Tell us about yourself: What made you join Alpha Zeta? Are you from the Central Valley? Have you always had a passion for agriculture?
Maestas: "What made me join Alpha Zeta was the opportunity to network with people from around the country with similar interests and similar backgrounds. This was in addition to being able to interact with my colleagues at Fresno State. I also very much liked the idea that there would be a group of agricultural professionals who I would be able to connect with down the road and find we had Alpha Zeta in common. I was born in Reedley, California and lived in several other cities in the Central Valley including Sanger, California where I graduated high school. My interest in agriculture stems from my grandmother, Dolores, who almost single-handedly farmed 20-acres of raisin grapes in Del Rey, California. I very much admired her determination and was awed by her work ethic. I decided to become educated in this field in order to hopefully help her achieve higher yields by combining advanced agronomic practices with her vast experience. Sadly, she died before I could finish my education. But agriculture remained my passion and the hope that I could help other farmers in the future by adding tools in their agronomic toolbox became the bedrock of my career in this industry."
Since graduation, what have you been up to? Do you have a small business? Are you working for a Valley business or corporation? Etc.
Maestas: "I was actually working for BASF Agricultural Products at their agricultural research station in Dinuba, California when I re-entered school and chose agriculture as my educational focus. I attended classes part time at State Center Community College District (SCCCD) campuses until I earned enough transfer credits to attend Fresno State. I completed my undergraduate degree there in 2 years and began graduate school (I was unable to complete my masters degree at Fresno State but am planning on completing it in the near future!). During that time, I left BASF and worked for Bayer CropScience for a short time before going to work for BioResearch, a contract research organization, as a Turf and Ornamental Biologist. BioResearch closed down in late 2012 and shortly thereafter I started my own contract research company and conducted multiple discipline research for a variety of ag chemical companies. A fantastic opportunity opened up for me at Reedley College, where I was hired to be the Farm Production Supervisor of their 300-acre Agricultural Laboratory (the first manager in over 20 years!). While I was at Reedley College, Crop Vitality, a business unit of Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc, purchased the 107-acre former BASF agricultural research station in Dinuba where I had begun my agricultural career. I was approached about becoming the Station Manager and although the decision to leave Reedley College was extremely tough, I accepted the position and recently celebrated my first anniversary here at the TKI Dinuba Innovation and Learning Center!"
What is your advice to students approaching graduation? How can they prepare for life outside of college?
Maestas: "My advice for students approaching graduation is to fine tune their resume. Although the life of an undergrad/grad student is tough, hopefully the opportunity to have interned/worked for an ag company was available. If it wasn't, then be prepared to highlight instances of hard work and dependability because that is what many employers are really seeking. Undergraduate classes are designed to show you a little about a lot and to prepare you to hone your research skills. Nobody expects you to be an expert just starting out but definitely gaining a little knowledge about the various facets of ag (agronomy, soil science, entomology, plant pathology, weed science, etc.) will demonstrate to an employer that you will be able to find the answers to questions that you don't know and help them grow their business. My tip for preparing for life outside of college is to network, network, network! Take advantage of the industry dinners and career fairs that Fresno State hosts. Apply for scholarships and thank the donors (many of them ag companies) for their support. They sometimes remember you down the road! But beyond that, demonstrate to people that you are a do what you say person. The agriculture industry is smaller than you think and people will remember you for you. A person who works hard, is personable, is honest, and is dependable will always have a job in our industry. People will always have to eat...and it is our job as agriculturalists to ensure that they do!"
What are some of the things you learned or gained in Alpha Zeta that helped you make it to where you are today?
Maestas: "What I learned from Alpha Zeta was how to interact with colleagues from many different backgrounds. Although I re-entered college as an older student, learning to speak with others as an agricultural professional is an important skill that will serve you well in many different jobs in this industry."
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Thank you for your time, Raymond! We loved hearing how Alpha Zeta got you where you are today! We can't wait to see what you will do next.
Stay tuned for more alumni highlights!