University News

WIU School of Ag Course Matches Freshmen with Alumni for Networking Opportunities

October 11, 2021

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MACOMB, IL – A unique opportunity for freshmen Western Illinois University agriculture students matches them with successful program alumni who have excelled in various components of the industry.

The mentoring program, part of Agri 120, the Agriculture in Today's Society class, is taught by Instructor Jana Knupp. She has paired each of the 34 students in her class with a WIU agriculture alumni to connect with throughout the semester.

Representatives of WIU's School of Agriculture reached out to Western alumni throughout the summer to seek volunteers. The purpose of the program is to help students develop a professional network and have someone they can talk to about future career opportunities.

"We are very fortunate in the School of Agriculture to have alumni who are so giving of their time and expertise," said Knupp. "The Agriculture Advisory Board and I thought this would be a great opportunity to connect students with alumni early during their time at Western, and use the knowledge of our alumni to help guide our students through new, professional situations."

Students in the class are enrolled in various agriculture-related majors, including pre-veterinary medicine, agriculture science, agriculture business and agriculture education. Alumni are encouraged to share their WIU stories of key lessons they learned throughout their time on campus.

One of those alumni is 2004 agriculture business alumna Joanne Beeler, a human resources supervisor at The Knapheide Manufacturing Company in Quincy, IL. She said she volunteered to be a mentor because she felt it was important to let students know how the agriculture-related campus organizations enhanced her Western education.

"I was an Ag Vocator for three years and now I work in HR and recruiting, so that transferred and prepared me very well," she said. "I have had one call with my mentee so far, and felt it went very well. We spoke about her major and interests and I tried to give her some things to think about as far as careers go. I was able to reach out to a friend that works for another ag company and passed her information along for another perspective of what's out there."

Ashley Whiteside, a veterinarian and 2015 WIU agriculture business graduate, said she volunteered to help with the program because she felt it was important to give back to "the University, the professors who shaped my education and the current students who are obtaining their education now."

"Thus far, I have enjoyed getting to know the students and just talking to them about their time at WIU," she said. "I've enjoyed listening to their experiences and comparing them to my own. I love WIU, and I am so thankful for the education I gained while there, prior to veterinary school. The ag and animal science department was home to me while I was there, and I want other students to gain that same experience."

Jeremy Kane, a 2002 agriculture science graduate and area business manager for crop protection and seed growth at Bayer Crop Science – North America, said he has enjoyed the opportunity the partnership affords him to share knowledge.

"I enjoy mentoring our next generation of agriculture leaders by sharing insights to help them understand the opportunities we have in the ag industry and the skills they need to gain at WIU to have a successful career," said Kane.

WIU student Cody Cornell, of Columbia, IL, who is mentored by 2000 graduate Illinois Senator Dawn Driscoll, said it is the preparation for his future the program is giving him that he appreciates most.

"The mentor program at WIU has allowed me to become involved in the working world without actually being there already," he said. "It prepares me for the real world and the path that faces me in the near future."

Agriculture Business student Ryann Zimmerman, of Tennessee, IL, said the program has provided valuable insight to maximize the opportunities available at WIU.

"My mentor did an amazing job of not only explaining her job and her daily tasks, but also provided wonderful advice on navigating college and making the most of my time at WIU," she said.

For more information about the WIU School of Agriculture, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing