LEAD NY has over 400 alumni that serve in a variety of leadership roles at the local, state, regional and national levels. Indeed, it would be difficult to look at the leadership of virtually any food or agricultural organization in New York and NOT see at least a few LEAD alumni serving in leadership roles for that organization.
Alumni lists by class number and name are provided below (Class 15 alumni will be added soon!). In order to protect their privacy, we currently do not share alumni contact information with the public. If you need to reach one of our alumni, please contact the LEAD office.
If you are an alumnus and your contact information has changed, please inform the LEAD office so we can keep our records up-to-date. In the future, we hope to have a secure link on this web page so that alumni can update their contact information themselves, as well as search for the contact information of their fellow alumni.
An Otter Kind
By Jessica Ziehm (class 10), Executive Director, NYAAC
When I went through LEAD NY ten years ago, I questioned my ability to lead. I never thought of myself as a leader, and quite honestly, had never aspired to be one either. My extroverted self lived life to the fullest, wearing my heart on my sleeve and my passion serving as my only roadmap.
So it came as no surprise when we finished our personality traits in LEAD to realize I was an “otter”. (For those unfamiliar with this exercise, it’s a simple test that matches your temperament with four animal species: otters, retrievers, lions and beavers. Otters are creative, fun-loving people, who like to network and motivate others.) That was a real “a-ha” moment for me. All the time leading up until then I thought of my traits as weaknesses. I was criticized at one job for my “youthful enthusiasm” and my creativity was buried in layers of bureaucracy at my then-current job. But no two ways about it, I was an otter, and that newfound information and realization was liberating!
Fast forward a couple years, and I was given an opportunity to unleash my inner otter as the executive director for the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition (NYAAC), where I serve today. The thought of this position was exciting! I could be its leader! It was also terrifying because as an otter (and thanks to LEAD NY), I knew all too well my weaknesses. However, almost four years later, I feel like I’m doing what I’m suppose to be doing. All those quirky personality traits that make me who I am are at last being put to good use.
Today, I serve as an advocate for dairy farmers throughout the state, working to enhance the public’s understanding and appreciation for animal agriculture. My role takes me to the farm level to help inspire and motivate farmers on how to best tell their story and con- verse with the public. It also provides me a stage where my passion and creativity can shine, where I can interact with consumers, and where all otters like to perform – in front of a crowd.
My skills and style are also fitting for NYAAC’s flag-ship event – the Dairy Cow Birthing Center at the New York State Fair, which I helped initiate. This educational exhibit showcases three live births daily and brings together over 350 members of the dairy industry to serve as the spokespeople, many of whom I met through the LEAD NY network. The real success is not the
fact that it attracts nearly a quarter of a million visitors over twelve days, but rather the amount of time visitors spend at the exhibit and the interactions that take place between farmer and fairgoer. Almost half of the fairgoers surveyed admitted to spending well over two hours at the exhibit, not only waiting to witness the miracle of life, but consumed with conversation with dairy farmers, asking them questions, and gaining a mutual respect and trust for each other. It’s a dream event for an otter, and while the relationships garnered at the Birthing Center are a victory, they are just the tip of the iceberg.
There is much more work to be done in the world of agricultural advocacy. Twenty years ago, you never heard those words used together in the same sentence. Today, it’s a common topic in the farm driveway, at conferences and on social media, and it’s a need that agriculture must address. To do so effectively, it requires a different skill-set than that of a traditional leader. Sure a problem-solving or goal-oriented leader could be a strong candidate, but this line of work requires out-of-the-box thinking, spontaneity, communication skills, an attention grabbing personality and the desire to work with a wide variety of people. Fortunately, there’s a leader for that.
LEAD NY helped me recognize and embrace the leader in me, which just so happens to be a furry, water-loving animal with a big personality, who thrives on the challenge of inspiring others and bringing a little bit of fun to their lives. And I wouldn’t want it any “otter” way.
Jessica Ziehm is an alumni of LEAD NY Class X, and served on the LEAD NY Board from 2006-2012. Currently, she serves as the executive director of the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition. She resides in Washington County on her husband’s 950-cow dairy farm where they are raising their two children. Jessica was recently recognized by Farm Credit as one of it’s Top 100 Fresh Perspectives, a nationwide search as part of the organization’s 100th anniversary to identify and honor 100 leaders who are changing rural communities and agriculture for the better.