Career Trek Helps Students Explore the Central Valley

It was still dark when 25 students, many clutching coffees, boarded a bus near the Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis. An hour later, the sun rose and showed them farms, orchards and ranchlands as the bus traveled south through the Central Valley of California.

But they were on this daylong, nearly 600-mile trip to see even more: the wide variety of job opportunities — for all majors — in what is one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions.

The career trek made stops at Sunview Vineyards in Delano, more than 250 miles from campus, and Nichols Farms of Hanford, which grows almonds and pistachios just a little closer to home. Students toured facilities, talked with owners and managers, and networked with other area employers at a mini career fair at Nichols Farm.

Career trek offers ‘so many different opportunities’

Woman addresses a crowd of students with a man in a hard hat listening
Leslie Peek, center, career advisor with the internship and Career Center at UC Davis, and Chuck Nichols (in the white hardhat), president of Nichols Farms in Hanford and a UC Davis graduate, tell students what’s ahead in a visit. (Luis Esparza/UC Davis) 

Stephanie Doria, who is majoring in evolution, ecology and biodiversity, saw at Sunview possibilities in entomology, ecology, human resources, information technology and more. “There are so many different opportunities within a lot of the companies,” she said. “It opened up more doors.”

The Internship and Career Center organizes the trips, some in partnership with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, so participants can see firsthand the variety of internship and career positions in different settings. This first trip to the valley grew out of the campus’s Central Valley Scholars Program, a partnership with area business leaders to build a pool of talented graduates to contribute to the Central Valley’s prosperity.

Other treks, in partnership with the Western Growers Careers in Ag program, have gone to the Salinas Valley and through Southern California into Arizona.

Marcie Kirk Holland, director of the career center, said even though a company may be in the field of agriculture, students can find opportunities ranging from the science of quality control for produce to marketing and finance.

Students from 16 majors in UC Davis’ four colleges

On this trip, the 23 undergraduates — from first-year students to graduating seniors — represented 16 majors in all four undergraduate colleges. Two graduate students and three staff from the career center were on board, too.

To apply to be on the free trek, students submitted letters of interest and resumes to the Internship and Career Center through Aggie Job Link, which were later shared with the participating employers.

Javier Orozco of Elk Grove, a senior majoring in food science, wasn’t too familiar with the valley, but said he used the trip to explore it as a logical place for starting a career in the agricultural or food industry. He has already performed quality assessments of fruits and nuts in a UC Davis research lab and interned in quality control with Corto Olive Co. in Lodi.

Doria, a graduating senior from Visalia, was among those looking for more insights into starting a career close to home. For her, the plan is first a position in agriculture and then, with a master’s degree, as a professor at a local community college. As a Central Valley Scholar, she wants to pay forward the inspiration to earn a degree and then return to contribute to the region’s vitality.

Networking with employers, including alumni 

Woman on right addresses students with presentation boards in the background
Claire Heinitz of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, right, talks with students about research, internship and employment opportunities with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier. (UC Davis)

To Doria, the most beneficial part of the trip was a mini career fair and networking event at Nichols Farms. “That allowed me to talk to companies that were actually hiring,” she said. “I got an opportunity to talk to professionals and hone my skills.”

Some of the employers represented included Harris Ranch and Allied Companies, one of the largest family-owned agribusinesses in the nation (also owned by a UC Davis Aggie); Crop Production Services; the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier; and Mill Creek Veterinary Services of Visalia.

The trip also connected the students with alumni, who are great resources for fellow Aggies. After the trekkers toured the nursery, bottling and packaging facilities at Sunview, they had lunch with alumni from the area. Hosting the students at Nichols Farms were Chuck Nichols, who graduated from UC Davis with degrees in electrical engineering and agricultural science and management, and his wife, Susie, who earned a degree in design from UC Davis.

Julia Ann Easley of News and Media Relations supports communication and writes stories at the heart of the university. Her career includes a noble cause, adventures in learning, working with wonderful people and a beautiful green setting.

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