An agricultural economics degree can open doors to diverse careers. For Annette Coward-Gomes, the journey from Fort Valley State University to Maryland has been a meaningful adventure.
The former Chicago resident recalls taking an economics class in high school. As an assignment, she visited the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), where agricultural and financial contracts are traded. After one day, she realized that becoming a commodities trader was not the career path for her. However, remaining within this field impressed her so much she considered finding another way to work for the company.
Interested in pursuing finance as a major, Coward-Gomes decided to attend FVSU along with her best friend of 44 years. Her friend’s mother, a journalist who lived in Atlanta at the time, offered to be her guardian. “This was part of my journey to FVSU. It was truly a divine intervention and a gift that would keep on giving for years to come,” Coward-Gomes said.
During move-in day, an agricultural student helping her asked about her major and strongly recommended that she change to agriculture. “The rest is history,” she said. “At that time in 1985, there were not a lot of women in agriculture. I entered this field and never looked back.”
After graduating from FVSU in 1990, Coward-Gomes earned a master’s degree in agribusiness management at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU) in 1997. Prior to graduating from AAMU, she landed her first job as an agricultural economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Small Farm Program. During an interview on the university’s radio station (WJAB), another opportunity arose that would change the trajectory of her life.
“An English professor was listening to the interview and said I needed to do something in communications, preferably using my voice” she said.
A short time later, one of the pioneers who started WJAB approached her about doing a farm report to discuss commodity farm prices on a weekly basis. The segment was called “Market News and Farm Report.” She also developed a newsletter based on current information that would affect the agricultural community. Impressed with her communication skills, her boss encouraged her to pursue agricultural journalism at the University of Missouri.
“He said, ‘If you don’t, I’m going to fire you,’” Coward-Gomes laughed.
Following his advice, she pursued broadcasting at the University of Missouri and began working for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). She graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism.
“I remember during one of my writing classes, a professor asked the agricultural journalism students to please stand up. He said, ‘You will always have a job.’ I think that mentality stayed with me and somehow it was ingrained in my brain that I would always have a job,” Coward-Gomes said.
The FVSU alumna returned to middle Georgia in 2002 to work for 13WMAZ in Macon. During her 13 years there on and off, she served in various capacities such as reporter and morning anchor. She also hosted a law show called “Law Call” for eight years.
A native of Barbados, West Indies, Coward-Gomes dreamed of a career in television. “I always wanted to do something different,” she said.
Her background in agriculture and journalism created a path for her most rewarding career as a writer for the U.S. Army in Virginia. Coward-Gomes and her husband, Phillip, live in Maryland with their cockapoo, Bailey. She began writing about wounded soldiers in 2015. “It is the most rewarding job I have ever had,” she said. “There is so much impact. You can see it.” She now serves in a new role as a communications specialist for the U.S. Department of Defense.
In addition to writing, the experienced journalist does voiceovers through her business, Wutavoicecommunications. Her latest role was performing the voice of journalist Ida B. Wells at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. This experience is part of the “We Return Fighting: The African American Experience in World War I” exhibition. She said this has been the best role yet.
“I auditioned for it in fall 2019 and was notified in December that I landed the role,” said Coward-Gomes, who was teased about her voice growing up. “I remember the late great FVSU professor J.C. Hill pushed me to use my voice and I made good on my promise.”
Her advice to students is to not let anyone dim their light and to learn how to reinvent themselves. “The world is your oyster and there are so many things you can do. Expand your horizons; do something different,” Coward-Gomes said. She plans to release a children’s book in April.
Thankful for her journey, she said majoring in agricultural economics at FVSU set the foundation for her success in agriculture and communications. “It gave me that base to talk to anybody and I have not shut up since then,” she said. “That is what agriculture did for me.”