Young Alum of the Month – August 2021

Genna Tesdall’s adventure following graduation from Iowa State University has taken her across the world again.

Tesdall (’15 biology and global resource systems) is the director of Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) and currently lives in Berlin, Germany. The organization’s mission is to empower young agricultural leaders to shape sustainable food and agricultural systems. The chance to make a difference on an international scale is part of what attracted her to the position.

“I get to innovate again, just like I did when I was a student at Iowa State and work with young people to create projects that really fit our vision for the world,” Tesdall says. “It is more important than ever that my daily work is in-line with my values. Protecting the environment and improving lives, even in the smallest things we do, comes first for me.”

As the director of the organization, Tesdall takes care of all the leadership and administration that makes the organization stable and enables it to reach its target audience—young professionals in agriculture. YPARD’s goal is to connect young agricultural professionals around the world. These connections are the foundation of informational and intercultural exchange, but also the start of collaborative projects between members and policy advocacy. YPARD provides members opportunities to meet others, further their education, and gain new experiences, especially after they may have left educational institutions but are still thirsty to learn and grow.

Setting the course for an international journey

As an Ames native interested in engineering, Tesdall thought it was a logical choice to attend Iowa State University. She started out as an undeclared major in the College of Engineering but quickly was drawn to the focus on social impact at the core of the Global Resource Systems major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Tesdall chose to double major in global resource systems and biology thanks to the potential for mentorship through GLOBE and the wide intellectual scope of the programs.

“There was a moment as a freshman when I had a crisis. There’s so much need in the world that I wouldn’t have the chance to address without directly focusing on it; there’s so much poverty and so much struggle. I wanted to choose a career that specifically focused on social impact. At around that moment, I met Dr. Gail Nonnecke, and I was sold on GLOBE,” she says.

That was something she always wanted to do with engineering, but for Tesdall the focus wasn’t on it enough.

“Of course, you have to learn all these technical aspects of how fluid flows through a pipe, but I wanted to also learn about the dynamics of where is that pipe being laid. What’s the political situation and the environmental situation? I could get that in GLOBE,” says Tesdall.

International experiences with IAAS and GLOBE

Her involvement in the student club, International Association of Students in Agriculture and Related Sciences, launched her involvement in international agriculture.

“I ended up meeting people from all over the world through IAAS, so that sparked my interest in Germany,” Tesdall recalls. “My travel to Sweden with IAAS was the first time I had been on a plane. Six months later, I was elected President of the IAAS at the global level. It was a wild ride, and the skills I learned in those few short years still serves me today.”

Through the GLOBE program, she interned in Peru and later studied at the University of Hohenheim in Germany. At the time of her study abroad at Hohenheim, she served as IAAS president, so she had the opportunity to create standard operating procedures for IAAS as part of her coursework.

Not only did Tesdall grow intellectually during her studies in Germany, she also learned professional skills she continues to use today.

“It is very common in Europe to have oral exams, which was unheard at the time I studied in CALS. But in retrospect, they are a very good preparatory exercise, because in my current job, most of the rationalization, discussion and defense that I do is all verbal,” reflects Tesdall.

Look for windows of opportunity

Tesdall encourages students to consider studying abroad or working abroad when they have the interest, despite hesitations they may be feeling.

“I definitely know what it feels like to be an immigrant and to study abroad. Don’t let that imposter syndrome or even outright unfriendliness to foreigners get you down. I know it’s easier said than done, as it’s something I’m adapting to by living in Berlin. If you have the desire to get involved with Iowa agriculture, engage! Your unique perspective is so valuable, and you can make such an impact in Iowa if you choose to share it,” she says. “Everywhere in the world needs new ideas and you’re getting those, too, from your international engagement.”

Tesdall’s journey to Germany is certainly inspiring and her advice to College of Agriculture and Life Science students is just that – inspiring.

“Don’t hesitate. If there’s something you’re interested in, just go for it and keep talking to people until you find a way to make it happen,” urges Tesdall. She explains that Iowa State is not hierarchical, so if you’re interested in something you want to make happen, keep looking until you find that window of opportunity. “You’ll get there.”