Leading with Grace and Growth
Lalila Hajji Down: While a native of Oklahoma, Laila has called Iowa home for more than a decade. Laila has spoken to well over 150,000 people in over 45 states and across the globe. Laila served as the 2006 – 2007 Oklahoma FFA State Secretary and a 2008 – 2009 National FFA Vice President. Laila worked for Syngenta after graduating from Texas Tech University with a degree in Agricultural Education. She managed a multimillion-dollar sales territory for Syngenta. After Syngenta, she had the honor of teaching high school agricultural education in downtown Des Moines at Central Campus High School. While she is a Red Raider through and through, she earned a master’s degree from Iowa State University in Agricultural Education where she served as a teaching and research assistant. She’s owned and operated Point One Development since 2016. Laila lives in Johnston, Iowa with her husband Kevin (an Odebolt, Iowa native), three young daughters Audrie, Ella and Gentrie and their son, Jackson.


Leave a Legacy Through Leasing, Conservation and Succession
Catherine DeLong is the Water Quality Program Manager for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She works statewide to bring people together to share resources, ideas and perspectives about water quality, and to help Iowans understand the role they can play in Iowa’s water future. She has an MS degree in Soil Science from Iowa State University, and a BA in International Relations from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Catherine has experience at all levels of conservation, having previously worked for the county-level Soil and Water Conservation Districts as well as an international non-profit serving conservation professionals.



Melissa O’Rourke is an Attorney and Farm & Agribusiness Management Specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Melissa practiced extensively in the fields of business and estate planning, human resources, immigration and agricultural commercial litigation. She works with numerous farm families and agribusinesses to facilitate planning and management. She is a sought-after presenter throughout the region on agricultural legal issues. Melissa’s work with Iowa State University combines her background in education, agriculture and law as she informs and advises members of the farm and agribusiness community on an expansive array of business planning and legal topics.


Jingyi Tong is a third-year PhD student in the ISU Department of Economics. Her major fields of interest are agricultural, environmental, and labor economics, farmland management, conservation practices, carbon market, crop and dairy insurance, and gender gaps. Jingyi serves as a research assistant in the Women Managing Farmland Ownership grant project which aims to enhance conservation, access, and generational transition of Iowa farmland. Jingyi graduated from China Agricultural University with BA in Economics and minors in Mathematics and International Study. She also earned an MS in Agricultural and Applied Economics from the University of Wisconsin Madison.


Kitt Tovar Jensen is a Staff Attorney at ISU’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation. She focuses on areas of agricultural law including farm succession planning, environmental and natural resource law, regulatory law, and farm policy. Kitt also manages the ISU Beginning Farmer Center. Kitt earned her B.S. in Animal Science from Iowa State University and her J.D., with honors, from Drake University while completing certificates in Food & Agricultural Law and Legislative Practice.




Discover Your Leadership Strengths

Lora Leigh Chrystal led programs to increase the representation of women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce for twenty years with Iowa State University’s Program for Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE). She began her Strengths journey in 2008 and became a Certified CliftonStrengths® Coach in 2018. In her role as Director of WiSE, she saw first-hand the impact donors have on students and the University. Lora Leigh joined the Iowa State University Foundation as a Director of Development for the College of Human Sciences in 2020 where she uses her strengths every day.



Dr. Jennifer Leptien is the Director of Learning Communities at Iowa State University. In 2008, Jen was introduced to the CliftonStrengths® assessment, which prompted her to incorporate training opportunities within Iowa State’s learning communities. Today, as a Certified CliftonStrengths® Coach, Jen shares her enthusiasm for identifying and embracing individuals’ top five Strengths and discovering how they can be best employed to enhance academic, professional, and personal performance. For fourteen years, Jen has facilitated various invited sessions on Strengths to thousands of Iowa State students, faculty, and staff. Jen earned a PhD in human development and family studies from Iowa State.

You’re Not Alone: Fields of Wisdom Abound Through Mentoring

Gayle Coon, Program Specialist in the Professional Development Unit with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, provides leadership for the Organizational Mentor Program. She coordinates the Navigating Difference curriculum and the Coming Together for Racial Understanding workshops and other educational programming for staff, faculty, and council members. Gayle grew up on a farm in northwest Iowa and received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in education from the University of Missouri St. Louis. Gayle was a classroom teacher for 23 years in Iowa schools serving in a variety of roles.



