Chandler Vaughan grew up in Keysville, Virginia, where the cows outnumber the local human population. He remembers feeding the family cows on cold winter days and bonding with his dad as they planted pumpkin patches on their third-generation farm.

But this summer, Vaughan will spend his days away from the cattle and the produce he knows so well to pursue a new experience – one that involves a city and high-ranking state officials.

Vaughan, a rising senior majoring in agribusiness in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will work under the Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry through the Governor’s Fellows Program – a program established in 1982 to offer Virginia state college students a chance to learn about and serve in state government. Vaughan was the only Virginia Tech student to receive this honor from the Northam administration this year and is one of 23 students from around the state to be selected into the program.

“It’s exciting,” said Vaughan. “I think it’s where I can have the biggest impact right now.”

To Vaughan, an only child from agricultural Southside Virginia, making an impact for agriculture and economic development hits close to home.

“I didn't realize until around my junior year of high school that farmers are essential to the rest of the world and provide the fuel, food, and fiber that allows the rest of the world to operate. When I realized that, I knew I wanted to play a direct or supporting role in agriculture, which is hopefully what I will accomplish this summer.”

Throughout middle and high school, Vaughan was active in Future Farmers of America (FFA), participating in competitions and designing projects that were later implemented on his family’s farm, a predominantly Angus operation. At age 16, as part of an FFA project, he purchased and raised 10 Holstein steers, becoming their primary caretaker.

Growing up, Vaughan looked up to state FFA officers as people who could spark enthusiasm and action for agriculture through their leadership, public speaking, and networking abilities. So, after graduating high school, he decided to become a part of what “made them so awesome.”

Vaughan spent a year facilitating leadership and agricultural advocacy around the commonwealth as a state FFA officer before coming to Virginia Tech.

And since that experience, he has not stopped chasing opportunities to serve, lead, and grow.

“Chandler is a born leader,” said Katie White, his undergraduate advisor. “He’s always coming up with ideas that gain traction and organizing people behind causes he believes in.”

Last fall, Vaughan led a campus-wide initiative to raise awareness about agriculture by decorating hay bales strategically placed in the heart of campus – the Drillfield. The associated Facebook post was shared more than 1,500 times. Drillfield pedestrians who passed the bales could learn facts about domestic and global agriculture.

Agricultural advocacy comes naturally to Vaughan, and it’s something he’s passionate about.

“It’s what I’ve always done,” said Vaughan. “Ever since I was a little kid, from talking to farmers in the local co-op or the livestock store, or traveling across Virginia as an FFA state officer talking to agricultural industry representatives, I’ve developed a talent for agricultural advocacy that can really be used in my position this summer.”

Vaughan’s first goal this summer is to build relationships with officials in the state legislature as a foundation for future partnerships. He is also interested in facilitating and reviewing economic development grants, as well as exploring Virginia’s international trade relations.

But Vaughan’s dreams go beyond just this summer. He plans to graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree from the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and then pursue a master’s degree in public administration, with the goal of creating more opportunities for Virginia agriculture.

    - Written by Jillian Broadwell

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