Dr. Jewel Bronaugh’s path to leadership in the agriculture sector wasn’t exactly typical – and she gives ag-based youth programs the credit for helping her find her way. Bronaugh currently serves as commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), but it wasn’t the career she anticipated earlier in life.
Bronaugh grew up in Petersburg, Va., and attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1989. Following in her parents’ footsteps, Bronaugh became a teacher, then earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in adult education and career and technical education, respectively, at Blacksburg’s Virginia Tech.
It wasn’t until 2001 that Bronaugh began her career in agriculture, which is when she became a 4-H Extension specialist at Virginia State University (VSU) in her hometown.
“Taking the position in 4-H and youth development in VSU’s College of Agriculture changed the trajectory of my career; I was planning on building a career as a college professor,” says Bronaugh, the 16th commissioner of VDACS and the first African-American woman in the U.S. to serve in this capacity. “The work I did with Virginia Cooperative Extension helped develop the core of what I believe in today, and it’s what introduced me to the wonderful world of agriculture.”
While in that role, Bronaugh earned a national certification in bullying prevention and developed and delivered programs to help Virginia 4-H leaders identify and combat bullying. She soon became VSU’s associate Extension administrator and was then appointed the dean of VSU’s College of Agriculture in 2010. Bronaugh became the state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency in 2015 and later served as the executive director of the Center for Agricultural Research, Engagement and Outreach at VSU.
Due to her many years building a career in agricultural leadership, Bronaugh stepped into her current role in 2018. It’s an opportunity she calls a “dream come true.”
“Serving as commissioner of VDACS allows me to represent agriculture not only on the state level but also nationally and internationally,” Bronaugh says. “It’s a unique job that I feel truly fortunate to have, and I take the responsibility very seriously.”
Because of the impact agricultural education had on her career and the many ways she has seen both 4-H and FFA influence young people, Bronaugh is a strong proponent.
“Organizations like FFA and 4-H can empower our youth and help them develop leadership skills in a safe, fun environment, and their involvement can help them stand out in a really positive way,” she says. “Being part of these organizations has the potential to be a game changer for young people and lead them to grow in ways that will prove beneficial no matter what they decide to pursue.”