Three Aggies who work for USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and one Aggie USDA marketing specialist, are visited in Washington, D.C. by Associate Dean Antoine Alston, Ph.D. Left to right: Jannety Mosley, Jean Porter, Alston, Jennifer Hill and Jackie Ross.
When sentimental students hug at graduation and earnestly say they’ll always stay together, they usually mean that they’ll stay together in spirit. No matter how good the intentions, time and job opportunities usually scatter the class.
But at USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, time and opportunity had the opposite effect. Luck – helped along by coursework and professors from N.C. A&T – has brought five Aggie grads together in the same work flow, in the division run by another Aggie a few doors down.
First came Jackie Ross, who earned her agricultural economics bachelor’s degree in 2003 and master’s in 2005. Now the section head of the NASS’s data dissemination office’s statistics division, she works directly with Jean Porter ’05, the agricultural statistician for wheat and rye; and Jannety Mosley ’09, the agricultural statistician for barley and crop weather, monitoring crops’ conditions and progress in the field. The three statisticians all work in the Washington, D.C., office where Kevin Barnes ’82 is associate administrator of NASS.
“It’s coincidence the we all work together, but not that we all work for the USDA,” said Mosley, an agricultural economics major who works side by side with Jean Porter, an agricultural business major. “The USDA is big at A&T. When I was going through career opportunities, it came up again and again.”
Each year, NASS conducts hundreds of surveys and issues nearly 500 national reports on issues affecting U.S. agriculture, including production, economics, demographics and the environment. This data is essential for planning and administering state programs, maintaining a stable nationwide economic climate, helping farmers and ranchers make marketing decisions and setting foreign and domestic trade goals, among other criteria. The office also conducts the U.S. Census of Agriculture, a census providing uniform, reliable agricultural data for every county in the nation. The census is conducted every five years, including 2019.
As head of the data dissemination office, Ross is responsible for issuing NASS reports and publications, providing timely and accurate information to farmers, ranchers and all forms of agribusiness. She works directly with Porter, who is responsible for setting national estimates of planted and harvested acres, average yields, total production, price, value and stocks for all types of wheat and rye; and Mosley, who is responsible for setting national estimates for barley. From April 1 to Nov. 30, she also sets estimates for a weekly national report on farmers’ activities, including planting and harvesting, crops’ progress through various developmental stages and crop condition ratings throughout the growing season.
The data that they use comes from another Aggie, Kelli Ennis ’05, MS ’07, who earned both her degrees in agricultural economics. A lead software programmer in the St. Louis office, she writes and maintains the code that generates the information the D.C. office uses and delivers data models to field offices around the country to aid the agency with its data collection and analysis, and the publication of official, national statistical data.
Another Aggie, Jennifer Hill ’10, an agricultural economics major whose master’s is in agricultural education, completes the flow. As a grain marketing specialist, Hill facilitates international grain trade in the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, responding to foreign buyers and conducting outreach activities with foreign delegations to reduce trade barriers. Her office is also in Washington, D.C., in another building from the statisticians.
Now, years later as successful commodities statisticians, programmers and marketing specialists, the Aggie grads say that it’s the little things – advice, mentoring and extra help when needed – that have made the biggest difference.
“Dr. Antoine Alston used to give us advice in class. He told us, ‘never be out of sight, out of mind,’” Ross said. When her office was given the choice of tele-working for many days on end, or a few, she chose to stay in the office most of the time. “I really do think my visibility is what made the difference in my getting promoted to director,” she said.
Once at the USDA office, Porter said, she found that the lessons taught by faculty members Thomas, Yeboah, Ejimakor and others started to click. “I had to apply the things we were taught, and then, you really start to see the correlations,” she said. “Everything I learned in college I’ve used in my work.”
Kelli Ennis describes her first weeks at NASS as “baptism by fire,” thanks to the office’s quick pace.
“But I always felt prepared,” she said. “Nothing ever totally threw me. It was my time at ‘T’ that made that difference.”
Jannety Mosley credits her undergraduate preparation for her success at NASS, along with a foundation laid in the CAES’s summer pre-college programs, the Institute for Future Agricultural Leaders and the Research Apprentice Program.
“Dr. Kenrett Jefferson-Moore had a huge influence on my life,” she said. “She encouraged me to go to grad school and helped guide me to NASS. Her spirit and her encouragement were so important to me.”
When they talk together, all the Aggies marvel at the campus’s physical transformation – “There were houses on Obermeyer, no clock tower, no new dorms, and you could literally drive through campus,” Porter said – but the thing that remains the most vivid is the sense of family and community that A&T gives to its students.
“Just being on campus is what I miss most – the highs and lows, the friendships, discovering who you are, finding your way,” Mosley said. “I love being able to reach back and help the next students coming up, to mentor them or go to campus and talk to them.”
“A&T affirms you,” Ross said. “It caused me to self-evaluate and find the ‘me’ in me that I didn’t know was there.”
For Hill, an 1890s Scholar, A&T was a good fit from the start, but the campus’s diversity was a surprise.
“It really helped me appreciate differences, and to be willing to look at things a different way,” she said.
And all agree that, even in with the familiarity of the agriculture curriculum behind them, it’s good to have another Aggie watching your back in the workplace.
“We’re all Aggies, and we make sure everyone knows it,” Ross said. “We work with some Alcorn State people, and we did a lot of bragging this year.”
“The A&T family is just that,” Porter said. “Even now, Dr. Alston will come by the building and visit us, and ask how we’re doing. I know that all my professors are just a phone call away. They make sure you’re always taken care of.”
A native Floridian, Ennis had never heard of A&T until coming to North Carolina to tour other universities. On the orientation tour, she said, she had an instant feeling of “home.”
“I went from not knowing a soul in the entire state, let alone at A&T, to feeling like a part of a family,” she said. “No matter what, A&T holds a special place in my heart.”