The MILE Program at Texas Tech is building future leaders for the agriculture industry.
Carlye Winfrey first heard about the Matador Institute of Leadership Engagement (MILE) Program at Texas Tech University as a high school student.
She had friends already attending Texas Tech, and they were pushing her to look into the MILE Program.
When she got to Texas Tech, she did just that, and the value behind it was clear. The MILE Program is a three-semester leadership offering designed to create high-impact learning opportunities for students from the Davis College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources.
As part of the program students tour agricultural facilities, visit production plants and are put in direct contact with producers and industry leaders. The MILE Program selects students from across Davis College through an application process, with each cohort made up of a strong class of candidates that has demonstrated leadership qualities.
Winfrey made the decision to apply to the program and, once accepted, quickly concluded that she made the right decision.
“Once I was accepted, it was just everything I thought it would be plus more,” she said. “Even more than what my friends said it would be. I always tell people, it's great on paper to say that you're part of the MILE Program. But honestly, the best thing, reflecting back on it, especially now that we have retired from the program, is the group of friends that I got from the cohort.
“It's rare to be surrounded by ambitious friends and students, especially in college, who want to achieve great things. But that's exactly what that cohort was. Everyone is so open-minded and big fans of each other. It's neat to now still see how that relationship goes on even as we're all graduating or staying in college or going to get more higher education.”
Aside from the benefits of having other driven students to help push her, Winfrey pointed to the connections with industry leaders as a key part of what the MILE Program gave her.
“The first thing that comes to mind is just exposure to people who are experts in the field,” Winfrey said. “You can hear about what's going on in the news or what's going on in agriculture, and you could read about it in the local newspaper, or professors can maybe teach you about it, but it's just a whole different experience when you get to be one-on-one in the field with these experts.”
One of the industry leaders the MILE Program works with is Kayla Robinson, chief executive officer for AgTexas Farm Credit, a farm lender in the area. She's a Texas Tech graduate along with being a supporter of the MILE Program, both as an industry partner and a donor.
“I think what the MILE Program does is just experiential learning,” Robinson said. “It helps connect students from the academic classroom to real-life industry, and really preps them and gets them ready to take that next step. They're learning about real-life problems and making connections in the industry so when they graduate, they've got a network of people who know them, have worked with them, all of those things.
“I think it's a very, very important program to elevate those students to the next level and prepare them to enter the workforce when they graduate. So that, to me, is kind of what appealed to me. We're taking the best of the best and we are continuing to develop them and instill a need to be ready when they graduate.”
Robinson, with her position in the agriculture industry and connections to producers in the region, was in an ideal position to help the MILE Program. She has invested time, money and resources to help the program grow, and it's an investment she believes will pay off in a big way.
“I really think we're investing in the agriculture of tomorrow,” she said. “By investing in these students, I think we're going to win.”
For Winfrey, who is in Washington D.C. working an internship with the State Department's Bureau of Global Public Affairs, the experience is already paying off.
“Even though I'm in an internship right now that has nothing necessarily to do with agriculture, what I was able to learn through that program is applicable,” she said. “I'm noticing that you're able to apply your skills anywhere in life.”
The exposure and experience come with a cost, of course.
“This is not cheap,” Robinson said. “It requires an investment of dollars and resources. And I think it's important for industries to invest in this program because what we're doing when we invest is we're investing for the future of agriculture.
“These are the students who are going to be industry leaders, and I feel like it's really important for us to do our part in that.”
To make a donation to the MILE Program or for more information on Texas Tech's Day of Giving opportunities, please visit the Day of Giving website.