Photo of Clemson agribusiness quiz bowl team in San Francisco

Clemson agribusiness quiz bowl team in San Francisco. From left to right, front row: Carson Buzhardt, English Ratliff, Elizabeth McLeod. Back row: right to left: Carl Womble (the one with the orange Clemson hat), Matthew MacCaskill, Jonathan Lawing, Michael Vassalos, Cody White McCauley Frierson, Zachary Sharp
Image Credit: CU photo

CLEMSON — Nine Clemson students majoring in agribusiness in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences participated in a national quiz bowl competition at the annual meeting of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in San Francisco.

Three members of the group formed a team that placed fourth in the competition. Its members were Carl Womble, Cody White and Jonathan Lawing.

“We were so pleased that our team placed fourth and were able to represent Clemson in a great way,” said English Ratliff, the Agribusiness Association president.

Michael Vassalos, assistant professor in the department of agriculture and environmental sciences in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences is the team adviser and coach.

Quiz bowl team participants were Elizabeth McLeod, Carson Buzhard, English Ratliff, Cody White, Carl Womble, Zachary Sharp, Matthew McCaskill, Jonathan Lawing and McCauley Frierson, all members of the Clemson University Agribusiness Association, a student club.

After one of the Clemson teams placed first in a regional competition, Vassalos believed the team was ready for the national competition. At the nationals, they were up against previous winners and much larger programs, including Texas A&M, Purdue, Iowa State and the University of Florida. This year 32 teams participated.

The team practiced weekly throughout the summer of 2015 using a database of questions provided by Vassalos and followed the same quiz show format, even using buzzers.

Womble continued to coach the team when Vassalos was away for part of the summer.

Victoria Rizer, past president of the Agribusiness Association; Elizabeth McLeod, treasurer; and Zachary Sharp, fundraiser, organized events to help raise nearly $6,000 to take the team to San Francisco. The club received support from Clemson Student Government, AgSouth and a generous contribution from an alumni supporter.

“The hard work by our fundraising team made it possible for us to stay at the conference hotel, which encouraged networking and making friends outside of Clemson and also provided easy access to the latest research presentations at the conference,” said Vassalos.

Members in the club learn communication and social skills and observe how other programs work by attending and presenting their work at regional and national conferences.

“This program takes them out of their comfort zone,” Vassalos said. “They learn how to work together as a team and interact with their peers from around the country.”

“Our goal was to make the final four, and we did!” said Womble.

“None of this would have been possible without the leadership of Dr. Vassalos,” he said. “Under his direction the team blossomed. Without him, we wouldn’t even have known what we were missing.”

When Vassalos became adviser to the club in 2013 it had only two members. The agribusiness major had temporarily moved to another college under another name, but now it was back in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences.

“The agribusiness major has now been back in the department of agriculture and environmental sciences for two full years and is bringing in its third year of students,” said department chair Pat Zungoli. “Last year, there were 30 students. This fall the semester will begin with almost 80.

“The revival of the major can be attributed to the agribusiness faculty who, like Dr. Vassalos, has shown dedication and commitment to creating a successful and competitive program,” she said.

Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show an increase in jobs in agricultural industries that include food science, nutrition, health, food safety, packaging, biotechnology, genetics and research, as well as farm management and production.

“Meeting our peers and seeing presentations by faculty and graduate students from other universities gave us new career perspectives and helped us plan for the future,” said Rizer.

Agriculture, including forestry, is the leading industry in South Carolina. Clemson University is leading the way with education, public service and research for the state, the nation and world.

Clemson agribusiness students are helping to lead the way — one question at a time.