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Taking charge

Published: 06/18/2019 5:16PM
By: booner

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Fort Valley State University alumna Vonda Richardson is the first female Extension administrator in the history of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). 

By Russell Boone Jr.

When Vonda (Humphrey) Richardson started working at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in 1995, she wanted a professional career that allowed her to use her education while simultaneously giving back to the community.

Fate would see the Fort Valley native achieve more than she hoped for.

Richardson, a 1992 Fort Valley State College agricultural economics graduate, is now the Extension administrator at FAMU, and is the first female to serve at that post.

“You couldn’t have telegraphed it any better,” says the FVSU alumna. “We had a change in leadership, and I was recommended for the position on an interim basis in 2012. In 2014, I was named to the position permanently.”

As Extension administrator, Richardson oversees FAMU’s entire Cooperative Extension program. She supervises a staff of more than 45 people and is responsible for FAMU’s Research and Extension Center in Quincy, Florida.

The Peach County native says that being the first woman named to a position has its challenges, but strong staff management and skill competency can alleviate those problems. “You have to show people that you’re qualified for the job, can do the job, and can handle everything from supervising personnel, managing budgets and evaluating programs.”

FAMU and FVSU, both 1890 Land-Grant Universities, fulfill their Extension missions by educating people and providing services to farmers, homeowners and other members of the community. This is achieved through county agents or specialists conducting programs, workshops and seminars about topics such as food safety or soil conservation.   

As Extension administrator, Richardson wants FAMU’s Extension program to have a major presence in Florida under her watch. “I want to expand FAMU’s Extension footprint across the state. We operate primarily in the northern part of the state even though we have a statewide focus. I would like to see FAMU agents in all 67 counties,” Richardson said. “I have 10 years until retirement and hopefully, if we can get the funding to do it, we can achieve that goal,” she said.

It’s hard to believe that Richardson’s career in Extension almost didn’t happen.

During her senior year in high school, Richardson looked forward to enrolling at Fort Valley. She planned on majoring in business or accounting and agriculture was the furthest thing from her mind.

“The FVSC agricultural recruiter told me about agricultural economics and its possibilities. She said it is an applied business degree that will make you more marketable and scholarship money is readily available in agriculture. That sold me,” she said.

Moreover, Richardson said her coursework at FVSU prepared her for her career in Extension by giving her knowledge in different aspects of agriculture. “In agricultural economics, not only did we have courses in economics, marketing and concepts related to agribusiness, we were also exposed to animal science, crop science and soil science, courses that provided me with topical knowledge needed in agriculture,” she said.

Richardson said FVSU developed her into the person she is by giving her the feeling of being part of a family, and allowed her to demonstrate leadership, organizational skills and develop programs with new ideas. “Fort Valley was fertile ground for me and my colleagues that graduated from the institution,” she said.

As an undergraduate, Richardson was very active in several clubs and organizations such as the Agri-Demic Forum, the Agricultural Economics Club and the Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society. She alsopledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and served as president and vice-president.  In addition, she participated in the Cooperative Developmental Energy Program (CDEP) and interned for two summers at Oglethorpe Power Corporation located in Tucker, Georgia.

After graduating from Fort Valley State as class valedictorian, Richardson earned her master’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Georgia and soon after started working as a farm management specialist at FAMU. She then accepted the position of Extension marketing specialist before being promoted to Extension administrator.

Her advice for students pursuing a career in agriculture is to take advantage of its possibilities. “I had a professor who said that agriculture is the only field where you can get a degree in business, science, law or journalism,” Richardson said.

“Agriculture is not going anywhere and people are going to eat every day. Don’t think of it as just farming, not that farming is not important, but there are a lot of opportunities for a person who is a practitioner of agriculture whether they’re in the food supply chain or academia,” Richardson said.

Richardson’s Fort Valley State roots run deep. Her late father Eddie Humphrey (education) and surviving mother Barbara (business administration) both graduated from FVSC in 1969. Her husband Chandra earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from FVSC.  They are parents of two daughters, Jordan and Sydney. Jordan is a rising senior at FAMU and Sydney is a rising sophomore at FVSU.