Initiative prepares students to be ag advocates as animal rights activists spread misinformation |

Initiative prepares students to be ag advocates as animal rights activists spread misinformation

Eliminating animal agriculture farms of all types and sizes was a key message shared at the 2017 National Animal Rights Conference last month. Spreading misinformation and wedging themselves between consumers and the animal agriculture community is common for animal rights groups to reach their goals, and college students are a key target.

“How to engage with millennials and gen X-ers should be our number one question,” said one activist speaking at the conference, with another urging the audience to look to land-grant universities to bring future animal rights activists into the movement.

Seeing this trend, the Animal Agriculture Alliance launched the College Aggies Online scholarship program in 2009 as one way to help bridge the communication gap between farm and fork. This year’s competition began Sept. 10, with the goal of developing life-long advocates for agriculture. Registration for the competition is open to individuals and clubs through Oct. 1 at

“Animal rights groups are prevalent on college campuses spreading misinformation about America’s farmers and ranchers using ‘undercover’ video footage, Meatless Mondays petitions, and other tactics,” said Kay Johnson Smith, president and CEO of the alliance. “CAO is a way to ensure agriculture students have the tools they need to share factual, science-based information with their peers about how our food is produced.”

“Animal rights groups are prevalent on college campuses spreading misinformation about America’s farmers and ranchers using ‘undercover’ video footage.” Kay Johnson SmithPresident and CEO at the Alliance

Each week students competing in CAO will complete assignments and participate in webinars to help enhance their communication and advocacy skills. Assignments include: writing a blog post, designing an infographic, surveying fellow students about agriculture issues and much more. Students will also create social media content to share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #CAO17.

“College Aggies gives students the skills and confidence to speak up against misinformation and set the record straight,” said Casey Whitaker, communications manager at the alliance. “The clubs and students involved will not only learn how to communicate about animal agriculture, but have the opportunity to network with college students and industry leaders from across the country.”

The alliance has a put together a strong lineup of industry professionals to offer advice and answer questions throughout the competition. Mentors will also judge assignments and social media posts and give tips and feedback on how students can improve their strategies.

2017 program mentors include:

Casey Whitaker, communications manager, Animal Agriculture Alliance

Josie Peterson, communications manager, Biotechnology Innovation Organization

Don Schindler, senior vice president of digital innovations, Dairy Management Inc.

Chloe Carson, manager of digital communications, National Pork Producers Council

Kourtney Determan, manager of strategic and digital communications, National Chicken Council

Allison Devitre, regulatory information management and communications manager, Monsanto

Eric Mittenthal, vice president of public affairs, North American Meat Institute

Charmayne Hefley, manager of organizational communications, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

Tim Hammerich, agribusiness recruiter and founder, Ag Grad, LLC

At the end of the competition, the top three individuals and clubs with the most points will win the following scholarships:

First place: $2,500; Second place: $1,000; Third place: $500.

In addition to the overall winners, a weekly winner will be selected from the individual competition to receive $100 for submitting the best assignment. For the club competition, a winner will be named for each challenge to receive $250 at the end of the program.

Collegiate clubs and individuals interested in promoting agriculture and becoming confident communicators are invited to sign up through Oct. 1 at

CAO would not be possible without the generous support of our sponsors. 2017 sponsors include: Dairy Management Inc., the National Pork Industry Foundation, CHS Foundation, Pork Checkoff, Monsanto, Domino’s Pizza Inc., Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Kuhn North America and the Ohio Poultry Association.

Are you looking for a way to engage college students? CAO provides the perfect opportunity to support students with a passion for agriculture by helping them become confident communicators. Sponsors are recognized on our website, newsletter and at our annual Stakeholders Summit. Sponsors are given opportunities to give input to the program and interact with students.

To become a sponsor, contact Allyson Jones-Brimmer, director of membership, at ❖


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