Leah Finney Curtis currently works for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation as Policy Counsel and Sr. Director for Member Engagement. She is a 2007 graduate, completing a degree in agricultural communication.
Leah decided to pursue an agricultural communication degree because she felt that the industry needs people who can convey its message to the rest of the world and to help policymakers get to the the right results when they consider the laws and regulations governing agriculture. Just as important, she felt our industry needed some of their own that can help work through legal issues and translate the “legal-ese” of court decisions and regulations into information that is actually understandable and usable in everyday life.
[ACEL]: Why did you choose to attend The Ohio State University?
[Curtis]: I actually transferred to Ohio State after starting my undergraduate education at a much smaller institution. I found that school to be too small though, and wanted a university that could provide me both the small community feel of my own college, but the opportunities of diversity of all types in my education. Ohio State gave me the opportunity to be continuously challenged with new experiences, new ideas and viewpoints.
How did your education at Ohio State influence your choice of career or your career path?
I was never without ideas of what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was easier to pick out what I didn’t want to be. But, being at Ohio State and my internship at the Ohio Department of Agriculture helped me hone in on the law and policy as something I really loved and felt could make a difference for people like my family. I saw the need that existed in the ag industry for legal counsel that not only knew the law but understood the practical way of life that comes with agriculture, and could help shape the policies that govern our industry.
What were you involved in as an Ohio State student?
I was involved with Alpha Sigma Upsilon sorority, sang in the Women’s Glee Club, and worked throughout my college career, including with the Deptment of Animal Sciences, the Ohio Pork Producers, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Collegiate 4-H was also a very important part of my undergraduate experience that provided me life-long friendships with people outside my own college that had that same 4-H background.
What classes did you enjoy the most while at Ohio State?
I really enjoyed the classes that got me out of my comfort zone. I decided to add an interdisciplinary minor my junior year that was called “Legal Foundations of Society” and it exposed me to classes that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, like “the sociology of law,” “women and crime,” and “law and economics.” While I loved the comfort of being on the CFAES campus, these classes really helped me to grow intellectually and see things from completely different perspectives that I never would have experienced otherwise.
My favorite was actually a course in CFAES, but not in my major. I took an introductory Food Science course to fulfill one of my science credits. Not only was the class one of the most enjoyable, but it is one of the most useful I have ever taken. Food safety laws and regulations are a big part of my job today, but it also just helps with everyday meal planning and cooking as a parent.
What professor, faculty or staff member had an impact on your education/career?
Dr. Buck was incredibly supportive of me as I was working toward law school. I know her letters of recommendation certainly helped me and I appreciate all the counsel she gave me as a student during that time (even though she technically wasn’t my adviser!). Dr. Jill Pfister was also instrumental in helping me navigate the systems of the university as a transfer student, when I could have easily fallen through the cracks.
What is your favorite memory related to your time at Ohio State?
In my undergraduate days, my favorite memory was a Collegiate 4-H trip we took to Louisiana State University for the National Collegiate 4-H conference. The trip was only two years after Hurricane Katrina, and while we visited the state we took part in a service project to do hurricane clean-up in St. Bernard Parish, south of New Orleans. We mainly cleaned up a street median, and re-set a Blue Star Highway Sign. But, the number of people who stopped to thank us for that small contribution will always stick with me. Visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras didn’t hurt to make the trip memorable either!
What was your first job following your education at Ohio State?
After my undergraduate degree, I went directly to law school on the other side of campus. During my time at the law school, I worked for the Student Housing Legal Clinic and the University’s Legal Affairs Department.
For what schools, companies and/or organizations have you worked throughout your career?
I began at the Ohio Farm Bureau as a legal intern during my last year of law school. After the bar exam, I was hired on as the Director of Legal Education, where my focus was on education and explanation of laws that impact agriculture and farms. I moved then into the role of Director of Agricultural Law, overseeing the legal activities of the OFBF policy department and providing legal review of legislation and regulations. I moved into my most recent role as Policy Counsel and Sr. Director of Member Engagement last fall, where I also oversee the member engagement staff of subject matter experts in law, energy and livestock policy, in addition to my role in representing the organization in its legal advocacy efforts.
During your career, honors or awards have you been presented?
I was selected to take part in the Ohio State Bar Association Leadership Academy. I was also appointed to the Bar Association’s membership task force and to the Women in the Profession Section Council. I also received an award from the American Farm Bureau Federation for Best Audio News Story for an episode of my Legal with Leah podcast.
As of today, what is your favorite career highlight?
One of the topics I have spent the most time on during my nearly eight years at OFBF, has been the Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) tax program. This program provides important property tax treatment to farmers, but issues in the workings of the program had caused property taxes to skyrocket. In 2017, after three years of non-stop work, we were able to see important CAUV reforms enacted by the Ohio General Assembly. We are just beginning to see the results, but I’m so glad I was able to lend my expertise to this effort that has already resulted in 30% lower land valuations across the state.
What advice would you give to a current student?
Get out of your comfort zone! Take classes on topics of personal interest that are not in your college and not in your major. Get out of your own echo chamber, and be challenged by the vast resources around you.
What did ACEL cultivate in you?
ACEL cultivated in me the need to always seek to understand before you speak. You cannot productively communicate with someone if you have no context of where they are coming from and why they feel or think the way they do.