A Transformative Program

Josh McGillEducation

By J. Scott Angle

Morgan McKenna always knew she’d return home some day. Three previous generations of McKennas hadn’t just made a living from citrus. They’d made a life of it. It’s a life she wanted, too.

Morgan saw the family business as family first and business second. She was most interested in the emotional rewards of coming home to be part of the operation, the chance to bond with her father and uncle running the business.

She had left for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. That led to a job with Syngenta and moving away to California. She found a way back to Florida within the company. But homecoming was still some day.

Morgan McKenna leads a reflection activity with a Wedgworth classmate.

It was the UF/IFAS Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources that taught her that the time to pursue your passion is now, not some day. A fourth-generation citrus producer, she’s back as an assistant production manager at McKenna Brothers, Inc.

When Ray Royce went through Wedgworth nearly a generation earlier, he decided he was right where he needed to be, leading a citrus association, but that he could serve his industry more effectively by reaching out beyond citrus.

McKenna and Royce are among Florida citrus leaders who regard Wedgworth as transformative in the way it prepared them to be better servants to citrus.

The industry is flush with Wedgworth alumni: Former Florida Citrus Mutual Presidents Tom Mitchell and John Barben; Pam Fentress; Jim Snively; John and Mason Smoak; David, Mark and Wes Wheeler; Aaron Himrod; Callie Walker and Kate English; and Tom Kirschner are among those who have gone through the two-year program.

Ray Royce

Wedgworth focused McKenna on where she could make the greatest impact right now. It convinced her that it was time to serve the industry while there was still an industry to serve, and while she still had mentors to help her learn what she’d need to know to lead the family business into its second century.

Her father and uncle would be able to pass along to McKenna the know-how they’d inherited and added to. She’d learn by their example what it takes to be a business and industry leader. And she’d get to partner with her cousin Emily McKenna so they’d be ready for the day when they take over for the brothers.

She also focused her volunteer service on citrus, joining the Citrus Research and Development Foundation board. She’s currently its vice president.

McKenna potentially has decades of service to the industry ahead of her. She is among the youngest Wedgworth participants in the program’s 30-year history.

Royce was the second-oldest member of his class and already six years into the job he still has today, executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association.

Royce takes care of Lake Placid and Highlands County first. In fact, since Wedgworth, he has served as vice mayor of his city. He chairs the Highlands County Economic Development Commission. He’s now 20 years into his job as association leader.

But Wedgworth expanded his we’re-all-in-this-together outlook. By we, he means all sectors of agriculture. Royce has deep friendships with people in forestry, vegetables, cattle and nurseries. Royce has chaired both Wedgworth’s alumni association and its advisory board.

While Wedgworth is not a prerequisite, six of his 14 board members are Wedgworth alumni.

The national and international trips that were part of his Wedgworth experience, the constant contact with colleagues outside of citrus, and the Wedgworth emphasis on communicating with and understanding people with different perspectives have broadened Royce’s view of the world.

In a world where a pest from abroad can devastate the industry, where you can learn from other nations about how they’ve addressed challenges to their citrus industries, and regulations in Europe can affect what you grow in Lake Placid, Royce — and Florida citrus — benefit from that broader view.

Royce describes Wedgworth as a two-year program that has been changing his life for 15 years. He tells would-be Wedgworthers that participation, both in the programming and then as an active alumnus, is making a long-term investment in your development as a person and a leader.

It has helped Royce change his approach to problems. He complains less about them and focuses more on generating solutions.

Wedgworth celebrates 30 years of programming this year, and McKenna’s Class XI graduates in July. Citrus has been represented in most classes going back at least to Fentress in 1994. Applications will open in late spring 2023. Contact Christy Chiarelli at ccw@ufl.edu for more information about the program.

Wedgworth can help, as it did for McKenna, bring you “home” to citrus. It can also, as it’s done for Royce, take you far outside the industry while never forgetting your own grove and the need to lead for the good of your Florida citrus colleagues.

J. Scott Angle (jangle@ufl.edu, @IFAS_VP) is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of UF/IFAS.