August 21, 2018

Studying with the hogs: Student wins Illinois Pork Producers Association scholarship

by Hannah Erickson

Vanessa WilliamsCARBONDALE, Ill — Not many students are focusing their college years on pigs. But with the pork industry providing over $20 billion in gross income and about 550,000 jobs, future leaders are a constant need. That’s why senior Vanessa Williams has spent the last several years immersing herself in the industry, and winning a scholarship in the process.

Fueling a passion for agriculture

Having grown up on a farm, Williams, a senior from Smithfield, Illinois studying agriculture education at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, knew a bit more about pigs than the average person.

“My first memories of hogs are of taking care of them in the farrowing house and taking them to market with my father,” Williams said.

After attending the Illinois Pork Leadership Institute, she joined the Illinois Pork Producers Association two years ago and started her own journey in the industry. Knowing that she wanted to raise hogs herself one day, she choose SIU as her training ground.

“My passion in life is agriculture, and SIU has the best College of Agriculture in the state,” she said.

Scholarship sets Williams up for the future

Williams applied for the 2018 Illinois Pork Producers Association Scholarship with the hope of supporting her college goals, and was one-of-nine to win the award. The scholarship is divided into gold, silver, and bronze winners, with Williams winning the silver division.

“This scholarship means that I can graduate debt-free, without having to take out a student loan and [can] start my career after college without having to pay for college years down the road,” Williams said.

Sharing her passion

To add another layer to her experience, Williams spent the summer interning at Diamond Ag. Research in Larned, Kansas. While studying the growth of products such as corn, soybeans, sorghum and wheat, she also gained an international perspective by learning the unique research aspects of companies across the globe.

Along with being a full-time student studying agriculture education with minors in agribusiness economics and animal science, Williams also serves as treasurer for the SIU Collegiate Farm Bureau, Vice-President of the Agricultural Education Club and Historian of the Collegiate FFA. She recently placed second in Illinois State Fair Young Leader Agri-Quiz Bowl competition, leading her team to the highest place finish ever for Fulton County.

Once Williams finishes her time at SIU, she hopes to teach agriculture classes at an Illinois high school, while still raising hogs.

“What I am looking forward to the most while being an ag teacher is seeing the students’ face light up when they finally understand a concept such as: how a corn kernel turns into the plant or how many different industries are directly related to the ag industry,” Williams said. “There's so much that a student can learn from an ag class that students should be learning something new every day.”