June 2016 Young Alum of the Month

Name:

Elizabeth Burns-Thompson

Title and Company:

Government Relations Manager, Iowa Corn Growers Association

Hometown:

Alburnett, Iowa

Iowa State University Major and Graduation Date:

11 ag business, international ag

Drake University Law School

’14 J.D. agricultural law 

What is your role as the Government Relations Manager for Iowa Corn?

As a grassroots organization we serve our farmer members from across the state. The government relations team focuses on policy development and policy implementation. I work a little with both but more heavily on policy development.

My focus is working with our farmers to figure out the concerns in the countryside, what issues they are facing and what we can help them with to either make their jobs easier or their operations more profitable. We want strong rural communities. We want our famers to be profitable. We want to protect the longevity of Iowa agriculture and Iowa Corn members.

We start by sending a policy survey to each of our farmer members. I take the information from the survey, tabulate it and put a report together. Then we have meetings across the state with our members where we talk about the results from the survey and other issues impacting their operations. This is where the farmers ultimately put forth some of the statements that go into our policy book. After the meetings across the state, our annual conference is held in August. Delegates from across the state come to our annual meeting. Our farmers discuss and debate these policy statements, and ultimately decide if they are something our organization is going to support.

I work a little bit with policy implementation as well, primarily coordinating trips for farmers to the state capital for their day on the hill. A meeting with a farmer and a legislator is much more effective and impactful than meeting with organizational staff. We are trying to help facilitate those connections and give farmers the tools they need to be effective in making their voices heard.

What kind of personality or interests does a person need to have to be successful in your position?

You definitely have to be a people person--the majority of my job is being able to talk to people. You have to find ways for them to relate to you. We are trying to solve their problems or make their jobs easier so they need to be able to talk to us. They need to feel comfortable, but you also need to be knowledgeable enough about the issues they are facing to ask critical questions to pinpoint the problem or obstacle. A big part of my job also is staying on top of current events that could impact our members. I’m constantly thinking about what farmers need to adapt to, or what is changing in other industries that might cross over and affect farmers.

How has the I-Lead program, sponsored by Iowa Corn, helped to define your leadership style?

The I-Lead program has helped me become a better, more well-rounded leader by helping me understand others. Throughout the program there have been countless opportunities for debate, discussion and exploration. While our class learned about some of the most cutting edge issues facing agriculture from industry leaders, many times I felt I gained the most by viewing an issue through the eyes of my classmates. Everyone in the program has some ties to the agriculture industry, but we all covered a different niche (i.e. on-farm production, classroom education, public policy, sales, supply/logistics, etc.) and thus we came to the table with a variety of perspectives. Critical thinking and appreciation for a diversity of viewpoints is key to effective leadership.

What advice would you give to current CALS students?

Study abroad as much as you can! I caught the travel bug while at Iowa State. There is no better time to travel. The programs were good when I was there and they’ve only gotten better. For the cost-minded, you will never travel cheaper than as a student on a study abroad program. So, travel! Study abroad! Wear out your passport! It helps put the world in perspective.

Did you have any especially strong mentors at Iowa State?

Ebby Luvaga. She was awesome and I credit her for so much of my success. She is truly someone who is dedicated to the success, well-being and accomplishments of their students. It is hard to put into words how much she has dedicated herself to her students. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying this, but she is a fantastic person and continues to be a good friend.

Final thoughts?

It’s about what you know AND who you know, so dedicate time to the books but also make time for networking opportunities. I’m a true believer in learning from others and credit much of my success to the many mentors that have provided guidance along the way.

To learn more or apply for the the I-Lead program contact Alyssa Smola with Iowa Corn at asmola@iowacorn.org or 515-525-9242.