Keli Tallman worked for ISU Extension and Outreach for 29 years and currently serves as Program Development and Evaluation Director. Keli provides leadership in developing and evaluating research-based educational program offerings and reporting outcomes and impacts with national, state, university, and county-level stakeholders. She directs the development and management of the organization’s first centralized data and reporting database. In 2016, Keli co-founded a mentor program. She remains an active Mentor Academy facilitator and steering committee member. Keli received her BA in psychobiology and mathematics from Luther College and an MS in human development and family studies from Iowa State University.

Some Straight Talk About Farm Financial Statements

Nancy B. Brannaman: With a passion for farming from an early age, Nancy earned her BS in Agricultural Business and Farm Operation, and MS in Agricultural Economics and Finance from Iowa State University. Joining the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service in 2000, she worked in embassy management, serving in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Albania, Germany, South Sudan, and Washington, DC until 2014. She transitioned to US Department of State remote work in 2016. Nancy is a sixth-generation farm owner, manages her family’s farm in Illinois, and started a U-pick lavender/berry/flower farm on an acreage in Johnson County, Iowa in 2021.



Leslie S. Miller: Since 1972, she worked closely with farm borrowers and ag lenders. In 1987, as head of the Agricultural Bankers Division of the American Bankers Association, she started the Farm Financial Standards Council. Leslie’s board service includes the Iowa Agricultural Development Authority, and Ag & Small Business Advisory Committee of the Chicago Federal Reserve. In 2018, the Iowa Bankers presented her with the James A. Leach Leadership in Banking Award, and Iowa State University honored her as a Woman Impacting Agriculture. She retired from commercial banking in 2021 and now works as an ISU Farm Financial Planning Associate.



Amy Cronin is a mother of six children, hog, chicken, and cash crop producer, and business owner in Huron County, Ontario. She and her husband, Mike, farm in Ontario, Iowa and Missouri and thrive on creating sustainable and innovative business plans that enable them to work with their team towards their vision, “Progressive, Prosperous, Best-in-Class”. Amy is actively involved at the local, provincial and national levels. She is the chair of the Farm Products Marketing Commission, and Vice Chair for the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan. Her leadership includes an eight-year contribution to the Ontario Pork Board of Directors, four years with Swine Health Ontario, and co-chair of the Minister of Agriculture’s Ag Growth Steering Committee in 2016. With a desire to contribute to community, Amy serves as Chair of the board of trustees for the Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board. Amy is a current Nuffield Scholar, investigating on-farm business risk management, having just returned from Africa. She is a graduate of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership and Canadian Total Excellence ln Agricultural Management programs. Amy’s commitment to family, farm life and industry fuels her passion for having impact and making the world a better place for the next generation.

University Welcome

John Lawrence is Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach. He is a professor of economics and has served Iowa State University since 1991. He began his career as an extension livestock economist, but he’s had many roles at Iowa State, including director of the Iowa Beef Center, associate dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and director of Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and Outreach. Earlier this year he served as interim chair of the Department of Animal Science. He was raised on a crop and livestock farm in southwest Iowa.



Managing Your Cyber Ecosystem

Doug Jacobson is Director of the Iowa State University Center for Cybersecurity Innovation and Outreach and a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is the lead PI in the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity sponsored ReCIPE coalition which is focused on securing cyber-physical systems. Doug also created the Iowa Cyber Hub, which is dedicated to increasing the cyber workforce in Iowa. Doug has given over 300 presentations in the area of computer security. He also created a computer security education and outreach program targeted at the general public, post-secondary students, and faculty.



Megan Wheelock is the Information Security Officer at John Deere Financial where she oversees all cybersecurity related activity for John Deere Financials’ operations globally. She is an Iowa State alum (Go State!!) with a double major in Accounting and Management Information Systems. Megan spent much of her career within the realm of cybersecurity, risk, and compliance within the finance services industry. Five years ago, she found her way back to Iowa working for John Deere. Outside of her day-to-day work, she’s an active supporter of ISU recruiting efforts, frequent attender of Iowa State’s Cyber Defense Competitions, external advisory council member of the Cybersecurity Engineering department at Iowa State and supported the first inaugural Cyber Tractor Challenge.


