Walton's Rhonda Ryan finds confidence through AALP process
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Rhonda Ryan of Walton is one of the latest graduates of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program (AALP) through the Rural Ontario Institute, though her graduation has been over a year in the making.
Ryan graduated from the program earlier this month in Guelph. Normally an 18-month program, Ryan’s class stretched to two-and-a-half years as a result of circumstances beyond the class’s control.
She began in the course in the spring of 2017 and completed all of the courses, including its North American study tour. However, the international study tour was where the class ran into trouble. They were supposed to travel to Colombia for their tour, but just days before they were supposed to leave, Canada announced travel restrictions for that country and the excursion was put on hold.
Then began the process of trying to find another two-week block of time that worked for all members of the class, which took a while. They would eventually make their way to Spain in January, 2020, clearing the way for their graduation ceremony, which took place in early March.
Ryan was part of one of the smaller classes in the program’s history with 17 participants, rather than the average of between 25 and 30 people. She says it was nice to have that intimacy with the group. It was also special to be part of a group that was over half female, Ryan said.
It was her boss at Trillium Mutual in Listowel who introduced Ryan to the course as a graduate himself. He told Ryan he thought she would benefit from it and she agreed.
The AALP was established in 1984 by the University of Guelph, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Foundation for Rural Living.
Ryan is a member of Class 18 of the program. One of her classmates, in fact, is former Huron County Federation of Agriculture President Erica Murray. Area alumni include Emily Morrison, Adam Garniss, Carol Leeming and Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson, among others.
After agreeing to apply, based on her boss’s recommendation, Ryan went through the rigorous application process. It included a nearly-30-page application and an interview.
She was selected to be part of the class, which would mark several firsts for the program. Not only was it the smallest class in the history of the program, but it was over 60 per cent female, and Ryan says it was pretty amazing to be part of such a groundbreaking class of people.
The course includes eight different projects, she said, each focusing on a different aspect of leadership in the agricultural world.
While Ryan, through her work with Trillium Mutual, does work with agricultural clients, she didn’t feel as entrenched in agriculture as some of her classmates. However, that made for some diversity in the class, bringing differing views to the table on various issues.
Through the workshops, Ryan learned about communication, media training, finding her leadership style and government and politics, among other areas of study. She said she really connected with the material and completing the course really helped cultivate her confidence and leadership skills, not just in agriculture, but in all aspects of her life.
Each workshop usually involved a field trip, Ryan said. In addition to the trip to Spain, Ryan said the class travelled to Toronto, Ottawa, Belleville and Sarnia, among other locations to help aid in the lessons being taught that week.
The Spainish trip was fascinating, Ryan said, with something new to see every day. Not only did they visit operations with which they would be familiar as Canadians, like dairy operations, but they also visited olive oil plants and fruit operations, with which they were unfamiliar living in Canada.
Now that the program has wrapped up and she’s graduated, Ryan has seen a definite change in her life and her approach to work. She has recently been promoted at work and she feels it’s a direct result of her participation in the course and the skills she learned and has brought back to Walton with her.
For more information on the AALP or the Rural Ontario Institute, visit ruralontarioinstitute.ca.