Adept at Adapting
If there’s one thing Alejandro Jimenez excels at it’s his ability to adapt. From moving to the United States to being the first in his family to attend college, Jimenez has adapted to excel in any situation. That ability will come in handy when he graduates from the University of Idaho in May 2023 with a degree in crop science and begins his career with John Deere.
A Foundation in Agriculture
Jimenez was first introduced to agriculture when his family moved from Santa Ana Maya, Mexico to Florida when he was five years old. His father worked as an agricultural laborer harvesting oranges and would occasionally take Jimenez along.
“It was an experience for sure,” Jimenez said. “I’m glad I remember that so I can look back on it and compare it to days where I have it easy.”
Although Jimenez’ mother received U.S. residency, a clerical error meant that Jimenez and his younger brother were undocumented. His father began the arduous task of obtaining citizenship, a process that took until the winter of Jimenez’ junior year in high school.
By then, the family had moved to Wilder in search of more stable agriculture work. Once his undocumented status was cleared, Jimenez began working summers for Godina Farms as a laborer, detassling corn, weeding fields and harvesting. He was eventually promoted to crew leader where he led a team of 30-35 laborers in ages ranging from 16 to 45.
Those experiences helped build a foundation of interest in agriculture and crop science.
“I really thought about the technical side of things rather than the backbreaking labor,” he said. “I was always on the end of harvesting, not knowing why the process was like this, and that’s why I really wanted to get educated and learn about the processes of agriculture and where it’s going and how much money is made from this. It’s rewarding when you think that it’s going to feed someone eventually.”
Although Jimenez excelled at Wilder High School, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able attend college due to his undocumented status.
“That played a big role in how I went about school and thought about school,” he said. “I did care and thought maybe my grades would correlate to a career even if I didn’t go to college, so I still tried, but I knew I wouldn’t be going to college without documentation.”
Clay Hatfield, then a teacher at WHS, encouraged Jimenez to consider higher education, especially after his father became a naturalized U.S. citizen during Jimenez’ junior year. He held a FAFSA night and alerted Jimenez to scholarships, including the U of I Chobani Scholars program.
“I’m really grateful for him, he guided me in the right direction,” Jimenez said. “I felt like he really saw potential in me and pushed me throughout my last year.”
Jimenez knew that he wanted a career in agriculture, so he set his sights on U of I. The College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) played a key role in convincing Jimenez that U of I was the right place for him.
“The CAMP program was a big factor in my decision making, having that support,” he said. “They help with the uncertainty that many Hispanic communities have with college and the expenses and once you’re there, can you make it. For myself, I didn’t have good study habits and my parents knew that and asked if I could make it in college. I told them CAMP had mandatory study hours so that should put me on track.”
Being selected into the first cohort of Chobani Scholars also helped solidify his decision to be a Vandal.
“Knowing I had that support made me want to do better in school, not wanting to let them down since they invested a lot in me,” Jimenez said. “I wanted to be someone they wanted to put money towards. It gave me my cohort which has done great things and still are.”
The Chobani Scholars program, combined with the CAMP Diversity Scholarship, Deerkop Ambassador Scholarship, Brad Huffman Memorial Scholarship and the Kostka and Calnon Scholarships mean that Jimenez will graduate debt-free.
“It impacted my life greatly, not having to worry about financial aid,” he said. “I just had to focus on my grades so that was the biggest plus.”
Adapting to New Adventure
Once he arrived on campus, Jimenez adapted to his new home by getting involved. He joined the multicultural fraternity Omega Delta Phi, CALS Ambassadors and helped launch the U of I Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) chapter.
It was through involvement in MANRRS that Jimenez learned of a career opportunity with John Deere. He attended a regional conference in November 2022 in Davis, California and approached John Deere representatives. Several discussions and two formal interviews later, Jimenez accepted a position in the Agriculture and Turf Marketing Development Program. He will relocate to Des Moines, Iowa after graduation and will complete two nine-month rotations demonstrating equipment, collecting data and speaking with farmers about the See and Spray TM machines.
His upbringing and experiences in CALS have prepared him to adapt to the new adventure.
“All this moving around, I’m kind of used to it,” Jimenez said. “Especially with the experiences in CALS, going to events, talking to just about anybody, that prepared me tremendously to have the confidence to talk to anybody. I’m excited about putting into practice all that I have learned here at UI. I’m really happy to represent the UI and say that I’m from Idaho.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos by Garrett Britton, University of Idaho Visual Productions
Published in May 2023