Jason Valentine

Photo by John Eisele/CSU Photography

Outstanding Grad: Jason Valentine
College of Agricultural Sciences

story by Jeff Dodge
published May 8, 2023

Jason Valentine always knew he wanted to be the first in his family to go to college, he just wasn’t sure how he could afford it.

Valentine was born and raised in Grand Junction. He played football until his freshman year in high school, when he had to quit because he had gotten too many concussions. He was a good student in high school, graduating with a 3.9 GPA.

Valentine describes his family as very low-income. The only way he was able to attend Colorado State was with grants provided by the Osage Nation, his father’s Native American tribe.

“If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I would’ve been able to stay in college,” Valentine said.

CSU was the only school he applied to because he wanted to stay in-state, and he had enjoyed a previous visit to Fort Collins, although he had never set foot on campus.

changing majors

Valentine acknowledges that he felt a bit lost during his first year at CSU and struggled with mental health issues. He started as an open option engineering major but found himself drawn to agricultural sciences in part because of his hometown, which is well known for its nearby grape vineyards and peach orchards.

After making his move to the College of Agricultural Sciences, in fall 2019 he was approached by Elias Quiñonez, the college’s manager of student life and diversity, who was recruiting members to serve on a new Student Equity Team he was envisioning.

“Elias likes to call that his baby,” Valentine says with a laugh, referring to the team that he ended up joining.

The CAS Student Equity Team is focused on goals such as inclusion and accessibility, and has representatives from various communities, including people of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ+ students.

“Our goal is to make campus a safe place for everyone and help them find their people,” Valentine says.

‘servanthood leadership’

“Jason has displayed his strength and influence through servanthood leadership,” said Quiñonez, who nominated Valentine to be the college’s outstanding graduate. “Jason served as a student leader representative in the College of Agricultural Sciences Student Equity Team and represented our Latinx and Native American student voice. His leadership has strengthened our college and set an excellent example for those behind him.”

Valentine, who is graduating with a concentration in horticultural business management, is particularly interested in controlled environmental agriculture, or indoor grow operations like vertical gardens or plant factories based in urban areas. He said his interest in that type of farming intensified after the supply-chain issues that emerged during the pandemic.

Valentine realized that having local sources of agriculture is not only key to cities being self-sufficient, but it is also better for the environment because it reduces the need to transport food long distances. Plus, it’s easier for people to get fresher, healthy food when it’s being grown nearby.

“One day I want to start my own greenhouse or agricultural business,” says Valentine, whose spent recent summers working for the Fort Collins Nursery.

Jason Valentine Sketch

“One day I want to start my own greenhouse or agricultural business.”

— Jason Valentine

In addition to Quiñonez, Valentine said he has had several mentors in the College of Agricultural Sciences, including Assistant Professor Josh Craver and Master Instructor Joe Eakes. Valentine took three courses taught by Eakes, who introduced him to the concept of vertical farming, which was the topic of Valentine’s capstone project.

For the individualized portion of his capstone, he conducted market research to create a business plan for vertical farming. But his capstone also included a group project in which Valentine and his peers created a land-use plan for a farm east of Aurora that had been owned by Colorado’s first known Black farmer. The student team proposed that one parcel of the farm be used for educational and community events, while another parcel be used for greenhouses, a plan that the owners liked.

“That was really cool,” Valentine says of the experience. “That was definitely a highlight of college for me.”

Another highlight was his first public speaking opportunity, at the unveiling of the “Good Earth” sculpture by Native artist Roxanne Swentzell in November 2021 outside the Nutrien Agricultural Sciences Building.

As for being the first in his family to go to college, Valentine says he has tried to set an example for his three younger siblings. His youngest sister seems poised to follow in his footsteps by attending CSU.

“You’ve just got to get out there and do it and you’ll find success,” Valentine says. “It’s not necessarily just about college, it’s about going after it, whatever your passion is.”

Grad Cap Graphic

outstanding grads

The Class of 2023 represents the very best of Colorado State University, showing courage in the face of adversity in the pursuit of their degrees. Read more stories of some of the outstanding students who are graduating this fall. read more