WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — When it comes to the business side of agriculture, no other Purdue department knows the scene quite like those in agricultural economics.

The department has a unique focus on agricultural business, economics and management.

Leeann Williams, director of undergraduate advising, said the team revolves around one main focus: Developing students.

“We work with our students all the way through the program,” she said. “We don’t just focus on academics, but developing personal and professional skills.

“We are not a cookie cutter program. We allow flexibility. Every student comes up with their own personal plan. We don’t tell them all to be in the same club. Each student makes their own decisions about what to do with their time at Purdue.”

Freshman and sophomore seminars provide students with a chance to develop goals and learn what career paths they may pursue.

Involvement with clubs, leadership opportunities and study-abroad programs are encouraged throughout students’ undergrad journeys, Williams said.

“We highly encourage them to get involved outside the department — something in agriculture and something outside of agriculture,” she said. “Three of the last six Purdue Student Government presidents have been from the department.”

Faculty help lead department clubs, as well as several study-abroad programs each year. They coach the National Agri-Marketing Association and the American Agricultural Economics Quiz Bowl team.

Department Grows

The department boasts 530 to 540 undergraduates at any given time, making it the second largest department in the college. With a 96.5 percent job rating in 2013 and an average starting salary of $45,000, there are plenty of reasons why students pick the department.

“I’ve seen a huge growth in the number of people that come from other universities and other majors,” Williams said. “Our sophomore class is almost twice as large as our freshman class.”

“We’ve grown a great deal in the 18 years I’ve been here. We’ve seen more classes offered and more alumni than ever before.”

The department’s relationships with industry businesses is strengthened by a strong alumni presence.

Often, alumni that are hired by ag companies come back to recruit students during the spring and summer career fairs. Recruiters work hand in hand with student service coordinators to find the right person for the right job.

“Our alumni network is just huge for us,” Williams said. “And our students really sell us to companies. They are impressed with these students.”

Williams also credited student success with the department’s connection to the Center for Food and Agricultural Business.

The center provides professional development opportunities, advanced degrees and applied research for ag companies and individuals.

“The Center for Food and Ag Business’ relationships with industry also impacts our undergraduate program” Williams said. “Companies want to hire college students being taught by the same faculty working with them.”

Global Ag Network

The list of companies that hire graduates from the department is long and includes companies across the world.

Some students go into sales for seed, feed, equipment, animal health or other companies. Aldi Supermarket is one of the highest-paying employers for graduates, Williams said.

“Only about 1 percent go back to the family farm,” she said. “We have a group of students that go into commodity merchandising — they could be grain buyers for companies like ADM, Bunge, Cargill and CGB.”

Others work for banks as agricultural lenders or work in management positions at major ag companies.

From Monsanto and DowAgrosciences to small-town businesses, there are many paths to take.

“There are so many doors that come open and not just in the ag industry,” Williams said. “I believe we’ve taught them how to learn, and learning never stops. We’ve taught them how to communicate, how to work independently and also how to be a team player.”

For more information on the department, visit agecon.purdue.edu.