FROM FFA STUDENT TO DOCTOR: HOW DR. JENEEN FIELDS FOLLOWED HER PASSION

From her youth, Dr. Jeneen Fields has had a passion for plants and gardening. It was that passion that as a teen led her to a unique high school in Philadelphia, one known for its focus on agriculture.

FFA alumni Dr. Fields researches soybeans varieties on Purdue University’s farm.
Dr. Fields at Purdue University's ACRE farm in Marion, SC.

Located on the northside of Philadelphia, Walter B. Saul is the largest agricultural magnet high school in the nation. Students there "major" in animal sciences, food sciences, horticulture or national resource management and are required to become an FFA member once enrolled.

It was the perfect fit for Fields, at Saul she received hands-on experience working on a full-size urban farm equipped with a greenhouse, veterinary center and livestock barn. She went on to graduate with a major in plant sciences and FFA honors.

"Looking back on my experience, I gained so much from FFA," she says. "I learned all about agriculture and plants; but most importantly, the program developed my confidence, leadership skills and work ethic — skills I use every day."

It has also led Fields to a distinct honor. After high school, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture Science from Penn State University, Master of Science from Alabama A & M University in Plant and Soil Science specializing in molecular genetics and a Doctorate in Plant Breeding and Genetics from the University of Tennessee. At the time, her administrators told her they could not find a single African American woman in the United States with a doctoral degree in Plant Breeding and Genetics.

Today, Fields is a researcher at Purdue University working in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. Her days are filled with developing pathogen-resistant soybean varieties, developing viable herbal plant lines and teaching botany courses to college students.

Fields also led the Women in Agriculture Learning Community which provides a foundation for college freshmen, encouraging academic success and leadership. She believes hard work, great mentors, training and her involvement in FFA contributed to her success. She encourages all high school students to participate, learn and become involved in leadership roles.

"FFA is the future of agriculture," said Aaron Wetzel, John Deere's vice president, production systems, and member of the National FFA Foundation Sponsors' Board. "It provides youth with the skills, experiences, and inspiration needed to set them on a path to becoming the botanists, agronomists, veterinarians, engineers, teachers, and others who will transform our industry. Because of its impact on the lives of leaders like Dr. Fields, we are truly humbled to support the National FFA Organization."