
For mentor Tiffany, the benefit of the program comes from the diversity of her colleagues.
“Having two different mentors helps give the student a more well-rounded approach and experience. And I am learning from both of them – both Leah and Pam have experience and knowledge that I can pull from to apply to my role,” she said. “And in the larger group, the events give us the chance to speak to other women who are facing a lot of the same experiences.”
As the academic mentor, Pam hopes to provide Leah with the extra support that she wished she had going through her degree and starting her career in an often male-dominated industry.
“As women in ag, sometimes the role can be isolating – regardless of where your workplace is. This program allows us to connect over a cup of coffee, in a judgment-free space, and improve ourselves, whether it be fostering each other’s self-esteem, adding to our resumes or allowing ourselves to put down the shield we sometimes carry.”
Pam says people may sometimes be scared of committing to a mentorship role, because of the perceived responsibilities and formalities.
“But mentorship can really be what you make of it – it’s proof that you get what you give. We have become a great group of unique strength that supports each other.”
This program is made possible with the support of the Province of Manitoba (Agriculture), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the University of Manitoba.