Class III visited the Taj Mahal in India as part of their international trip.

With the mission of building a network of informed and engaged leaders to advance the natural resource industries in Montana, REAL Montana is a leadership training program that provides individuals with professional skill building opportunities.

Initial planning for REAL Montana, which stands for Resource Education and Agriculture Leadership, began in 2012 and the program continues to gain traction with every class. REAL Montana is funded through a partnership between Montana State University Extension and private industry.  

“In 2012, Montana was one of the only states that didn’t have an ag leadership program. REAL Montana is unique because we incorporate natural resources as well because our state is so diverse,” explained Tara Becken, director for REAL Montana.

REAL Montana is broken up into a two-year cycle of classes. Each class consists of 20 individuals who are competitively selected based on their leadership involvement and their leadership potential. Each individual must pay $3,000 in tuition and the program is targeted towards adults who already gain the majority of their income from Montana’s natural resources. Class IV, the most recent class of the program, will begin curriculum in September of 2019 and education will continue through May of 2021.

Once selected, individuals spend the next two years attending seminars across the state, going on tours and engaging in networking opportunities, all while developing leadership skills they can take back to their respective industry. At the end of the first year of the class, participants spend one week in Washington D.C., learning about policy on a national scale.

Another unique aspect to REAL Montana is the international trip, which occurs during year two of the program. Classes in the past have visited India, China and Columbia. The international location for the current class has yet to be determined, but the goal is to find a location that will push participants out of their comfort zone and encourage them as leaders.

“Often times the majority of our class has never traveled outside of the United States before, so not only do they gain skills on how to travel abroad, they also gain comradery with the rest of the group. They also learn how Montana fits into the global picture,” said Becken.  

The international trips in the past have been more ag-centric, but they try to fit in as many natural resource learning opportunities as they can. Becken stressed however that a big component of the international trip is cultural and humanitarian awareness. For example, when Class III visited India, they had the opportunity to visit an orphanage and bring them much needed supplies.

“We try to make these trips as well rounded as we can,” Becken stated.

Participants in the REAL Montana program get to analyze the complex issues facing Montana’s ag and natural resources industry, and because participants come from a wide array of backgrounds, the class offers individuals the opportunity to build coalitions with people across the state.

“This is really a good opportunity for people to learn about the struggles and successes of other industries. Honestly, when you get to talking with people from all corners of the state, you realize they face a lot of the same issues,” Becken explained.

REAL Montana continues to keep Montana and its industries strong by striving to develop the leadership potential in individuals dedicated to maintaining a way of life. For more information about REAL Montana, please visit their website,

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