SDSU student Sadie Vander Wal earns prestigious agriculture award

Adrienne Lipinski, Reporter (She/Her)

An SDSU agricultural communications major recently won a highly competitive scholarship award that will help achieve her career goals of promoting agriculture.

Sadie Vander Wal, who is also majoring in animal science and is from Brentford, South Dakota, was presented with the Forrest Bassford Award last month at the Ag Media Summit in Kansas City.

Vander Wal was one of the four finalists selected to receive a travel scholarship to go to the event to continue to the next round of the award process. She was interviewed, and judges looked at her submitted work portfolio to compare her with other finalists.

“They started reading the essay I had written about my future in communications and the second that I realized it was my essay, I got chills,” Vander Wal said. “Hearing the words from someone else’s mouth about the future I saw for myself in the industry was really cool.”

The Forrest Bassford Award recognizes students for excellence and leadership and encourages professionalism among students. The program changed its name in 1992 to honor Forrest Bassford, the founding member of the Livestock Publications Council. Its goal is to highlight students in the agricultural communications field.

The winner receives a travel scholarship to attend the Ag Media Summit, a plaque and a $2,000 scholarship to further their education.

“This is a very competitive and rewarding program,” said Julia Mais, Forrest Bassford Award coordinator. “I think this demonstrates the quality and determination of students in this program who are passionate about agriculture and serving the industry in a variety of communications roles.”

As part of the application process, Vander Wal submitted a transcript, a list of scholarships and awards, club involvement, employment record, a 200-word essay about how they saw themselves in the future of agriculture communictions and a press release.

The next step was an interview with a panel of judges and a review of her portfolio.

“Her portfolio was very impressive. In fact, all three judges said she could go to work automatically for all three of us immediately,” said LeAnne Peters, one of three judges who selected Vander Wal as the winner.

As a finalist, Vander Wal attended the Ag Media Summit and connected with other students and industry professionals. She attended workshops on writing and communication, listened to guest speakers, attended an industry expo and much more. But the highlight of her trip was making connections.

“I was shocked. It was a really cool feeling to be recognized for the past few years of the work I’ve been doing for organizations and the agriculture industry,” Vander Wal said. “I’m so passionate about the agriculture industry, and it’s cool to be recognized for that passion.”

Her work in the communications field helped her move far in the program. Vander Wal has interned in communications positions for companies like Filmore Marketing and Agtegra. She also handles a lot of communications positions for Prexy Council, which is the connecting point for clubs and organizations in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. She also helps coordinate Little International communications and is a member of Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow.

Vander Wal will graduate in the spring, and she is excited to continue in the agricultural communications field. She doesn’t know where she’ll end up but wants to stay in the Midwest working for an agriculture company.

Before she leaves SDSU, she does have some work to finish.

She partnered with another person to help relaunch a newsletter called “Ag Buddy.” The newsletter was formed a couple years ago but stopped publication, and now Vander Wal is working on relaunching it in January.

She also is the current CAFES Marketing and Communications intern and is under the supervision of Lora Berg, director of CAFES Marketing and Communications and another SDSU recipient of the Forrest Bassford Award.

Berg won the award in 1988 and she attended SDSU for agriculture journalism. The application process was similar to Vander Wal’s experience, but she attended the conference in San Antonio.

Like Vander Wal, Berg remembers making many connections with people in the agriculture communications industry. She has worked with Vander Wal the past few years and was the person who wrote her recommendation letter for the application process.

“She’s done a nice job, a really nice job of getting a variety of working experiences in her field. She’s very talented,” Berg said. “She’s really mastered her profession. I think she should be set up for pretty outstanding career success.”

SDSU Winners:

Here’s a look at the SDSU students who have won the Forrest Bassford Student Award:

1988: Lora (Duxbury) Berg

1994: Erin (Pettigrew) Cordsen

2018: Madison (Hokanson) Schafer

2021: Sadie Vander Wal