Amazing Students

Kristen Dunning

UGArden is one of Kristen Dunning's favorite spots on campus. "Being at UGArden, I am constantly reminded of my love for agriculture, horticulture, gardening and simply being connected to the environment," she said. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is home for Kristen Dunning—from research at UGArden to serving as president of MANRRS and a CAES ambassador. Dunning is committed to improving diversity in the agricultural industry, from farm to table. “My passion is paving the way for a more diverse and inclusive future for the agricultural industry,” she said.

Dallas, Georgia

High school: 
North Paulding High School

Current employment: 
Administration Pathways Student with the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Family ties to UGA: 
My cousin, Arthur Dunning, was UGA’s vice president for public service and outreach from 2000-2010.

Expected graduation:
Fall 2021

Degree objective: 
B.S.A. in agricultural communication with certificates in international agriculture and environmental education

Top university highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
Before coming to UGA, I participated in the UGA Young Scholars program, a six-week program run through the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences that allows high school students and incoming freshmen to view different pathways to careers in the agriculture industry. This program allowed me to make connections and friendships that I still hold dear to my heart today. At the end of the program, I went on my first study abroad to Costa Rica to learn about sustainable practices in agriculture and coffee production. Those 10 days were the time of my life, and it solidified my love for the agriculture industry and international agriculture development.

During my freshman year, I was a member of the UGA flagline and experienced UGA game days firsthand from the field. Performing with fellow team members and traveling across the SEC football nation was unlike anything I had ever experienced and created memories that I will hold on to and cherish forever.

I was also a member of the inaugural cohort of R-House students, where students begin research as soon as they set foot on campus. Under David Knauft in the horticulture department, I studied genetic variations of botanicals in the creation of natural skin care products. With the help of the UGArden, we created soap with anti-inflammatory properties to aid in the treatment of eczema and other skin conditions. At the 2019 CURO symposium, I got to present my findings and pass out bars of soap.

I dedicated my sophomore year at UGA to my involvement with CAES. As a College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences ambassador, I was able to go on trips and attend retreats, banquets, luncheons, seminars. I got to know the faculty, deans and administration. This past year I had the time of my life getting to discuss a college that I love so wholeheartedly to potential students, alumni and financial stakeholders. I became vice president of MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences), a club that embodies everything I hold dear to my heart. Through my involvement with MANRRS, I have been awarded opportunities, scholarships and a community of like-minded individuals in the agricultural industry who all help each other to succeed and flourish not only academically, but professionally.

Kristen Dunning (center, second row) is a CAES Ambassador. (Submitted photo)

At the end of my second year at UGA and this summer, I have been devoting my time to my new Student Pathways position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I am currently with the Agriculture Research Service’s administration team and am loving every second of it. Public service and agricultural advocacy are huge goals in my career and learning how to bring forth this passion in my work has been the highlight of my summer.

This is my third  year at the University of Georgia, I don’t know where it will take me or what opportunities will come my way, but I am excited to find out. I have big plans for extending MANRSS involvement on campus through the newly formed Black Student Union and am excited to see what comes next for the club in the years to come.


  • 2019 John Deere MANRRS Student of the Year and Scholarship Recipient
  • Three-time CAES Scholarship Recipient
  • Ratcliffe Scholars Finalist
  • CURO Research Student and Assistantship Recipient
  • Former R-House Living Learning Community Member

I chose to attend UGA because …
… of Narke Norton. He was the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ diversity coordinator when I first met him. I did not want to go to UGA. I did not think it had a place for me. I applied to 22 different colleges, received acceptances from 21 of them, and full scholarships from nine. I was sure that I would go to a different SEC school, but definitely not UGA. Norton found me at the 2018 Georgia Daze weekend and talked with me about the Young Scholars Program and how CAES could be a home for me. He walked me around and I spent the whole morning talking to CAES professors, students and faculty. I don’t know what happened to me that day but after the event, I broke down crying on the car ride home. There was something about how at home CAES made me feel that led me to send in my commitment deposit that same day. I knew I never wanted to have a college career without the Ag Dawg family that I met that day, and it was the best decision I ever made.

My favorite things to do on campus are …
… hang out in Conner Hall or Four Towers. I love being anywhere that I can talk to CAES faculty, friends and fellow students. I love being in the Academic Affairs office with Pam Cummins and fellow ambassadors. We truly have the best time laughing, recruiting students and just having fun.

When I have free time, I like …
… to go to the UGArden. In spring of my freshman year, I conducted my first CURO research project with David Knauft, the R-House learning community and the UGArden. I observed various genetic differences in chamomile and calendula in efforts to understand how their anti-inflammatory properties could pave the way to a natural remedy for treating eczema. It was then that I truly found my roots in the agriculture industry. Being at UGArden, I am constantly reminded of my love for agriculture, horticulture, gardening and simply being connected to the environment.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …

Kristen Dunning ran for treasurer in the Student Government Association 2020 elections.

