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Two girls loading hay bales on farm in winter.

Inclusion vs. Diversity: It’s Okay To Be Different

For Dr. Olga U. Bolden-Tiller, inclusion in agriculture is the center of her world. Thanks to her rural hometown, she feels comfortable in that space. She considers herself an “accidental aggie.” Growing up in a one-stoplight town in Georgia, Olga was raised in many agricultural-based organizations. She participated in 4-H, FFA, and FCA (now known as FCCLA) like the farm kids. This led her to a career path in agriculture, where she has always felt included.

FFA members sitting on the back of a Ram pickup truck on a winter day.

All Things Agriculture and Academia

Olga always had a passion for reproductive biology. Because of her agricultural background, she knew most reproductive research is conducted on farm animals. This prompted her to pursue an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Sciences (Animal Sciences) from Fort Valley State University. Later, she received a Ph.D. degree in Animal Sciences (Reproductive Biology) from the University of Missouri- Columbia. There she matriculated as a USDA-National Needs Fellow. Now, she serves as the Head of the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (DAES) AND the Assistant Dean of Development for the College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences (CAENS) at Tuskegee University (TU). These roles make agriculture still the center of her world.

Dr. Olga U. Bolden-Tiller, Head of the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (DAES) and the Assistant Dean of Development for the College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences (CAENS) at Tuskegee University (TU).

A Woman Of Many Hats

As a small institution, Tuskegee University offers a plethora of opportunities, especially in agriculture. With around 3,000 students, 15% represent the agricultural programs. As a woman who wears many hats, it is hard to believe Olga ever sleeps.

As the Head of the DAES and a leader at her institution, she believes the needs of students are the most important part of her job. She is a professor, researcher, and teaches courses from a freshman to graduate student level.

When wearing the hat of Assistant Dean of Development for the CAENS, she works with industry leaders and government. This allows her to put the puzzle pieces together from students to professionals.

MANRRS Matters

But from a diversity standpoint, her favorite hat to wear is MANRRS mentor. MANRRS stands for Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences. Its mission is to promote academic and professional advancement by empowering minorities in agriculture. Olga had the privilege of joining MANRRS as an undergraduate student. And she’s never left.

In MANRRS, she found a home at every university she attended. The members are similar people with relatable experiences and a passion for agriculture, just like her. As you can imagine, she was very excited to become an advisor for MANRRS in her current role.

Embrace Being Different

As an advisor, she encourages MANRRS members to embrace their differences.

Olga knows what it is like to be the “only”. In life, many times she found herself as the only one. She saw different types of people from an early age by growing up at a pace where it was good to be different. When challenges and opportunities arise, she addresses them with an attitude that she is supposed to be there.

Young African American girl in preschool classroom smiling at camera.

Inclusion vs Diversity

In fact, Olga is not particularly fond of the word diversity.

She prefers inclusion. To her, diversity emphasizes differences. Inclusion encourages each and every one of us to look at our differences and enjoy them together. Her advice to all young women looking for a career in agriculture is:

  1. Stay true to yourself.
  2. Look for the positive in every situation.
  3. And find the reasons why you can opposed to reasons why you can’t.

Everybody Eats

Find More Stories at Everybody Eats

We all eat, and that is why farming will always matter.  Everybody Eats is where the stories of food and farming intersect.  

These stories told through my FarmHer lens connect us to our food and more importantly, the people behind it.  

Everybody Eats is a collection of stories of those who protect our rural communities, who grow our food with extraordinary care, and who provide support, education, and assistance to make sure Everybody Eats. 


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