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No Agricultural Background? No Problem for This Grad

  A weatherworn hand stopped Alison Williams as she prepared to meet her next client. The man looked toward her long, manicured nails.

“You can’t calibrate the equipment with the long fingernails,” the farmer scoffed, clearly expecting a man in Williams’ place.

“Watch me.”

Williams, a 1998 Agriculture Economics graduate, is no stranger to being underestimated. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that women comprise forty-three percent of the agricultural labor force globally. Still, the focus on production agriculture skews male—and when you look at females in management, corporate-level roles at agriculture companies, Williams says the representation is even smaller.

Her job as the North American account manager with DuPont Crop Protection means she is often the only female in the boardroom and sometimes a surprise to clients.

“It takes time to prove yourself,” Williams said.

She’s taken the time. Today, Williams’ work impacts almond farmers in California, citrus growers in Florida, tobacco farmers in the Carolinas, and even apple growers in New York.

Williams grew up in South Knoxville before attending the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources with no agriculture background.

“I thought I knew everything there was to know about UT,” Williams remembered. “It ended up a great decision because I found a way to make that campus my own little city.”

“I fell in love with the people and learning something new every day.”

CASNR introduced Williams to the close-knit community of the “ag campus” and exposed her to just exactly how broad the agriculture industry really is. Williams contributes her experience as an Ag Ambassador and Pi Beta Phi as the catalyst that created the people and relationship skills she uses on a daily basis in her career.

For the past two years, Williams has been a member of the UTIA Advancement Board and recently included UTIA in her estate planning.

“It’s my turn to give back,” Williams said. “I loved my time at UT and I want to do my part to help and communicate all the great things UTIA continues to do.”

She also wants to encourage the next generation of agriculturists—no matter what form, race, or gender. The development of the newest UT 4-H and conference center in West Tennessee, Lone Oaks Farm, has become close to her heart.

“It is important to support agriculture education at a young age. Children must know that anything is possible. We have the responsibility to show them that their dreams are achievable and supply them the resources to succeed before society tells them any differently. The industry also needs to be well balanced in order to serve our diverse communities,” Williams said.

Williams sees progress, including DuPont-run focus groups in agriculture for women, and the rapidly evolving industry calls for an ever-greater diversity of skills and interest, opening doors for wider representation.

“We need engineers to help create new equipment, we need scientists to identify a new molecule that may change a herbicide, we need communicators, we need linguists, food safety advocates. There is a lot of things that go into developing that ear of corn or loaf of bread,” Williams said. –Lauren Vath, UTIA Office of Institutional Advancement