Cultivating agriculture's future

Alumni mentoring program gives grads an opportunity to influence individuals and the industry


Grace Ellis

Grace Ellis (standing) feels like the two students she has mentored are “her girls,” so when she saw them pictured in this College of Agriculture display—Ellie Isbell on the left and Marlee Moore on the right—Ellis couldn’t resist posing for a snapshot.

Ask folks who have interacted with Grace Smith Ellis, and they will tell you that the 2006 Auburn College of Agriculture grad has got it together. But this busy working mom who serves as Alabama Ag Credit’s director of marketing and public relations will tell you it hasn’t always been so. She was once a young, green agricultural communications student who needed the wise guidance of those who had tread a similar professional path before her.

By seeking them out, Ellis found the mentors she desperately needed. Those who helped her most were in the college dean’s office, in her ag communications classes and in her first job with Alabama Farmers Cooperative. Her fond memories and gratitude now inspire her to return the favor.

“I recognize how badly I needed the influence of my mentors, and I believe in paying it forward,” Ellis says. “I feel as though I’ve been given a few secrets, and I love sharing them with most anyone who will listen.”

That’s why, when she was contacted by the college’s student services coordinator, Amanda Martin, about participating in the Ag Alumni Mentor Program, Ellis was more than happy to say yes. She has now mentored two current ag comm students and has enjoyed every minute of it.

“My job keeps me busy,” she says. “But this program doesn’t require that much time.”

During her tenure as their mentor, Ellis primarily communicated with Marlee Moore, a senior from Thomasville, and Ellie Isbell, a sophomore from Muscle Shoals, by email, though she does attend the events the college hosts for mentors and their mentees.

In her eyes, it was time well spent. As a mentor, she gets to know the best and brightest students from the college, young people who not only could make excellent future employees for her company but who could also be her colleagues—and her competition, potentially—one day.

But it’s not all business, Ellis graciously admits. She has enjoyed the relationships she and her mentees have developed. The feeling is mutual, and both Moore and Isbell have good reason to sing the praises of their mentor.

“Our first activity with the program was résumé building,” Isbell says. “Grace took my resume and completely revamped it into something amazing.”

The sophomore now has confidence that this tool will help her find a great fit when it is time to choose internships now and her first job post-graduation. She also appreciates the example Ellis has set when it comes to conducting one’s self professionally, both in actual and virtual social settings.

As for Moore, who will graduate this spring and hopes to find a position very similar to Ellis’s—in communications with an agricultural entity—the impact Ellis’s tutelage has made cannot be overstated.

“Not to be dramatic, but this experience can change your life,” Moore says. “The impact Grace had on me is impossible to describe.

“Mentors have the opportunity to share their good and poor choices, words of wisdom, life lessons— whatever you want to call it,” Moore says. “You could change the course of someone’s life by showing them your career path.”

While successful alumni entertain a number of “asks” from their alma maters, Isbell boils down the value of answering this one affirmatively.

“I believe that this is the most important thing that an alumnus can give back,” she says. “We are students who are in the exact same place that you once were, and our goal is to get to the place that you are currently.

“It is part of your job as agriculturalists to equip the next generation to continue providing food, fiber and fuel for the world for years to come.”

More program details and mentor applications for the 2016-17 academic year are available online at Contact Amanda Martin at or 334-844-8900 for additional information.


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<p><a href="" target="_self">Mary Catherine Gaston</a></p>

Mary Catherine Gaston

Mary Catherine Gaston is a freelance writer who specializes in agricultural and rural topics. She finds time to write in the midst of homeschooling two children and helping her husband Wes on their row crop and cattle farm near Plains, Georgia. MC holds degrees from Auburn University and Virginia Tech.

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