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Shaping Futures and Building Leadership in Agriculture

Rhonda Sutton, who is trained as a licensed clinical mental health counselor, has been providing counseling, coaching, and consultation services to individuals and businesses for over 30 years, with 19 years at the university level. She began her career by working at NC State after completing her education and left to establish her own private practice in Raleigh. In 2017, she returned to NC State, this time with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and later with the Graduate School, where she currently holds the position of Assistant Dean for Professional Development.

From 2017 to 2023, Sutton served as the Director of Leadership Programs in the CALS. During this period, she designed leadership programs for CALS faculty, staff and students. She also collaborated with Jackie Bruce and Katie McKee, leading to a working partnership with the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences (AHS) where she is an adjunct professor. She contributed to the development of the graduate certificate in Leadership in Agricultural and Human Sciences and taught the Agricultural and Extension Education (AEE) 565 Community Leadership course. Additionally, she co-taught the AEE 350 Personal Leadership class, supervised by McKee.

Recently, Sutton conducted a study with Alyssa Degreenia, Assistant Director for the Agricultural Institute, focusing on the skills that employers in agriculture-related fields seek in new college graduates. Their article, titled “Identifying the ‘Soft’ Skills Employers in Ag-Related Sectors Want in New College Graduate Hires,” was published in the 2021 NACTA Journal. In her current role as assistant dean, she continues to offer leadership programs for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, along with workshops on teaching, career development, and wellness. Her expertise spans emotional intelligence, team building, communication, behavior and fostering self-awareness to enhance workplace contributions.

Sutton presenting on student wellness

For those pursuing careers in the AHS fields, Sutton advises recognizing the value of your college experiences in shaping your future career. She emphasizes that as a college student, you acquire a wealth of transferable skills that are vital in the workplace. Sutton encourages students to explore the various opportunities available at NC State, both inside and outside the classroom, to develop a strong understanding of their strengths, interests, and talents. She emphasizes the importance of seeking guidance and cultivating multiple mentors.

Sutton feels privileged to be part of the AEE community. She says that she has “the utmost respect for CALS, its faculty, the AEE department and for all those who work in agriculture and life sciences.” She is inspired by the daily contributions of those working in agriculture and life sciences, acknowledging the far-reaching impact of their work. Her time in CALS has enriched her understanding of agriculture’s significance, making her a more informed individual. Sutton is dedicated to spreading awareness about agriculture and supporting farmers and professionals who provide us with essential resources.

Sutton invites graduate students to enhance their professional development by exploring the diverse programs offered by the graduate school, covering teaching, writing, career readiness and leadership. These programs are structured around five competency areas and offer four non-credit certificates that can be added to a graduate student’s transcript upon successful completion. Sutton also recommends her book, The Counselor’s STEPs for Progress Notes, which is useful for counselors on how to take progress notes. Lastly, Sutton encourages students to visit the Graduate School’s Professional Development Team, who are readily available to support graduate students, so reaching out to them and taking advantage of their initiatives is encouraged.