Dr. Magan Lewis, equipment and automated field sensing lead from Bayer Crop Science, promotes the value of science to girls and women through mentorship.
Lewis recently spoke at North Dakota State University (NDSU) during a presentation entitled: “Ignite Your Spark: Uplifting the Next Generation of Leaders in Agriculture.”
Lewis graduated from NDSU with a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics in 2012 and has become an award-winning scientific leader and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) advocate. She has received many recognitions, including being named in Des Moines Business Record’s “Forty under 40,” and she was most recently recognized as one of the 10 next-generation leaders in Seed World magazine.
She lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband and two daughters, and is a co-leader of her local 4-H Cloverbud chapter.
“I see future leaders, I see future scientists, I see current scientists – I’ve mentored over 300 individuals throughout my life. I mentor 45 currently today across the globe. Together, we make the world a better place. So just thank you for what you do and let’s dive in and ignite your spark,” Lewis said.
Lewis said she was grateful to grow up in my dad’s science lab.
“My mom and dad were both educators – community trailblazers. They taught me at a young age to make every interaction count,” she said. “They taught me the impact that leaders and pillars can have on communities, not just locally, but worldwide.”
Lewis wasn’t always sure that she wanted to have a career in science – there were other things she liked doing.
“But at a point in my career I had to pause and say, ‘Hey, I want to give back to farmers. I want to give back to where my roots were and I want to give back to help feed the growing population,’” she said. That decision launched her journey as a global agriculture leader.
At first, Lewis thought she would be a professor.
“NDSU taught me to embrace the unknown. NDSU taught me to be adaptable – to be flexible. You need to step outside your comfort zone and go get it,” Lewis said, adding she takes that advice and says “yes” to one activity outside her comfort zone every year.
After receiving her doctorate, Lewis took a position as a soybean breeder in Grand Forks, N.D., and then transitioned into a position as a corn breeder in Minnesota.
“My first day as a corn breeder, I showed up in my company vehicle, ready to make selections, and ready to meet my team. They handed me a broom and said, ‘Hey, go sweep the back room and come back in a couple of hours,’” she said.
While sweeping the floor with some contract workers, she was able to connect with them on a deep level.
“I was able to grow with them, and then that made us a stronger team. The secret to success is not about ‘I’ – it is about ‘we.’ It’s about how do you help your partner, your team, and get to the next level? How do you inspire them and elevate them? And most importantly, how do you champion them?” Lewis said.
In 2013, executives at Dow AgroSciences asked Lewis (still a corn breeder) if she could drive them around and show them sunflowers. As it turned out, it ended up being a “positive door” for her.
“They saw that I had a passion for people,” she said. “In 2013, I began my people leadership journey and we relocated to South Dakota, where we have a testing footprint. The team and I built a multi-million dollar research facility from the ground up.”
Dow Agrisciences merged with other companies to form Corteva Agriscience, so Lewis relocated to Des Moines to help with the merger. She now works for Bayer Crop Science.
“At Bayer Crop Science today, my role is really about the development, validation, and global deployment of high impact digital tools,” she said. “My night job is STEM outreach.”
She became a mom of two daughters and wanted to inspire the future generation to get out and “be their best versions.”
“My husband and I co-founded a STEM camp. We bring science in for 5-8-year-olds. I challenge you to really connect with our future generation because they are hungry for innovation and curiosity and they're ready to go get it,” she said.
Lewis used to use the word “failure” often. When she was a grad student at NDSU, Richard Horsley, barley breeder, told her, “Stop focusing on the word ‘failure’ and start calling it ‘unexpected results.’ It really just helped me think about failure differently. And this different mindset, putting positivity and energy boosting to learning, was inspirational.”
Lewis said it is important for those in agriculture to have “non-negotiables.” Some of her non-negotiables are her family, learning, and empowering the future generation.
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The following are some important things to keep in mind, according to Lewis:
“I love learning,” she said. “I love the ability to think about how we can make our farmers more sustainable and productive. How do we protect our natural resources and how do we enhance and embrace new technology and help our farmers do the same outreach?” she said.
• Empowering children
“To unleash their creativity and innovation means our world and the communities that we live in are going to be a better place,” she said.
• Global connectivity
“It is an energy-booster to meet individuals from different countries, different areas, to hear diversity of thought,” she said.
• Separating personal and professional life
“I have two cell phones and I know that we've had this debate with some of my awesome Bayer colleagues on the table, but I have two phones, personal and professional,” she said. “I actually lock my professional phone in the garage in a plastic tote just to show the divider of this is family time.”
• Be okay saying ‘no’
“I said ‘no’ 363 times last year,” she said. “It’s really good to focus on you and use your time wisely.”
• Know your brand
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” she said.
• Know your strengths and be able to share them in 30 seconds
“Think about things strategically and set yourself up for success or you will set yourself up for burnout,” she said. “Think about your strengths and know it is around your passion. Strengths are really important. You have to invest in yourself.”
• Be positive
“If you wake up every day positive and grateful, and you end the day positive and grateful, what do you think it does to your productivity? If you end the day negative, what does it do to your productivity?” she said.
• Know your resources
“Know your people that you can trust in and always ask for help when you need it,” she said. “We’re all human and we all have similar passions.”
Lewis ended by giving her opinion of what the workforce of the future looks like.
“There are some core skill sets that we’ll embrace with the new generations, the new way of thinking, the new way of working,” she said. “So how are we setting our students up for success? Have empathy, active listening, be there for the team, know what makes them tick, know what makes them upset, and be there when things aren’t okay. Be a true empathetic leader.”
Lewis reminds everyone to “find your balance, find who inspires you, who mentors you, who challenges you to go to the next level and hang on to that energy reserve.”
“Most importantly, I don't want you to lose the spark that makes you (who you are). I lost my spark. Surprise! I did. I was pushing too hard, and I was in a 24/7 harvest operation, had six crews going. I was the one on call, and I think I spent more time on the call with the tow truck, tow truck companies to pull combines out of the mud than I did sending crews out,” she said.
“But I found my spark again and for that I’m grateful because I have amazing leaders, mentors, coaches and family support that makes me who I am,” Lewis concluded.