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NORMAL — When she was only 9 years old, Colleen Callahan showed a grand champion hog that led to her being interviewed by the media and meeting the secretary of agriculture.

It later led the girl, who grew up on a Milford farm, to a successful career that included farm broadcasting, traveling to Afghanistan and Iraq on official trade missions and becoming the state director for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

“That wasn’t on my day planner,” she joked, commenting on how choices and circumstances can propel a career.

She spoke to about 400 women at the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture conference Friday at Illinois State University in Normal. The second annual conference sponsored by the Illinois Agri-Women drew about 300 high school and college students and about 100 women working in agriculture-related fields.

Callahan also discussed how important communication, especially the social media, is to the field today. She noted that if Facebook were a country, its users would make it the fourth largest in the world.

“You are part of a revolution of changes that were not options for the rest of us,” she told the young women.

A one-day job fair at the event allowed students to learn more about jobs like working in commodities, natural resources, veterinary medicine, production and seed sales.

Kristin Vick, an FFA member and Delavan High School student, said she enjoyed learning about the variety of careers in agriculture. She had been interested in nursing, but expressed new interest in becoming a veterinary technician.

“It opened my mind to other things,” she said.

A Heyworth High School junior said it was exciting to see all the options. “I didn’t expect there were so many job areas,” said Taylor Kaufman, who liked the accounting and sales options.

Penny Lauritzen, immediate past president of the Illinois Agri-Women and a founder of this event, said it lets young women know about opportunities in what had been a male-dominated industry. It is a chance to reach out to sisters to provide opportunities, she said.

“It is the beginning of a network,” said Lauritzen, who works as a farm financial strategy consultant and estate planner.

Kelli Bassett, an agronomist for Pioneer Agriculture and Nutrition of Greenville, said she never for a moment thought it was unusual for women to work in agriculture. “My grandmother, mother and sisters were active in agriculture production,” she said.

A lot of time, women were seen in support roles earlier, but that isn’t the case anymore, she said. Now they are often making the decisions about marketing or production, she said.


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