( Logo courtesy Southeast Produce Council )

The STARS are coming to Tampa, Fla., for the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure 2020.

STARS, or the Southeast Top Agricultural Recruits Scholarship, is the Southeast Produce Council’s scholarship program available to outstanding students who are agriculture majors in Southeast-based land grant universities.

The goal of STARS is to recruit top students and to introduce them to job opportunities in the produce industry.

Raina Nelson, executive vice president of business development for Rancho Cordova, Calif.-based Renaissance Food Group, Southeast Produce Council executive member and chairwoman for the STARS committee, said the program will bring 14 students from seven land grant universities in the Southeast to Southern Exposure. 

Nelson said each member of the STARS committee acts as a liaison to one of the participating universities; Nelson, a graduate of the University of Florida, is the liaison for that school.

The students were selected late last summer. Participants in the program receive a $2,500 scholarship and a ticket to attend Southern Exposure.

“We on the STARS committee start working and connecting with the students before the Southern Exposure show to prepare them for the great experience that they’re going to have at the show,” Nelson said. 

“We have a jam-packed agenda for them to immerse them and expose them to all elements of the produce industry. And so they’ll be engaging with our membership and attendees,” she said. 

“But they also have a very specific schedule to follow, to be able to meet with people that are looking to give (candidates) entry-level jobs or internships. 

Universities participating in the program: 

  • Auburn University; 
  • Clemson University;
  • North Carolina State University; 
  • Louisiana State University;
  • University of Florida;
  • University of Georgia; and
  • Virginia Tech.

A list of the STARS participants and their resumes and bios is available on the Southeast Produce Council’s website 

Southern Exposure value

Nelson said the Southern Exposure show brings huge value in networking and finding business solutions.

“It’s really a beautiful blending of all segments of the industry, where there’s value to be found for everyone,” she said.

STARS attendees will have a Top Golf event on Feb. 27 to kick off the week. 

The STARS class will also hear from Dan’l Mackey Almy, founder of DMA Solutions, and Wendy McManus, executive leadership coach at Connect 2 Potential, at the STARS breakfast on Feb. 28.

The class will take on education sessions later that day, and the feature event is Cocktails & Careers, held that evening. 

Nelson said Cocktails and Careers resembles a matchmaking format to connect produce companies, retailers and grower-shippers with the STARS students.

She said the program has seen a number of its graduates find internships or entry-level jobs in the produce industry, with at least five STARS students finding positions over the past three years.

For STARS participants and the entire industry, Nelson said she anticipates a very valuable experience at Southern Exposure. 

“We will make sure the value and the fun are equally lucrative,” she said.

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