Senior Adelia McKinley is making a difference in an awe-inspiring number of ways as she literally prepares herself to change the world. She represented Fort Valley State University as a 2018 HBCU Competitiveness Scholar, part of a White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities initiative, where she was one of 63 students from 54 HBCUs who received the initiative’s highest student recognition. She has been an academic scholar, corporate intern, non-profit ambassador, and campus leader— and she’s just getting started.
The agriculture economics student is a native of Saint Ann, Jamaica’s largest parish, but grew up in Riverdale, GA. She chose her major because it blends her twin passions, sustainability and business, which have motivated her for as long as she can remember. Her plans are grand, but they boil down to simplest of goals— to make sure that people have access to food.
“People have to eat,” she bluntly said.
Ironically, McKinley believes that growing up in an economically-challenged country made fresh and healthy food intake more common for her than for some here in America. She remembers picking fresh fruits and vegetables from trees, gardens, and farms, which families like hers relied on instead of fast food establishments. Drive-throughs, she explained, were basically foreign concept.
“The drive-throughs didn’t even work in Jamaica,” she said. “I’m more used to growing provision and food from the ground.”
She loves food, she said, but admits that she doesn’t cook. She came to Fort Valley State University to learn how to allocate resources so that the masses have access to healthy food. She’s since realized that her goal is not a simple one, but hasn’t given up. She’s simply learning how things work.
One day, she wants to start a non-profit which impacts third-world countries, but immediately, she plans to explore the corporate approach.
For the past two summers, she’s interned with agribusiness giant Land O’Lakes. During the first summer, she worked on a cross-functional business optimization team tasked with finding ways to increase revenue by $1 million in the company’s deer feed business. She was part of the supply chain and operations unit. Her work in comparing the company’s products and pricing with their competitors led her to recommend strategies to generate $100,000 in revenue.
This past summer, she worked on transloading, the process of transferring cargo from one transportation mode to another. The issue was critical to the company, especially in light of the current truck driver shortage. She found ways to make transportation opportunities with the company more attractive and diversify their logistics methods.
McKinley believes that internships are extremely valuable because of the professional challenges they represent, allowing students to contextualize academic theory through real-world, real-time, real-life situations. Particularly important, she said, are the soft skills.
“I was the youngest person on my team,” she said. “I was the only one without a degree. So I had to learn to work with people who had been in the industry for ten, twenty, or thirty years. It helped me to realize what I wanted to do after school.”
She advises other students to take internships seriously, and has some insight into what they can do to get the most out of the opportunity.
“Ask questions,” she said. “Don’t be comfortable, ever. Don’t be okay with the bare minimum. Do more than what they ask for. Do more than your counterparts. Go above and beyond. It helps you to find out more about yourself in terms of personal growth and professional growth,” she said.
McKinley was born interested in money and finances.
“In sixth grade, I wanted to go on a field trip, so I went and bought some pencils and sold them to my classmates,” she said. “I didn’t really understand making a profit, but I’ve always been interested in those transactions. I like to feel like a boss. I like to lead. It was just a sense of independence.”
Never shy about expressing her views, McKinley used her platform as a Competitiveness Scholar to collaborate with other HBCU students to not only discuss issues important to their schools, but to also express to the nation the value they have received from their collegiate experiences. She credits her HBCU, FVSU, with helping her transform into the scholar and leader she is today. She was nominated for the opportunity by her advisor, Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim.
“We’ve been groomed,” she asserted. “We’ve learned to compete with students not just locally, but globally. We have professors who are here to make sure we’re accomplishing our goals and reaching our fullest potential. That’s something I really love about Fort Valley State.”
McKinley is not new to recognition. She has served as a class vice president, as executive secretary of the Student Government Association, and a student senator. She was president of the Agricultural Economics Club, vice president of the FVSU chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS), and secretary of the National Council of Negro Women. In addition, she participates with the FVSU faculty and staff on university-wide committees. McKinley has received scholarships from the National Black Farmers Association, USDA, the FVSU Foundation, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and the Tom Joyner Foundation. She is now the Thurgood Marshall College Fund campus ambassador, spreading to the word to her peers about opportunities available through the organization.
Comprised of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, Competitiveness Scholars are recognized for successfully preparing to compete for top opportunities that improve long-term outcomes. Each student was nominated and endorsed by their institution’s president, which itself is an honorable mention. They were selected from among several highly distinguished HBCU students chosen based on their academic achievement, campus and civic involvement, and entrepreneurial ethos or “go-getter” spirit.
Competitiveness Scholars are recognized for the 2018-2019 academic year. Throughout this period, the initiative will provide outreach and engagement activities, as well as information and resources that can be disseminated to fellow students. The scholars are expected to fully take advantage of the opportunities provided, engage with one another, and showcase individual and collective talents across the HBCU spectrum.
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