Program hones CALS grad students’ 'vital' leadership skills for workplace

Tuesday, August 25, 2020
The inaugural group of CALS Impact Leader Fellows.

University of Arizona microbiology graduate student Farhan Anwar learned communications skills “through necessity” as a first-generation immigrant moving from place to place in his young life.

Already aware of the value of effective communication through his own experiences, Anwar was selected for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Impact Leader professional development pilot program during the Spring 2020 semester. The program offered a cohort of 16 CALS graduate students an opportunity to hone communication, leadership, and teamwork skills through daylong workshops and one-on-one mentoring with professionals.

“There are very few opportunities that people get to learn how to become a leader, or how to lead effectively,” Anwar wrote. “What this program did for me was to crystalize that practical knowledge and further expand my knowledge base.”

The program was created by CALS assistant dean of graduate education Dr. Kirsten Limesand after she reviewed surveys from employers. Limesand was not surprised to learn CALS graduate students received exemplary marks for technical skills in the workplace, but she also noted that employers desired further development of so-called soft skills—which she said are really “essential skills”—in early-career employees.

So Limesand collaborated with the CALS Career Center, Bayer Crop Sciences, and Porterbay Insight, an organizational leadership consulting firm, to build a program that would help CALS graduate students be fully ready to grow and lead from day one of their professional or academic careers.

“We aspire to make CALS the most sought-after place to complete a graduate degree,” Limesand said. “Our professional development and career navigation focus begins to portray us in a unique light and helps us recruit the best students.”

Matt Lingard, product development center lead at Bayer Crop Sciences in Marana served as one of the mentors. He called early-career leadership training “vital” and noted that it is a key component of professional growth at Bayer.

“There are two phrases that come to mind for me,” Lingard said. “That everybody is a leader and lead from where you are. Teams that have a bunch of people that know how to do that tend to be much more successful.”

The 16 students, selected by a nomination process through their departments, came from Agricultural and Resource Economics, Agricultural Education, Technology and Innovation, Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, Biosystems Engineering, Environmental Science, Family Studies and Human Development, Microbiology, Natural Resources, Nutritional Sciences, and Plant Sciences.

The structure of the program consisted of five monthly workshops, which covered personality assessment, teamwork and conflict management, communicating and building a brand, innovation, and career management. These sessions were facilitated by Porterbay Insight, the CALS Innovation Collaboratory, the Alan Alda Center for Science Communication or the CALS Career Center. The group pivoted to online sessions in March after UArizona moved classes online due to COVID-19.

An additional element of the training was one-on-one time with industry mentors within the student’s discipline to help the students explore possible careers and consider what they could do with their education and skills.

“I think what surprised me was how engaged the fellows were in a conversation,” Lingard said. “I don’t think I would have been interested in this when I was in grad school, despite how important it’s become in my professional life. It was gratifying for me to see that some of the skills being taught in the program, it wasn’t just our environment at Bayer where that is really useful.”

CALS graduate students interested in the Spring 2021 Impact Leaders Fellow program should contact their graduate program directors and coordinators for nomination.


Meet the inaugural Impact Leader Fellows

Farhan Anwar | Microbiology

Mentored by Elias Shaheen, Allied Bioscience

“The true benefit was not the introspection (though it is critical), but the frank discussion with other personality types about their perspectives and how they navigate through conflict. I was amazed at how different everyone's priorities and expectations are, despite talking about the exact same conflict. This development training provides a much-needed space to discuss these topics. Perspective-taking is an incredibly important skill that I know I will use, quite literally, in every single part of my life.”


Connel Ching’anda | Plant Sciences

Mentored by Mark Thomas, Bayer Crop Sciences

“The Know Yourself session is life-changing! I got to realize my strengths and different working styles. I will use this understanding to interact effectively and efficiently with current and future workmates or collaborators.”



Kelly Dew-Budd | Plant Sciences

Mentored by Edward Cargill, Bayer Crop Sciences

“I cannot more highly recommend this training for graduate students who are transitioning to a professional role. Along with teaching you how to be a good coworker and a leader, it more importantly teaches you that companies value personnel development.”


Taylor Foerster | Agricultural Education, Technology, and Innovation

Mentored by Erin Jones, Bayer Crop Sciences

“The impact leadership trainings were an incredible experience that I am grateful to have been a part of. My confidence in myself and my abilities has increased through an understanding of how I communicate and interact, an understanding of conflicts and reframing, entrepreneurial leadership and strategy, techniques and advice for professional tools such as LinkedIn and CV/resume building, and also how to communicate my research! The knowledge gained through this program is very applicable and will have positive benefits for myself and others as I begin to navigate my career. Plus the mentors assigned to students and the individuals who facilitate the training are incredible. Very encouraging and helpful in guiding the topics covered in training. I would recommend this program to anyone who asks.”


