When Kristen Johnson (SEBS 2017) entered Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences as a freshman, she already had a collection of endeavors and accomplishments under her belt as a lifelong participant in 4-H. One could surmise that if she came into her academic career running, after an outstanding record of achievement at Rutgers, she leaves soaring. While consistently maintaining a high GPA, Johnson maximized her involvement on many fronts: she continued her involvement in 4-H by participating in Rutgers Collegiate 4-H, and served as various officers, including president. She engaged in a study abroad opportunity through SEBS International Programs, travelling to Holland for a Leadership in Agriculture program. She’s been awarded a number of scholarships and has received several top honors from the University and the School, including the Matthew Leydt Honors Society, awarded to the top two percent of Rutgers students; chosen the SEBS Class of 2017 Student of the Year; Rutgers Academic Excellence Award earned by the top ten percent of each respective school; and is receiving honors from the Department of Human Ecology for graduating students with high level of involvement and high GPAs.
Johnson majored in Environmental Policy, Institutions, and Behavior, with a minor in Public Health, and one of her major interests is in agriculture. In her home town of Skillman, NJ, Johnson grew up on a small Christmas tree farm and raised market lambs with 4-H. Her family members have been involved in various agricultural pursuits including showing Western horses, general farming, and raising market lambs. While agriculture was not her major, her interest in ag steered her involvement in activities and independent ventures, including her study abroad and internships.
Dan VanAbs, her academic advisor, commented on Kristen’s undertakings, “Kristen Johnson took to heart our message about the importance of internships in addition to classroom learning. She interned with the Somerset County Agriculture Development Board through my Raritan Scholars course, assisting with their monitoring program for preserved farms. Through that work, she connected with the State Agriculture Development Council, where she has now completed two internships. Throughout, she has earned high praise for the quality of her work, her drive, and her enthusiasm for everything she touched. Kristen is a model of what we hope for in our students, and often get.”
As Kristen’s supervisor at the State Agriculture Development Committee, Jeffrey Everett, chief of agricultural resources at New Jersey Department of Agriculture, was impressed with Johnson’s professionalism. He commented, “I can’t say enough about Kristen’s work ethic, advanced technical skills, positive attitude, pleasant demeanor, and willingness to learn. Kristen has been engaged in advanced policy research using both quantitative and qualitative methods and she always rises to the task given to her. Specifically, she has been invaluable in helping create and implement a farm viability initiative at SADC, which endeavors to incorporate young/beginning/military veteran beginning farmers into our programs while simultaneously working to enhance the viability of established farming operations. Because she is so advanced in her knowledge of agriculture and has a great feel for public policy implications even at her age, we have been able to hit the ground running this past semester and make substantial progress.”
In addition to her school work, internships, and extra-curricular activities, Johnson works for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Department of 4-H Youth Development, where she collaborates on group projects to administer state 4-H events and foster communication among county 4-H programs throughout New Jersey.
On the eve of the graduation of the Class of 2017, we caught up with Kristen to have her reflect on her academic experience at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. Here are her responses to the questions we posed:
Q: You’re an EPIB major with an interest in agriculture – what opportunities did you have during your undergraduate studies to interface with New Jersey ag?
A: EPIB is a major with flexibility that allows students to delve deeper into their interests. Throughout my coursework, experiential education, and extracurricular activities, I have always gravitated to agriculture. During my time at Rutgers, I was involved in the Society of Animal Science and competed in the Northeast Student Affiliate (NESA) livestock judging and agricultural science competition every year. I stayed involved in the Somerset County 4-H program as an Association member and volunteer. I joined the Rutgers Collegiate 4-H club and took on leadership roles including the President this year. I am also in on New Jersey Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Rancher Committee.
In addition to working with agriculture for my 9-5, it’s what I do for fun. My passion for agriculture permeates my life, it is more than a just vocation for me but also what I love. I go to events, read academic articles, keep up to date on current events, socialize, and volunteer in the agricultural field.
Q: What insights did you gain from your study abroad experience?
A: I did an agricultural tour of the Netherlands with Dr. Mary Nikola and Dr. Karen Plumley. We learned about the agricultural industry and spent time in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. We compared how the U.S. food system is situated versus the Netherlands.
Q: What are some highlights of your college career?
A: I think the people I met and the opportunities I have been granted are most important to me. Also, Rutgers allowed me the opportunity to stay involved in my community and continue giving back. Rutgers expanded my worldview and allowed me to grow as a person. I loved how Cook is situated within Rutgers, allowing a small school feel with the perks of a large land-grant research university.
Q: Who were some professors that had an impact on you?
A: Dr. Daniel Van Abs, Dr. Heidi Hausermann, and Dr. Mary Nikola have impacted me as a student and a person. All three professors have encouraged learning and intellectual discussions. They are ‘salt of the earth’ people that maintain a sense of humor and keep students first. Dr. Van Abs stretched me, Dr. Hausermann encouraged me, and Dr. Nikola showed me the importance of social intelligence.
Q: What are your career goals and what do you plan on doing after graduation?
A: Upon graduation, I will continue working with the New Jersey State Agriculture Development Committee in Trenton. I have been working on farm viability and beginning farmer initiatives. My goal is to strengthen the New Jersey agricultural industry and help others.
Congratulations to Kristen and the Class of 2017!