Like Father Like Daughter a Legacy of Leadership
For Adelai Swanson, former president of the Agricultural Business Club, there was never any other major to consider. Just ask her dad Stuart, who led the club 26 years before she did.
“You could say I was encouraged to major in ag business, but it was more like forced,” Adelai jokes.
“The commitment from ag business advisers and the relationships they have with their students are really unique,” Stuart says. “I wanted that for my kids.”
That special relationship started at orientation for Adelai when Ron Deiter, Stuart’s adviser, called her out as the daughter of a former club president. It continued when Adelai showed up to her first advising appointment—with Deiter.
“Dr. Deiter is still excited to be teaching,” Stuart says. “You can see his passion. I recognize and appreciate that not just from him, but also from all our advisers, staff and faculty. It feels like a family.”
Stuart, a farmer near Galt, Iowa, worked with the Iowa Pork Producers before returning home to the family farm. He’s kept connected with his fellow agricultural business alumni through industry leadership positions and with Iowa State through collaborative on-farm research. He’s served terms on cooperative boards and numerous industry leadership teams.
When Stuart was president in 1988, enrollment in agricultural business was 389 and membership in the club was around 100. He says he was drawn to the major because of its good placement rates despite the downturn in the farm economy.
The percent of women in the major was around 10 percent. President Gordon Eaton was in charge at Iowa State and Dean David Topel led the College of Agriculture. Johnny Orr was head basketball coach and Jim Walden led the Cyclones on the football field. The Agricultural Business Club had not yet won an Outstanding National Club award. Carol Elliot was secretary in the agricultural business office.
“Times were tough then. There wasn’t a lot of pride in agriculture—it wasn’t as popular as it is now. Farm kids would choose to major in business and that frustrated me,” Stuart says.
In Fall 2014, when Adelai was voted president, there were more than 485 agricultural business majors at Iowa State—30 percent were women. More than 300 students were in the club, which had won 15 Outstanding National Club awards. Club activities of the past such as mock interviews and the VEISHEA food stand were replaced by an industry golf tournament, a pre-career day mixer, industry tours and many more.
“We focus on networking and professional development. Our industry support for the club is growing—like the endowment in Dr. Dieter’s honor from Farm Credit Services of America. We do a lot to build community, too,” Adelai says.
When she was president, participation in learning communities and in the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative was commonplace for agricultural business students. Steven Leath was president of the university and Wendy Wintersteen was dean of the college. Paul Rhoads was head football coach and Fred Hoiberg was carrying on Hilton Magic. Carol Elliot was, and still is, secretary in the agricultural business office.
Adelai, the oldest of four daughters, made a good early first impression among her peers and was named the club’s Outstanding Freshman.
“With Adelai, it’s ‘like father, like daughter’ when it comes to academic ability and leadership skills,” Deiter says. “She hit the ground running and made a huge first impression on me. As president, she raised the bar immensely in terms of how to conduct meetings and how to effectively communicate with an officer team.”
At first Adelai tried to blaze her own trail away from agricultural business. She became involved in Greek life, student government, dance organizations, “anything and everything.” But she says she kept feeling a pull to the club where, like her father, she found a family and worked hard to create that feeling for others.
“My goal was to empower students and make them feel comfortable so they had a place to call home. Many in our officer team returned and I love what they’re doing with the club now. Others have moved on to leadership roles elsewhere in the college and are improving the university on a larger scale.”
It’s statements like this that led to Adelai being recognized as the Ag Business Club’s “biggest cheerleader.”
“I told Addie when she came to college I didn’t want her to have a list of regrets she didn’t take advantage of during her time on campus,” Stuart says.
Adelai studied abroad in South Africa, Argentina and Australia. She’s been on the Dean’s List each semester and received the Fred Foreman Scholarship for Growth in Leadership Participation. Her list of leadership positions, campus involvement and internships doesn’t leave much room for regret: member of the President’s Leadership Council; model in the Iowa State Fashion Show; active member of Alpha Delta Pi; intern with Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, North Central Cooperative and FLM+; the list goes on.
She graduated in May with degrees in agricultural business, international agriculture and public relations and a passion for agricultural policy. She’s accepted a position with Dow Agro- Sciences as a sales trainee.
The next eldest Swanson daughter, Celeste, is a sophomore in agricultural business at Iowa State. She’s also a leader on campus in Alpha Delta Pi, Bacon Expo, the Student Alumni Leadership Council and the Agricultural Business Club.
Stuart, who met his wife, Lori, at Iowa State, says his other two daughters, Lilian and Delia, are excited to follow suit and find their own adventures at Iowa State.