By Elise Brown and Chuck Gill, Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK — Two students in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences were among only 12 chosen nationwide to participate in a program designed to call attention to the need for teachers of agriculture.
Jillian Gordon, of Birdsboro, a sophomore majoring in Agricultural and Extension Education with minors in International Agriculture and Agribusiness Management, and Heather Pray, of Robesonia, graduate student in Agricultural and Extension Education pursuing her teaching certification, have been selected as 2012-2013 Teach Ag Ambassadors.
The Teach Ag Ambassadors program is part of the National Teach Ag Campaign, an initiative that raises awareness of the need for agriculture educators. The program gives future agriculture teachers the opportunity to share their passion for agriculture, build professional networks and develop valuable communication and leadership skills.
As part of their outreach, the ambassadors will facilitate the Teach Ag booth at the national Future Farmers of America (FFA) convention in Indianapolis in October. While there, they also will prepare and present agriculture lessons to local middle school students.
Gordon said that she became interested in becoming an ambassador after talking to ambassadors at a previous year’s convention. She is most looking forward to presenting agriculture lessons to middle school students.
“I am very excited to be able to work with younger students and to instill the thought that agricultural education may be something they want to be a part of,” she said.
Gordon became interested in teaching agriculture through her own experiences in agriculture programs and FFA in high school.
“My teacher and adviser pushed me and encouraged me to go forward and achieve the fun things I did,” she said. “I wanted to have the same impact on students as she did. To this day, I know I can reach out to her for anything I need.”
Pray also became interested in teaching agriculture through her high school experiences. She served as an agriculture teaching laboratory assistant and helped manage various areas of the agriculture department. She also taught a few classes.
As an ambassador, Pray will be attending her first national FFA convention.
“This will be a whole new, life-changing experience for me,” she said. “I’m looking forward to meeting new people and sharing my passion for teaching agriculture. It is my hope that I’ll be able to help at least one student make the decision to become a future agriculture educator.”
Pray said she is looking forward to the many opportunities available to positively influence students.
“As an agriculture teacher, you get to teach about a variety of subjects from animal science to ag mechanics and everything in between,” she said. “I’m looking forward to opening up the minds of my future students to the agricultural world and all that it encompasses.”
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey showed the United States is facing a shortage of agricultural scientists in coming years. However, that shortage can be filled by preparing future agricultural scientists in secondary school agriculture programs, according to Daniel Foster, Gordon’s adviser and student-teacher coordinator for the Penn State Agricultural and Extension Education program.
“For those programs to be successful, time and time again, we have found that the single most important element is a highly qualified teacher,” he said. “In the United States, we have had a shortage of agriculture teachers for more than 30 years.
“When we do not have qualified teaching candidates available to schools, we have secondary students losing out on the opportunity to participate in an applied science course of agricultural education.”
Foster emphasized that current students pursuing their teaching certification for agricultural education are the most effective recruiters for the field.
“It is a great testament to the quality of our students that Penn State was the only university to have two students selected for the ambassadors program,” he said. “We have great students who embrace the challenge of being an influential leader and who will be the leaders of agricultural education for decades to come.”
Gordon is looking forward to the opportunity to influence students positively as an agriculture teacher.
“An ag teacher gets to be a teacher, a guidance counselor, a mentor and a friend,” she said. “Where else can you get that? I am unbelievably excited to be able to teach what I love and love what I teach.”
The National Teach Ag Campaign is an initiative of the National Council for Agricultural Education led by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. It is funded by the CHS Foundation and Landmark Nurseries as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.