Chris Freimund | Natural Resources

Mentored by Camilio Cornejo, Bayer Crop Sciences

“This set of trainings were valuable as a graduate student and as a professional. The trainings were instructive, interactive, and fomented self-reflection and personal growth. The one-on-one mentorship of an industry coach from Bayer Crop Sciences was also incredibly worthwhile. I would highly recommend this program to any interested future graduate students.”


Sean Gellenbeck | Biosystems Engineering

Mentored by April Carroll, Bayer Crop Sciences

“Participating in the Impact Leadership Training had many benefits. What stuck with me the most was the session on science communication. In my field, being able communicate the why of space travel is critical to the continuation and funding of projects. Discussing and using a structured approach to preparing for presentations on science communication was very helpful.”


Pablo Grijalva | Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences

Mentored by Sue DeNise, Zoitis

“Participating in this training program forced me into a setting I was not accustomed to being in, which is being part of a diverse cohort of students. Diverse in race/nationality, diverse in academic focus/interests, and in personalities. Having the opportunity to be immersed in this type of environment is really enriching in terms of personal growth potential due to the many unique perspectives that we are exposed to during the many program discussions and activities. So anyone else who values such diverse settings while at the same time being surrounded by motivated individuals should consider this training.”


Preston Harris | Nutritional Sciences

Mentored by Laura Kunces, Onegevity Health

“The training improved my ability to express my thoughts and communicate with people of different backgrounds and values. It also improved my ability to recognize and consider the perspectives of my audience, collaborators, and colleagues when communicating my work. Furthermore, it was a great chance for networking with peers in my college, who I otherwise probably never would have met. All of the benefits gained from this program will help me be able to more effectively navigate and operate in a diverse work environment, and connect with people in new and meaningful ways.”


Mark Jendrisak | Biosystems Engineering

Mentored by Jason Licamele, Bayer Crop Sciences

“To anyone considering this program, I would say, go for it! It is an honor to be selected and identified as a leader in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This program and its leadership team have created a space to foster the innate leadership skills in each fellow. I don’t believe you will find another opportunity like this during your graduate experience.”


Sei Kim | Family Studies and Human Development

Mentored by Jennifer Atteberry-Pierpont, Pima Joint Technical Education District

“It was an honor to have been a part of the Impact Leader Fellows Program for the past months. Throughout the workshops, I had the space and time to discover my best self that were invaluable to learn and reflect on. Each session was full of opportunities to build interpersonal and communications skills.”


Yuansen Li | Agricultural and Resource Economics

Mentored by Emilio Oyarzabal, Bayer Crop Sciences

“This workshop is practical rather than theoretical. If the students want to improve their capacity to hunt a decent occupation either in academia or industry, this is the optimal choice. Even though we had to move to the internet context to conduct the training session during the adversity, the devoted teachers all contributed a hundred percent effort to aid us in career development.”


Alma Morales | Environmental Sciences

Mentored by Carolina Medina, Bayer Crop Sciences

“While it was very beneficial to learn theory and practice our new skills in the workshops with other people in our cohort, through my conversations with my mentor I was able to hear how these skills are put into practice in the workplace. My mentor taught me a lot about leadership, and since she had completed some of the same exercises we were learning, she was able to directly give examples of how these have been helpful to her. She also shared other tools she has been learning throughout her career (for example, work-life balance) and shared really insightful articles and materials.”


Kristin Morrill | Nutritional Sciences

Mentored by Gabriela Burian, Bayer Crop Sciences

“Learning about (personality) traits will allow me to get a sense of how best to approach different colleagues and professionals in the workplace and how to tailor my communication away from what I myself may prefer and instead put myself in the other individual’s shoes to consider how they might prefer to be addressed.”


Rosa Luna Ramirez | Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences

Mentored by Jamie Coborn, Novo Nordisk

“I would highly recommend this training and also recommend taking advantage of the useful tools provided by the training. Lastly to relate and engage with the training because it really helps you manage your future presentation and helps you take in consideration what you really need to express to the audience.”


Richelle Thomas | Environmental Sciences

Mentored by Tara Astigarraga, IBM

“I learned that everyone is different, but we can share common goals. This can be applied to my career aspirations because finding a common ground is more important than focusing on the negatives, we can all learn from each other.”


Jack Welchert | Biosystems Engineering

Mentored by Matt Lingard, Bayer Crop Sciences

“Interaction with my assigned professional mentor also provided me with insight about how to function in a leadership role. Being able to hear and learn from another’s experiences and perspective was immensely rewarding. My mentor taught me many things, particularly how to not simply survive in a tough situation, the COVID lockdown for example, but to thrive in them. He was able to successfully motivate me to continue working toward my academic goals and inspired me to strive to do the same for my comrades. I think I honestly learned the most about leadership from his outstanding example, and am grateful for the experience that I am privileged to have had.”


Extra Info
Extra Info

If you are interested in serving as an industry mentor in the CALS Impact Leader professional development program, contact Dr. Kirsten Limesand at