What Makes a Leader? Lessons Rooted in Farming for Generations

Patricia Dyar: From a small, 120-acre dairy farm in northeast Iowa to executive roles including past President of Banco John Deere in Brazil, her career covers a forty-year finance and banking journey. Before retiring, Patricia left an impressive leadership trek across many functional areas during her tenure at John Deere Financial. Her experience includes collections, agricultural lending, construction marketing, agribusiness sales, and human resources. She led several strategic priorities focused on strategic customers and the Wirtgen Integration, which represented the largest acquisition ($5 billion) in John Deere’s 180+ year history. Dyar earned her BS in Public Service Administration and MBA from Iowa State University.

New Rules of Remote Work

Andrea Arias
Dr. Andrea Arias got her Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and genetics from Iowa State University in 2012.She has more than ten years of experience in agricultural product development, machine learning, and analytics to improve products and product development processes.  She was the Global Data Science Leader in Farming Solutions at Corteva Agriscience, where she led the team of data science experts supporting seed, biological, seed treatment, and crop protection product development. In October, Andrea joined Jord Biosciences and will focus on accelerating the use of data to unlock microbiomes use for agriculture.

Nancy Brannaman (see bio above)

Karen Grote
Karen Grote has almost 20 years of experience with Bayer Crop Science, and over half of those working as a remote employee. Through that tenure, she has led direct and matrixed teams in the Plant Breeding and Plant Biotechnology organizations and is currently a Digital Lead within the Enterprise IT team. Her mission is to accelerate change and increase efficiency in ag research so that the best products get into farmers’ hands and fields faster. She and her family live on a small farm near Boone, Iowa.

Melissa O’Rourke (see bio above)

Agricultural Carbon Markets

Dr. Alejandro Plastina
Plastina is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at Iowa State University, specializing in agricultural production and technology, with an emphasis on farm business and financial management. His research focuses on the socioeconomic drivers of conservation practices, voluntary pest resistance management, carbon farming, and agricultural productivity. He was recognized as the first Agricultural Economics Fellow by the Farm Foundation (2021), and received the 2019 Distinguished Extension Program Award from the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association. Prior to joining ISU, Dr. Plastina worked as Senior Economist in Washington, DC, and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Alexis Stevens serves ISU Extension and Outreach as a Farm Management Specialist in West Central Iowa. She provides research-based information on farm business management, grain marketing, land leasing, government programs, and succession and transition. Alexis is a graduate of The Agribusiness Association of Iowa’s leadership academy. She is an Army veteran where she ensured a safe food supply for troops in the Middle East. Alexis earned a BS in Psychology and an MBA from the University of Maryland. She previously managed her family’s cattle and row crop farm and now lives in Jefferson with her husband, Chad, and 10 children.


Incorporating Chaos Theory into Your Strategy

Lisa Shimkat is the State Director of the Iowa Small Business Development Center. The SBDC has 15 centers across the state that provide business counseling for entrepreneurs in all areas of starting, operating and expanding a business, including utilizing existing community loan programs in partnership with banks and federal programs. Lisa has an MBA from Iowa State University. She served on the Securities and Exchange Commission Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies through 2017. Currently, she serves on the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board, and the national ASBDC board. She is a member on the Fort Dodge School Board.



Ignite Your Spark: Activating Your Leadership Style

Magan Lewis serves as Bayer Crop Science Equipment & Automated Field Sensing Lead. She oversees the development, validation, global deployment of high-impact digital tools and sensors. Magan is an award-winning scientific leader, including being named an American Association for the Advancement of Science IF/THEN Ambassador, Des Moines Business Record’s Forty Under 40, Seed World’s 2022 Future Leader of the Seed Industry, and appointee to Governor Reynolds South-Central Regional STEM Advisory Board. Magan is a STEM education outreach fanatic, diversity and inclusion advocate, board member for the Science Center of Iowa, and co-leader of her local 4-H Clover Kids Chapter. Magan holds a PhD in Plant Breeding and Genetics from North Dakota State University. The Lewis family enjoys hiking, catching frogs, playing piano, and NDSU Football.



