Akiliyah Sumlin (pictured above, left) never considered pursuing a career in agriculture. It wasn’t that she didn’t have exposure to the industry—growing up in small-town Oklahoma, she was surrounded by farmers. Problem was, very few of those farmers actually looked like her: female and Black.
Now the senior agriculture science major at Tennessee State University is determined to be a role model for the people of color coming up behind her.
“There isn’t a lot of representation of Black women in agriculture and I want to be that for (young people),” says Akiliyah, a two-time Farm Credit Mid-America intern who will graduate the spring of 2021 and hopes to go into ag marketing. “When I’d go home (from college), people were surprised like, ‘you’re in agriculture?’ That’s not really something people like us do. I want people of my race and my gender to see me and say ‘that’s something I can do.’”
Helping to encourage that is a new national Farm Credit partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to strengthen recruitment of people of color and promote diversity in agriculture and rural communities. Under the Launching Leaders program, embraced by Farm Credit Mid-America, any student or recent graduate of an HBCU interning at a Farm Credit Entity receives a $3,500 stipend for living expenses. The goal is to attract HBCU candidates who may be interested in a Farm Credit internship but face financial barriers to participating. The stipend, offered in addition to regular internship wages, may be used for a number of living expenses associated with an internship, including housing, transportation and groceries.
That’s important, says Akiliyah, because without exposure to ag-related jobs and encouragement to enter the industry, agriculture is lacking in diversity and missing out on a vast pool of talent coming from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“I know that HBCUs breed some of the most hard-working students I’ve ever seen,” says Akiliyah, who received the stipend as an Association intern in 2020. “When companies come in and invest in these students, they’re going to get something great in return.”
Farm Credit's Launching Leaders Stipend is part of its pledge to the national HBCU Partnership Challenge in which more than 50 major employers across the nation have committed to deepening or creating relationships with HBCUs to encourage recruitment. Farm Credit is one of a growing number of esteemed national organizations working with the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus to strengthen partnerships between HBCU students, the federal government and the industry. HBCUs produce 50 percent of all Black professionals in the country. Today, there are 107 HBCUs with more than 228,000 students enrolled, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Akiliyah says her experiences with Launching Leaders and Farm Credit Mid-America have reinforced her decision to enter the agriculture industry.
“Farm Credit Mid-America is pouring into something that needed to be supported for a long time,” she says. “This partnership shows people from different backgrounds that there are people in agriculture that want to see you grow and lead in the industry, and I think Farm Credit Mid-America is a leader in that.”
To learn more about the Launching Leaders program, visit the Farm Credit Launching Leaders website