When Hannah Vorsilak decided to pursue animal science at Purdue, she thought it would be the perfect fit. She’d already spent three years working in a veterinary clinic in southern Indiana and knew it was something she enjoyed. But two years into her degree, she changed her mind when she realized her passion was somewhere else. As someone who enjoys writing and interpersonal communication, it seemed like a natural shift for Hannah to switch her major to agricultural communications.
And she has never looked back. For the past decade, Hannah has honed her expertise in marketing, agricultural communications, educational outreach and development, growing her career within the Indiana Soybean Alliance over the last 13 years. In 2020, she was promoted to her current role as Marketing Operations and Leadership Director.
Land Values sat down with Hannah to learn about her path from college graduate to marketing director, the importance of college internships and why everyone should have a coach or confidante outside of their organization.
Land Values (LV): You mentioned you didn’t grow up on a farm and that your dad worked at an agricultural co-op. Now, with 13 years of working and promoting the industry, would you consider yourself passionate about agriculture?
Hannah Vorsilak (HV): When I decided to switch majors, I didn’t want to leave the science aspect behind. Agriculture opened the door to merging the science side – and science writing – in a job possibility I never really knew about before. And while I didn’t grow up on a farm, I had an appreciation for it because my uncle farmed. I want to continue to see farmers thrive, to produce food and apply new technologies. And seeing it stay local, farming on the land that has been passed down from generation to generation, it’s given me an appreciation for agriculture.
LV: What was your career path like? How did you go from college graduate to director of marketing?
HV: I started out as a communications specialist, writing news releases and doing website updates – those kinds of things. Then I transitioned to education and outreach before moving on to leadership and governance, which has more to do with policy, our board members and leadership development for our farmer boards.
All the while, I was still doing almost everything else that I just mentioned, but adding additional responsibilities to my plate, including a big project that you’re familiar with if you live in Indiana: The Glass Barn, which is at the state fairgrounds. It’s like a mini children’s museum with educational exhibits and a virtual theater where you can talk to farmers live during the fair. Consumer outreach through the Glass Barn been part of my job since it was built in 2013.
LV: And that brings you to your current role?
HV: Yes. When Courtney Kingery came on as CEO in 2019, she promoted me to my current position: Marketing Operations and Leadership Director.
LV: What’s your day-to-day like?
HV: Every day is a bit different. My day’s filled with one-on-one meetings with my team, some project management for the outreach projects we’re working on and working with partners on communications assets. I am always trying to think strategically about what our organization’s communication messages should look like for our specific stakeholders and audiences.
We’re also trying to reach a consumer audience so they can learn about soybean and corn farming and agriculture through a sustainability lens. We’re communicating the conservation efforts our farmers are implementing on their farms because some people don’t understand what’s going on, on the farms. We’re also communicating about products made from corn and soybeans and how these green solutions can replace some of the petroleum-based products out there.
We’re also reaching out to local decisionmakers on the economic benefits of agriculture in their communities and to our farmers as well to share what our checkoff organizations are doing to bring return back to the farm.
LV: How did your time at Purdue prepare you for your career? Any student associations or other activities that you would recommend to a college student today?
HV: I would always recommend that they get involved with a club. I was a member of Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow and, you know, specialty clubs are where you can learn a little bit beyond the classroom and meet other people and learn from other people in that setting.
I would also recommend taking an internship. Even if you have this idea of exactly what you want to do, take different types of internships to try out other things, too. When I was still on the path to being a veterinarian, I took an internship at the Purdue beef unit because I thought I wanted to be a large animal vet, but what I learned from working there was that I didn’t want to be one! But I took another internship with Disney World and worked at the parks where I used a lot of communication skills. I learned about customer service and talking and communicating with people, which I think can be transferable to almost any job even if you’re not in writing or communications. While I was there, I did a separate little study and interviewed veterinarians and animal curators and I brought that research back to animal science students at Purdue. I talked to them about the different animal science-related possibilities available if they wanted to work at Disney. And Disney actually hired me afterwards to help recruit for their animal science internships on campus.
Another internship was with the company that I ended up working for right out of college. I think that’s also a big benefit for students – you may get hired right off the bat if you work for a place and they like you and you like them and it’s a good fit so you don’t have to do as much job searching after college.
LV: What’s one of the bigger challenges you’ve faced in your career?
HV: I think the biggest thing was that I was afraid to fail. When I was promoted to my role as marketing director, I had worked with interns before and I had that experience, but I had never managed people before. I was nervous about taking the job because I was afraid of failing, of not doing it well. But I think that with any kind of job you need to fail a little bit if you want to learn from it. So, I decided to just jump into it. At the very least, I thought, this will give me some experience if I decide later on that I don’t like it.
But I really do like it. I enjoy working with the people on my team. And Courtney [Kingery] is a great leader. Her advice is progress over perfection. And that’s what she said from the very beginning when we discussed this new role.
I’ve also really just dove in with the marketing side of things. I started listening to marketing books and management podcasts, especially one called Radical Candor. I would say it’s still a learning process. I’m still learning what works best for me and with my team, but sometimes you just have to dive in and do it and be okay with maybe not doing it perfectly at first.
LV: Is there something you wish you could go back and tell yourself?
HV: I would probably go back to the beginning of my communications career and dive in more on the marketing side of things. And that’s really from the lens of wishing I had specific skills now – I recently just completed an online course on digital marketing. I’ve really had to dig in and learn a lot, but it’s exciting to learn new things and continue growing in my career.
LV: You recommend a coach or confidante who is outside of your organization. Why?
HV: One thing that’s really benefited me with everything is to have a coach – someone there along with you in your career and someone you can depend on. And for me, having this new job as a marketing director, it’s really been helpful to have someone beyond my immediate co-workers. You know, someone who doesn’t work for the same organization, who has the skills and coaching, and I would recommend that to anyone one-hundred-fold because they just get you thinking about things differently. You can share conflicts if you have them or talk about to how to navigate a tricky conversation for example. It doesn’t always have to be someone you pay, but someone who you can rely on to talk to and ask questions to and, really, trust.