Aspire to Grow 2020

Cultivating Tomorrow’s Leaders: Diversity and Innovation in Food and Agriculture


There are more than 21 million jobs associated with food and agriculture in the U.S., and related industries contribute nearly a trillion dollars to the nation’s GDP. The Aspire to Grow Conference aims to inform and empower students from across campus about the many and varied career opportunities in these industries. It will also create a forum for students to learn from and network with companies for which diversity and inclusion are an essential part of their visions, and that have recognized that workplace diversity increases productivity, innovation, and other factors that provide a competitive edge.

2020 Conference

The 2020 Aspire to Grow Conference explores innovation in the food and agriculture sectors. The symposium will focus on new technologies and developments, and the role diversity of thought and experience plays in achieving these.


Wednesday, March 4, 2020, 4:30 p.m. 
Cal Poly Performing Arts Center
Reception to follow


Cal Poly College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences   

Keynote Speaker

Kemba Marshall, DVM, DABVP
Director of Veterinary Services // Purina Animal Nutrition

Dr. Marshall received her B.S. in biology from Howard University and her D.V.M. from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. After completing her veterinary degree, Dr. Marshall went on to complete an avian/exotic animal residency at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (Avian). Dr. Marshall has worked in private veterinary practice, university laboratory animal practice and corporate retail veterinary practice. Dr. Marshall has been a guest editor and first author for publications in the Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice and is also published in Blackwell’s Five Minute Veterinary Consult, the American Journal of Veterinary Research and the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery. In addition to providing on-farm veterinary support and veterinary technical support for the Purina customer service and sales team representatives, Dr. Marshall is also involved with new product development.



Irene Bernal
Senior Manager, Global Sourcing // Amazon

Irene Bernal is a senior manager at, where she leads global sourcing. Prior to Amazon, she worked at Cargill, Inc., for the first five years of her career within the animal protein space in a variety of roles and leadership positions, eventually moving to the Strategy and Business Development Department, where she led corporate center projects, acquisitions and business unit strategies. In her last role at Cargill, she led marketing for Malt, one of two global business units. Bernal is an advocate for education and works with Macy’s Place assisting first-generation students and their families as they pursue higher education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business from Cal Poly in 2003 and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota in 2014.


Martha Montoya
Founder and CEO // AGTools 

With over 25 years of worldwide agricultural and supply chain experience, Montoya's career in the agricultural industry started while sourcing ingredients from the Americas to New Zealand, Australia and Thailand which provided her with product knowledge from the source to delivery. Dealing with humble and industrial farmers, government entities and sophisticated buyers in Europe, Russia and the United States, she set up production lines of lettuce in Arizona, Mexico amd the Netherlands, banana puree from Costa Rica to Australia, guided a peach crop from South Africa to England, and worked on new asparagus and mangos from Peru and India. Parallel work included social impact programs such as government finance programs for women farmers in Mexico, and low interest credit programs for small organic farmers in California. Montoya serves on the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s board of directors, the Latino Food Industry Association, the worldwide advisory board of Women for Walmart, and United States Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. She founded award-winning machine-learning and artificial intelligence platform, a solution allowing farmers, food supply chain stakeholders, bankers, insurance companies and others to make better decisions, increase profits, avoid waste and impact climate change. Her career has benefited farmers and customers on four continents.


Michelle Ramos
Recruiter // Dole Fresh Vegetables

Michelle Ramos was born and raised in Soledad, Calif., and graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science in 2012. She earned her master’s degree in human resource management from Golden Gate University in 2018. Before attending Cal Poly, Ramos was an active FFA member and served as the 2007-2008 California State FFA Secretary. While at Cal Poly, she was an active member in Latinos in Agriculture, MANNRS, Student Council, Collegiate FFA and Planet Student Career Days. After graduating from Cal Poly, she was a quality assurance intern at Dole Fresh Vegetables (DFV) and since then, has held various food safety roles at DFV, including as a food safety auditor and a food safety manager. In 2016, she expressed her passion for the “people side” of the business and transferred into the human resources department. She is now a recruiter at Dole and oversees the internship program.


Frank Santiago
Territory Manager // Corteva Agriscience

Frank Santiago oversees the turf and ornamental portfolio of Corteva Agrisciences’ Pacific Northwest territory and is based out of Woodland, Wash. He previously served as the director of student recruitment for the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Aroz. Santiago was born in Salinas, Calif., and grew up following the lettuce harvest between Yuma, Ariz. and Salinas. He is the first in his family to be born in the U.S. as well as the first in his family to attend college. He has a bachelor’s degree and master of science degree in agricultural education, both from the University of Arizona, and is a licensed Pest Control Advisor in California.


Sonia Soares
Food Safety Consultant // Harmonized Consulting LLC

Sonia Soares is the founder of Harmonized Consulting LLC., offering environmental health and safety consultation to organizations. She previously worked at companies including Freshkist, Nutrien and CPS in food safety, environmental health and safety and quality assurance roles, including with customers in Japan and China. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in environmental health and safety-hazardous materials. 


Student Co-Chairs

Emma Manoukian, fourth-year agricultural communication major
Gissel Neri Corcoles, third-year agricultural science major

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