Trailblazer

Published By: ChaNaè Bradley March 18, 2021

Nikki Thomas, a 2003 Fort Valley State University agricultural economics graduate, was recently appointed as district director for District 1 of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Georgia. She began her role on Jan. 4, 2021.

Alumna becomes first African American woman to serve as district director of the Farm Service Agency in Georgia.

For 17 years, she has worked for the agency as a farm loan officer and farm loan manager. One of humble beginnings, the FVSU alumna began her tenure at the agency as an intern while she was earning her degree. The Brooks County native shares how she rose to this leadership role in agriculture, how she is helping others and how she will continue to use agriculture to accomplish her goals.

Why did you choose to study agriculture?
“I grew up on a farm. My father is a fourth-generation farmer, so agriculture is in my blood. I remember working on the farm as a child and thinking I’m not going to farm when I grow up, I’m going to have an office job. Nevertheless, I did not know I would end up working for FSA, but I knew I wanted to attend an HBCU and was familiar with agriculture.”
What was your major while attending FVSU?
“Agricultural economics.”
Describe your educational experience at FVSU?
“My professors were very helpful. If I needed help or guidance, I was able to sit in my professors’ offices and ask questions. Dr. Mark C. Nelson was very instrumental in helping me have a good experience at FVSU. He helped me navigate several decisions.”
What did you learn about yourself while matriculating as a student?
“I learned that I can do anything I put my mind to. I know that sounds cliché, but my freshman and junior year, I held the highest GPA in the College of Agriculture. I’m the oldest of four children, so it was important for me to set an example for my younger sisters who attended FVSU as well, right after me.”
What experiences did you have as a student (internships, summer study programs, conferences) that made you appreciate agriculture and FVSU?
“My internship with FSA. I begin interning with FSA the summer of 2000 in Thomasville, Georgia. I interned every summer and during holidays. That opened the door for me at FSA. In 2003, when I graduated, they did not have a full-time position in Thomasville, so for three months I was without a job after graduation. Soon after, FSA opened a farm loan officer position in Statesboro, Georgia. I applied, got the job and began my career with FSA on Dec. 1, 2003. I worked there for 17 years, matriculating my way up through the agency.”
What made you apply to the district director positon with FSA?
“The role opened about two years ago. I was eligible to apply, but I didn’t at the time. One day, I was riding in my car and I thought about it and concluded that sometimes you must be uncomfortable now to be comfortable later. Statesboro wasn’t home, but it became a comfort zone and I needed to broaden my horizons. So, I prayed about it and concluded that applying was what I needed to do. I applied, received an interview and they offered me the position. I accepted with no hesitation.”
How have those experiences prepared you for your current role?
“Learning how to communicate with people from different walks of life, working with different personality types and serving in leaderships capacities have helped me to perform well in my role as farm loan officer of FSA. Working on both the farm program side and the farm loan manager side of FSA will allow me to have decision-making skills in both areas.”
What advice would you give to high school students interested in agriculture and college students enrolled in the College of Ag?
“Don’t think agriculture is just field work. You can have a very successful career if you work hard. Also, we need minorities in the field to help underserved populations. Fort Valley State’s College of Ag will do a great job at preparing you for multiple roles.”