… run for treasurer in the Student Government Association 2020 elections. It was a big step out of my comfort zone. However, when I thought about what it would mean to the campus, to CAES, to #AgDawgs, and to me personally, I knew it was time for me to try something new, to push boundaries and open up new opportunities. I am so grateful that I get to add it to my list of unbelievable experiences at UGA. I was able to represent my college and fellow #AgDawgs in a way that truly uplifted me and instilled the upmost pride in the family that CAES has created for its students at UGA.

My favorite place to study is …
… the ecology and forestry buildings. The outdoor areas and turtle pond create the most serene environment for working on projects, reading books or writing papers. I definitely recommend to anyone who may be tired of being cooped up in a library for hours.

My favorite professor is …
… Abigail Borron. I have been able to come to her with anything from academic to personal life struggles. Every single time we talk, she has helped me walk through whatever is of the issue. She truly cares about my well-being as a student and as a human. She is an inspiration career-wise as well. She opened my eyes to the importance of understanding different community relationships with the agriculture industry. I want to follow in her footsteps by creating my own path to helping shape the future of agricultural sciences by placing a lens on minority students and workers. Race and gender play a large role in deeply understanding agricultural systems, which is why I was to dedicate all of my post-undergraduate work to helping uplift and advance these communities. This includes Black farmers, immigrant workers, prison laborers on farms and ranches, members of the H2A programs, students of color and more. My dream is to continue my work with the USDA and then become an agricultural professor at a university to teach courses on these topics.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… Fannie Lou Hamer. Although she has passed on, she was a fearless civil-rights activist. She is most known for founding the Freedom Farms Cooperative, an agricultural cooperative in Sunflower County, Mississippi, dedicated to community-based rural and economic development. She was a Black woman who took up farming as a form of activism, reclaiming the land and the practice for herself and her community. Hamer is the pure epitome of what the intersecting of social justice and agriculture can look like. Her work inspires many present-day organizations such as the Southeast African American Farmers Organic Network, the Southern Black Women’s Initiative, the National Black Food and Justice Alliance and more. If I could just have had the chance to sit down with her for an afternoon and discuss her life’s work from the struggles to the triumphs, I could only imagine the endless opportunities that conversation could inspire.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… start my own farm and natural skin care line. On Oct. 10, I am launching an all-natural and sustainable personal care company, Professional Plant Girl. I’ve always had this distant dream of having my own line of natural skin care products where I create and cultivate everything on my own from the soil to the bottle. I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of Black-owned businesses in the food and agriculture industry also ensuring that they are sourcing their produce from Black farmers, ranchers, dairy producers, etc., so having a business where the support ladder carries and embodies that message throughout every stage of the creation process would be the biggest life accomplishment for me. The UGArden has been an immense help in allowing me to research medicinal plants since my freshman year, so this is truly a full-circle moment for me.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
… build my own ranch house, farm and never look back. My grandparents were farmers in Dixon Mills, Alabama, and my family still looks after and tends to our land down there. Farming is hard and honorable work, so if I didn’t have to worry about finances, I would move back down to Alabama in a heartbeat and follow in my grandparents’ footsteps.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
My passion is paving the way for a more diverse and inclusive future for the agricultural industry. I want nothing more than to study and research all of the historical and current ways minority communities are involved with this industry, from farm to table. I want to be an advocate for equal opportunity for minority farmers, landowners and agricultural laborers. No minority or female farmer should be overlooked or discriminated against for government-funded financial assistance. No minority student should see an agricultural and environmental sciences major on a college brochure and feel that it’s not for them or that they don’t belong there. There is a massive amount of effort and hard work that needs to be implemented in this industry from the ground up to ensure that these voices and issues are not left out of these critical conversations. I believe people are asking the right questions but not addressing the underlying issues of inclusion in the agricultural industry. You cannot understand minority movement through American agricultural systems today by refusing to look at or understand the American agricultural systems of the past. I want to be the person that shines a light on the people that have been overlooked for so long. It is time that the executives in this industry truly sit down and listen to the BIPOC voices of the agricultural and environmental sciences fields, from the farms to the offices. These voices have a lot to say. The future of feeding the world’s increasing population falls heavily on how we, as an industry, come together and collaborate with each other. The path to true understanding of other voices and communities is through our education. In my goals of becoming a professor, I want to open the door to more in-depth and realistic conversations on diversity, equal opportunity and inclusion in this industry.

After graduation, I plan to …
… go to the Peace Corps and then pursue a master’s and doctoral degrees with research in the analysis of how human demographics play a role in agricultural and environmental systems. My ultimate goal is to become a professor and to be a lifetime AGvocate.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
… saying my testimonial speech at the MANRRS breakfast for the 2019 Georgia Daze weekend and having Pam Cummins come up to me after and tell me she wanted me to apply to be a College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences ambassador. My UGA life truly took off that day, thanks to her. I am forever grateful for CAES and all of the opportunities this college has provided me to grow as a student and a person. This is my forever home.

 I #commitTo using my voice to advocate for agriculture workers and issues that need to be heard.