Going The Distance For Agriculture

The summer of 2012 was a hot one, but that didn’t stop Bethany Olson from training for competitive cross-country.

“You have to love running—whether it’s 100 plus degrees or 21 below—you have to work out,” says Olson, a senior in agricultural business and international agriculture.

As a member of the Iowa State University Women’s Track and Cross Country teams Olson trained hard this summer to reach her mileage total of 85 miles per week. An important goal because she believes cross- country competition is about teamwork.

“If you don’t put your time in, you are letting your team down,” Olson says. “There are no timeouts when you compete in cross country because it’s an individual contribution to the team.”

The teamwork paid off last year when Iowa State University’s Women’s team brought home Iowa State’s first Big 12 Championship trophy. Corey Ihmels, Iowa State University director of men and women’s track and cross country, says it’s because of athletes like Olson.

“The easy part is doing the hard work, the hard part is balance. I ask students to manage life, school, get enough rest and eat well,” Ihmels says. “Bethany is very involved academically and she’s a committed athlete. She’s doing things right.”

Olson’s a team player in everything she does, but balancing all her interests is a challenge. Along with Cyclone athletics, Olson is a member of the Agricultural Business Club, Alpha Zeta, the Honors Program, Collegiate FFA, Lyrica (an Iowa State women’s choir), the Student Athlete Advisory Council and serves as a student ambassador for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

One of Olson’s interests is travel. In grade school Olson listed traveling the world as one of her lifelong goals. She started her college travels in Argentina as part of an agronomy and economics travel course during spring break. The twelve-day trip was packed with farm and ag industry tours along with a few tourist stops.

Olson wrote an 80-page report summarizing the trip and credited Sergio Lence’s connections for making the trip a hands- on tour. Lence, a professor of economics and course adviser, grew up on a farm near Carlos Casares in the Province of Buenos Aires.

“Students like Bethany make the effort of leading travel courses worthwhile and motivate me to continue doing them,” Lence says.

Nathan Johnston, a senior in agricultural business, also went to Argentina with Olson. The two grew up four miles apart from each other near Jewell, Iowa. They both have similar career plans. Johnston says the long-standing joke between them is who will be the other one’s boss.

“In high school we were involved in 4-H, cross country and FFA co-presidents together. We followed each other to Iowa State and both went into the ag business program,” Johnston says. “It’s been great to have a friend like Bethany at Iowa State.”

In June, Olson continued her international studies and traveled to Southeast Asia after being selected to participate in the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. Grains Foundation and the National FFA. She and Karl Kerns, a junior in animal science, were among twelve students nationwide to participate in a trip to Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

The group toured an aquaculture farm on the Mekong River in Vietnam and met with commodity representatives in Saigon. Olson says the experience emphasized Iowa’s global connection to agriculture, especially when they visited the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade in Singapore.

Both study abroad opportunities fit Olson’s plans to pursue a career in marketing and with an agricultural business or organization that includes international connections.

“I hope to have a career that is focused on furthering the productivity of farmers and their agricultural practices around the world, while helping consumers under- stand that agriculture is an important and necessary part of their lives,” Olson says.

Olson is co-chair of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Ag Career Day. Her past awards include recognition as a Foreman Scholar and the Branstad-Reynolds Undergraduate Scholar. She was raised on a fifth-generation family farm and graduated valedictorian of the South Hamilton High School Class of 2009