CAFNR Outstanding Senior: Natalie Ayers

Ayers, a science and agricultural journalism major, receives prestigious student award

It was pretty much a given where Natalie Ayers was going to get her degree after she graduated high school. Ayers’ parents both earned degrees from the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR). Ayers knew she was going to be a Tiger one day, too, just like her parents.

“I had attended countless events on the University of Missouri campus as a child, and there are too many family photos in front of the historic Academic Hall columns to count,” Ayers said. “MU was actually the only university I applied to because my decision to come here had been made since I was basically in grade school.”

While Ayers grew up around agriculture, that wasn’t going to be her original avenue of study when she applied to Mizzou.

“Believe it or not, I wanted to be a pharmacist for the longest time,” Ayers said. “Turns out, I’m not as big of a fan of chemistry as I originally thought I was. I had grown up around agriculture my entire life and communicating with people about it was something I loved getting the chance to do. When I found out there was a degree, offered at my dream school that combined both, I knew science and agricultural journalism was the right choice for me. Plus, the nationwide reputation of the journalism program and the opportunity to connect with agriculture journalists across the country was an added benefit.”

Ayers said deciding on CAFNR, specifically science and agricultural journalism, was the perfect decision for her. She spent her four years in Columbia as part of numerous clubs and organizations – and earned several awards throughout her time as a Tiger.

As Ayers nears graduation, she has earned another honor – the CAFNR Outstanding Senior award.

“When I first read the email, I was in total shock,” Ayers said. “In fact, I remember standing there in front of my parents with eyes full of tears, completely unable to speak. There are so many other outstanding seniors in CAFNR, several I can even name, so being selected for this award is an honor.”

Ayers, who grew up in Green City, Mo., served as the CAFNR Student Council president during the 2019-20 academic year, as well as the vice president of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She is a member of the Sigma Alpha-Alpha Chi professional agriculture sorority and served as a CAFNR Ambassador for three years. Ayers was the Missouri FFA Association Area III vice president during the 2016-17 academic year as well.

Ayers took full advantage of CAFNR’s outstanding study abroad opportunities during her collegiate career, too. She traveled to Holland and Italy.

“I get kind of sentimental when I think back on all of my memories from college,” Ayers said. “It is so hard to pick out my ‘favorites.’ CAFNR fosters all kinds of opportunities for its students, if they’re willing to take the initiative to get involved. I have been extremely blessed with an amazing four years within the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. I was able to stamp my passport twice, get involved in a variety of clubs and organizations, assume leadership positions, make lifelong friendships and, of course, learn a lot along the way. Before coming to MU, my mom told my brother and I that college would be the best four years of our lives. Up to this point in mine, that is undeniably true.”

While Ayers was incredibly busy with clubs and organizations, two CAFNR offices and one division also employed her.

She worked as a teaching assistant in the MU Floral Design classroom, part of the Division of Plant Sciences, where she processed and harvested flowers, set up design labs, graded assignments, and helped students create arrangements as needed. She also helped run various social media channels for the classroom.

Ayers worked with the CAFNR Office of Academic Programs and, most recently, in the CAFNR Office of Advancement.

“Having an on-campus job was extremely important to me,” Ayers said. “It was a way to not only stay connected with my education, but also find a way to help pay for it. From working as a teaching assistant in the floral design classroom to working as the Executive-in-Residence intern, these opportunities have helped me grow both professionally and personally, while giving me something to add to my resume and portfolio.”

“An aspect of responsibility requires us to be good stewards of our resources,” added Bryan Garton, senior associate dean and director of academic programs, in his nomination letter. “Providing leadership and serving as an effective communicator are two characteristics that exemplify Natalie’s sense of responsibility. One of her priorities while in high school was to engage with and serve her community and peers, primarily through her FFA chapter and supporting community events, such as the Sullivan County Fair. Her sense of responsibility carried over to her four years at MU as she has engaged and led a variety of organizations including the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, Sigma Alpha professional sorority, and the True Tigers Network. Her responsibility and commitment to CAFNR culminated this past year as she led a revitalization of CAFNR’s Student Council, which included a complete restructuring and purpose of the council.”

Like college seniors across the country, Ayers is spending her final semester finishing her degree at home. While she never envisioned having to complete her degree away from Columbia, Ayers said she will always cherish her time at MU.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from college, it’s to never underestimate the power of a relationship, whether it be with a professor or a fellow student,” she said. “I’ve been through interviews for offices within organizations I was involved in, internships and job openings where classmates and professors have been on the panel. Those same people have also recommended me on various occasions for other opportunities. Networking and getting to know those around you on campus certainly pays off in the grand scheme of things. I’ve also met some very genuine people and made some lifelong friends in the classroom.

My biggest piece of advice for incoming students is that they can do anything they want here on campus, but they can’t do absolutely everything. It’s all about balance. Coming from a small, rural high school, where students could be involved in everything, kind of threw me for a loop when it came to being involved in CAFNR and MU. I learned very quickly that I couldn’t balance an insane amount of extracurricular activities and schoolwork like I did in high school. There are opportunities for absolutely everyone in CAFNR and on campus, and going to college is all about trying new things. There are a few opportunities I missed out on that I would love to get to go back and try, but I also know that if I did things differently, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”