Aspire to Grow 2021

Aspire to Grow

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.

2021 Conference

The 2021 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.


Thursday, Feb. 18, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Student Co-Chairs

Gissel Neri Corcoles, Agricultural Science
Kindra Fulton, Experience Industry Management
Riley Van Es, Agricultural and Environmental Plant Sciences


Cal Poly College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences   


Michael J. Frank
Executive Vice President and CEO of Retail // Nutrien

Mike Frank has more than 25 years of experience in the agricultural industry, with expertise in sales, marketing and general management. He also has experience in global supply chain and geographic distribution channels, digital commerce strategies, cultural and digital transformation and leadership of global teams.

Before joining Agrium in September 2017 as executive vice president and president, Retail Business Unit, Frank spent more than two decades working in senior roles at Monsanto Company, where he was most recently senior vice president and chief commercial officer. He holds a degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Saskatchewan and a master of business administration from Northwestern University.


Karen Ross
Secretary // California Department of Food and Agriculture

Karen Ross was appointed Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture on January 9, 2019, by Governor Gavin Newsom. In re-appointing Secretary Ross, Governor Newsom cited her unmatched leadership experience in agricultural issues nationally, internationally, and here in California; including environmental stewardship, climate change adaptation, and trade. Secretary Ross was initially appointed by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 2011.

Before joining CDFA, Secretary Ross was chief of staff for U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a position she accepted in 2009. Prior to that appointment, she served as President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers from 1996-2009, and as Vice-President of the Agricultural Council of California from 1989-1996. Her prior experience before moving to California included staff work for a United States Senator, a presidential candidate, and government relations for rural electric cooperatives and public power districts.

Secretary Ross is passionate about fostering the reconnection of consumers to the land and the people who produce their food, and improving the access of all California citizens to healthy, nutritious California-grown agricultural products, celebrated for their diversity and abundance in serving local, national and global markets.

During Secretary Ross’ tenure, the Department has focused on core functions to protect and promote California agriculture, investing in the Department’s employees to provide the best service to farmers, ranchers and consumers and fostering an agricultural industry that embraces its role as a global leader on everything from the most technical aspects of farming to the broadest environmental imperatives.

Secretary Ross has strengthened partnerships across government, academia and the non-profit sector in the drive to maintain and improve environmental stewardship and to develop adaptation strategies for the specific impacts of climate change. She has initiated programs to provide greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to engage in sustainable environmental stewardship practices through water conservation, energy efficiency, nutrient management, and ecosystem services; and she has worked to provide greater access to farm-fresh foods at school cafeterias through CDFA’s Farm to Fork Program.

Secretary Ross grew up as a 4-H kid on a farm in western Nebraska. She and her husband, Barry, own 800 acres of the family farm where her younger brother, a fourth-generation farmer, grows no-till wheat and feed grains, incorporating cover crops and rotational grazing for beef production. The Secretary has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is a graduate of the Nebraska Ag Leadership Program. She has served on numerous boards and committees in California agriculture and with various academic institutions.


Justin Trabue
Assistant Winemaker // Lumen Wines

Justin Trabue, originally from Washington, D.C., has been hooked on wine since she can remember. Named after the iconic Justin Isosceles, wine was always in her future. During her junior year at Cal Poly, Trabue had the opportunity to study abroad in Adelaide, Australia. After turning 21 Justin decided to begin working with Lumen wines under the Cal Poly Wine Internship program. With the mentorship of Lane and Will, she has had the opportunity to learn the importance of vineyard locations, soil type, and clone choice over the past five years. Trabue worked her way up to assistant winemaker after spending a sabbatical in Hawkes Bay, New Zealnd at Pask Winery. When she is not in the cellar you can find her in the kitchen, watching scary films, or chatting over a glass of wine.


Patricia Carillo
Executive Director // ALBA Organics

Patricia Carrillo joined ALBA Organics in 2017. She has over a decade of experience working in the non-profit sector, including working as ALBA’s Business Education Program from 2006 to 2013. In that role, she developed tools and curricula for beginning farm entrepreneurs, increased alternative financing opportunities for small scale organic farmers, and advocated for socially-disadvantaged beginning farmers. Prior to returning to ALBA, Patricia was finance and operations director at the YWCA Monterey County and program director at the Housing Resource Center of Monterey County, where she was responsible for the administration and management of all HRC programs, including homeless prevention, rapid rehousing, veteran assistance, security deposit guarantee, financial literacy and home ownership programs. Carillo is a Salinas native and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from San Jose State University.


Surendra Dara, Ph.D.
Cooperative Extension Advisor // University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources

In his role as the Entomology and Biologicals Advisor, Dara primarily looks after pest management along with different aspects of research with biostimulants, biopesticides, and other biological materials serving San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. With his expertise in entomopathology, he serves as a resource person for microbial control of various pests in different parts of the state.

Dara has authored nearly 370 scientific and extension publications and has delivered several presentations worldwide. He has trained strawberry and vegetable growers in Bangladesh, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Kosovo, Moldova, Mozambique, Myanmar, Transnistria, and Zimbabwe about crop production, pesticide safety, and IPM. He also lends his expertise to strawberry industries in different countries. As a principal investigator, co-principal investigator, or a collaborator of various projects, Dara has received more than $3.5 million in grant funding.

Dara earned both his bachelor's degree and master's degree at the Andhra Pradesh Agricultural University, India, obtaining his bachelor's degree in agricultural sciences, and his master's degree in entomology. He went on to receive his doctorate in entomology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia. He also has a post-graduate diploma in Applied Information Technology from Canada.

After receiving his doctorate, Dara served as an entomopathologist from 1996-1999 for the Plant Health Management Division, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture under the United Nations Development Program, Cotonou, Republic of Benin in West Africa. He was a post-doctoral research associate from 2003-2004 with the Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, and an independent software consultant, 2001-2003. His other work experience includes assistant project scientist with the UC Davis Department of Nematology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology) through USDA-ARS, and quality control manager from 2006 to 2009 for Certis USA, Wasco.

He is currently serving on various committees at the University of California, the Society for Invertebrate Pathology, the Entomological Society of America, and the Association of Applied IPM Ecologists. He is also an Associate Editor for the International Journal of Tropical Insect Science, a Subject Editor for the Journal of Economic Entomology, guest co-editor for the special issue of Frontiers: Entomopathogens for Sustainable Food Production, Frontiers: Advances in Induced Crop Resistance for Insect Pest Control, and International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: Current Status, Challenges, and Prospects of Biopesticides. In 2019, Dara was featured as a Western Innovator by Capital Press for his work in biologicals, and received the ESA Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension at the Pacific Branch and National levels. In 2020, Dara received the ESA Pacific Branch Award for Excellence in IPM.


Fadzayi Mashiri, Ph.D.
Mariposa County Director, Farm Advisor // University of California Cooperative Extension

Fadzayi Mashiri previously worked as a senior research specialist at the University of Arizona, working on adaptive grazing management focusing on developing sustainable grazing in desert ecosystems. Previously, she worked in Zimbabwe as a lecturer and chairperson of the Department of Livestock and Wildlife Management at the Midlands State University and as a senior agricultural extension officer for the Agriculture Extension Services. She holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Zimbabwe, a master’s degree in management of natural resources and sustainable agriculture from the Agriculture University of Norway, and a doctorate in rangeland management from the University of Arizona.


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