Cultivating a Career in Agriculture

Ryan Krabill

Ryan Krabill

Working the swing shift in a hot, dusty saw mill for four summers inspired Ryan Krabill ’00 to stay in college. “It was good to get a sense of what many people do their whole lives, but I knew I wanted something different,” he says. Intending to be a doctor, he majored in biology at Westmont and later added a second major in communication studies when his interests changed. He had to take a heavy load each semester and classes during the summer to graduate in four years. His career began on a sales team in the telecommunications industry, but after 9-11, he decided to move to Washington, D.C., and do something more meaningful. Despite his experience in the private sector, finding a job on Capitol Hill proved challenging. He worked part time at Starbuck’s and started an internship in a congressman’s office. Eventually, two of his regular coffee customers helped him get a position in the U.S. Senate Office of the Sergeant at Arms, where he spent a year as an executive assistant. This apolitical office oversees security, maintains electronic equipment and deals with operational issues for the Senate.

Before seeking a higher-level job, Ryan decided to pay his political dues by signing up for the 2004 Bush-Cheney reelection effort. “You show your loyalty on a campaign,” he says. “The work is difficult, and you don’t get paid very well.” Ryan became a field representative in Washington state in April 2004, where he organized volunteers and became part of the ground operation. Three weeks before the election, the campaign sent him to Florida to focus on that battleground state. “Motivating volunteers takes effort and a lot of hand-holding,” he says. “I enjoyed the campaign and learned what good organization can accomplish in the face of negative publicity. I’ve never worked so hard or experienced such strong camaraderie.”

The stress and long hours affected his health, or so he thought. When he went to the doctor in 2005, he discovered he had oral cancer, a rare condition for a non-smoker. He had just accepted a political appointment with the White House liaison at the Department of Agriculture. The staff there rallied around him during two surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy; co-workers even donated vacation time so he never missed a paycheck. “These people are the salt of the earth,” he says. “They provided incredible support for me.”

Working throughout his illness, Ryan began as a confidential assistant, became deputy liaison in November 2005 and since July 2007 has been the deputy director of external and intergovernmental affairs. The office facilitates communication between the White House and the Department of Agriculture and provides briefings on everything from personnel issues to events like wildfires in California. They also work closely with the many associations representing farmers and ranchers. “I’m still learning a lot about agriculture,” Ryan says. “It’s an exciting time in the industry because of the changes and the debate over fuel and food. We’re blessed in the United States to have the safest and most abundant food supply in the world.”

Ryan’s job ends in January 2009, and he has already started looking for a new one. “I hope to stay in agriculture,” he says. “I never thought I’d be working in this industry. Now I can’t imagine it any other way.”

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