5 Unconventional Tips that Make Health Simple

Alexa Schrim For most of my life, health existed as something *just* out of reach. I spent my younger years witnessing women I admired follow diet fads, endured college nutrition lectures where calorie counting was expected to fix inner issues and touted myself as a nutrition expert while suffering through my own personal health crisis. This led me to the realization that we’re approaching health in the wrong way. Health is never about what you can do to your body but how you can work with your body to mobilize energy. I want to show you how to make health simple, proving all of us have the power to live well. Health is inside of you. Let me show you how to live that out.



Insights on Board Leadership

Michelle Book has served as president and CEO of Food Bank of Iowa since 2016. Under her leadership, Food Bank of Iowa has transformed from once underperforming to one of the top six Feeding America food banks in the country in 2022. Previously, Michelle traveled the world leading global community engagement for DuPont Pioneer and serving as the global compliance manager for John Deere Finance. Before that and at various times, she was an internal auditor, a hospital controller and a hog farmer. Michelle earned a BS in Business Administration from Iowa State University and has been a licensed Certified Public Accountant and Certified Internal Auditor. Michelle was recognized by the Des Moines Business Record as a Woman of Influence, a “leader to know,” and among the metro’s top 25 Most Influential Business Leaders. Michelle is an Iowa State University Alumni Lifetime Achievement Awardee and accepted the Bell Tower of Fame Award from her hometown of Jefferson, Iowa. Her board service includes the Kennedy Center National Performing Arts Council and the U.S. Bank Advisory Council.


Susan Tronchetti is a business development professional and co-owner of Tronchetti & Tronchetti, Inc., a Greene County corn and soybean farming operation owned by Susan and her husband, Dan. Previously, Susan was a grain merchandiser for West Central Cooperative and an owner of a Pioneer Seed business. Susan serves on the Landus Cooperative board of directors, Land O’Lakes Executive Board Council, Nationwide Insurance Board Council, and Home State Bank in Jefferson board of directors. She is skilled in risk management, customer service, sales, and strategic planning. Susan is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in agricultural business and farm management.


Ann Wolf serves as Co-Program Director for MidwestHealthyAg.ORG, a grant funded research project supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study Midwest health and climate solutions. Ann’s consulting firm Clear Steam Solutions specializes in agriculture management and farming systems, environmental initiatives, economic community development, nonprofit organization and leadership. Ann holds a BFA from the University of Iowa and a MS in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Development from the University of Northern Iowa. Professional certifications include Certified Fund Raising Executive, and Certified Nonprofit Professional. Ann has been recognized for her efforts in soil conservation, water quality enhancement, natural habitat, and prairie restoration projects on her 300-acre farm.

Capstone: Partnering with Purpose: Building Meaningful Partnerships that Win!

Cleophus “Cleo” Franklin Jr.’s leadership expertise is globally recognized. His passion for designing robust business growth, and brand strategies, while implementing innovative, disruptive business models has benefited many global businesses and industries. Franklin’s values and beliefs are centered on approaching difficult challenges with curiosity and a beginner’s mindset. He is a purpose-driven leader who embraces servant leadership and invests in the personal and professional development of the next generation of leaders. His leadership career spans over thirty years with John Deere, Case-New Holland, and Mahindra as a global executive. Franklin’s global leadership (coffeewithcleo.com) books focus on Franklin’s passion for providing personal and professional leadership development career pathways for anyone who is leading or aspiring to lead. He founded Franklin Strategic Solutions (franklinss.com), a global consulting business and Morningside University’s “Franklin Leadership Foundation.” Franklin serves as a Senior Corporate Fellow and adjunct professor at the University of Houston – Downtown, teaching MBA students at the Marilyn Davies Graduate School of Business. Franklin earned his master’s degree from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at the University of North Carolina and a bachelor’s degree from Morningside University, located in Sioux City, Iowa. Cleo and his wife, Lois, reside in Cypress, Texas.