Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Road Ahead: What It Means to Be A NOC by guest blogger Matthew Dodson

The FFA jacket that Matt will
wear during his candidacy
[Editor's Note: We are proud to have the 2013 Pennsylvania FFA National Officer Candidate, Matt Dodson, share about his opportunity to run for National FFA Office]

At the end of June the Pennsylvania FFA Association held their 84th State Convention on the campus of Penn State University.  It was there that I received the honor of representing Pennsylvania FFA as the 2013 National Officer Candidate.  What exactly is a National Officer Candidate?  Every state has the opportunity to send one person each year to the National FFA Convention to run for a position on the National FFA Officer team.  Each candidate must go through an intense interview process which includes personal interviews, writing exercises, stand and deliver speeches, among other tasks.  At the end of the interview process, SIX candidates are chosen to represent the National FFA Organization for the next year.

[To Learn more about the National FFA Officer Selection Process, visit: ]
Until October, I will be spending plenty of time preparing for the process.  I will be going through practice interviews, meeting with business and industry leaders, and learning as much FFA knowledge as I possibly can.  In fact, from July 17th to the 21st I traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin to attend the FFA Alumni Development Conference getting to know some awesome FFA Alumni members and gaining skills to better advocate for the FFA Organization.  

So the big question is WHY do I want to become a National Officer…this is a question that a person should ask themselves when making any decision or pursuing any dream they may have.  To me being a National FFA Officer is an opportunity to serve.  This is something that is at the center of my passions and life principles.  Let me paint a picture of what this looks like and why it is so important.  One weekend I helped to chaperone our youth group's trip to Baltimore, Maryland to attend a Christian conference.  After attending one of the evening sessions, a youth whose name is Cesar had with him some leftovers from his meal that night.  While we were walking, he noticed that there was a homeless man sitting along the sidewalk not too far ahead.  Realizing that the man needed those leftovers more than he did, Cesar went up to the man and offered him the food.  Immediately the man rejected his offer.  Disappointed Cesar walked away wondering why the man had not accepted the gift.  This young man had what I call a heart of service; meaning that when he sees someone in need he does what he can to help out in a loving way.  It did not matter that his act of service was rejected; the important thing is that it was offered.  Too often, we forget what service means. 

In the FFA Organization, our motto states in the last line, "Living to Serve".  My heart of service is in representing FFA members and doing my best to provide them with quality opportunities to improve their lives and their future.  As we look to the future we face many challenges.  These young people need as much encouragement, support and mentorship as we can realistically provide them.  I strongly believe that each one of us has the opportunity and ability to make a difference.  Our heart of service determines where we make that difference.  So why do I desire to serve as a National FFA Officer?  My heart of service goes out to helping these young people strive to be the best they can be.  I believe in mentoring and supporting the future leaders of tomorrow...FFA members!
Alumni Development Conference-
Matt travels to various events as a NOC
To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog

Matthew Dodson 

Guest Blogger

2013 Pennsylvania National

 Officer Candidate 

A PSU Teach Ag! view of the 84th Pennsylvania State FFA Convention

FFA Symbol
State Activity Days at Penn State is a time where secondary Agricultural Education students who are FFA members come together in State College to show off their skills in over 20 different Career Development Events (CDEs) while networking with other students and teachers from across the commonwealth. It is a time to make new friends, learn about other CDEs, and see what different chapters do for fun, fundraising and study techniques. FFA state conventions help to keep the agricultural industry close knit. I know from personal experience that meeting different people at State FFA Convention increased my network of agricultural industry colleagues. While at Penn State in the College of Agricultural Sciences, I recognize a lot of people and their chapter names, which I would not have if I had not attended states and been willing to meet new people.

This past June was the 84th Pennsylvania State Convention. Just as any other conference, it took a lot of work and volunteers to make sure that the convention ran smoothly. Teachers from across the state chair different CDEs  and  individuals in the industry, teachers, or college students judge the contests. Penn State Agricultural Education majors, and members of the student organizations Collegiate FFA and TeachAg! Society are highly encouraged to help out during activities week. One student, Cassidy Cheddar, a junior at Penn State, spent her time helping with the Floriculture CDE, where she helped with the identification portion and other tasks that needed done. This work at the State Convention helped her to realize that the Agricultural Education major was where she really belonged.  Cassidy told me that while she was there she talked with some of the FFA members and teachers. She was re-inspired by the students desire to learn and it caused her to reconsider what she REALLY wanted to major in. Cassidy talked to people that she respected in the same major, cementing her decision to return to Agricultural Education.  Carly Schaffer, another junior Agricultural Education major, helped out as well. Carly did not have FFA in her high school and was not exposed to it until she attended Penn State! Her overall impression of the week was that “It was amazing to see how people pulled together in such a mass amount of energy for the common goal of agriculture, it was pretty inspiring! I left feeling mad that my high school had not given me that opportunity.” Carly also had an interesting misconception of the general session in the auditorium, she thought that they were going to go there to worship corn, but after seeing what happened she was in awe with all the different Career Development Events that the students could get involved in.  She left the week feeling less stressed because she felt like the experience helped to guide her with ideas about what her future curriculum could hold. The college students that help out with State Activity Days really get a lot out of the experience as well as the high school students.

As future educators it is important to make sure that everything is set up and well planned for State FFA Convention, but it is also important to be reminded about why all that effort is being put into three simple days. The high school students learn a lot during the week, even if some of them look like they are just goofing off.  Steph Yoder from Central Columbia High School went to states this year to better herself in the Interview CDE. She had never gone through an actual interview before so it was a good experience for her and she learned what she needed to improve on. This can help her out after she graduates and needs to look for a job and go through a real interview process. During the week her favorite part at the State Convention was making new friends from all over the state and she learned “that even though we are all separate chapters across the state, we all have something in common and I think that is something important. In our individual chapter we need to support each other because we are all looking to improve ourselves.”

Samantha Bliss and other delegates discuss state issues. 
Every student has a different experience at the State Convention. Samantha Bliss from Mount Union Area High School has attended States since she joined FFA in eighth grade.  She participated in a variety of CDEs that ranged from Dairy Judging, public speaking, interview and ended her senior year as a delegate on a board to debate issues for the FFA association. “I know that the input that I provided during these meetings helped make a different in PA FFA and am sure that these changes will go a long way toward improving my chapter as well.” She also said that every year she makes unforgettable memories, but her favorite memory from this year’s convention was seeing the new state officer team elected that included six of her closest friends she met over the years through FFA.

The Pennsylvania State Activity days are important to everyone as they allow for personal and professional growth for all involved. The high school students, college students and teachers all learn a little from each other and focus their energies towards making it possible for it to happen year after year.

The 2013-2014 Newly Elected State Officer Team

 To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog

Jeanne Case
Student Blogger
2014 Dover HS Student Teacher
Twitter: JRose_Case

Monday, July 29, 2013

Entering Year Three: Excited about engaging as a Teacher Leader

[Editor’s Note: Laura Kennedy (Polatnick) came to our teacher preparation program as a graduate student after completing an undergraduate degree in Animal Sciences. She completed an M.Ed in 2011 and is currently entering her third year of teaching agriscience]

My name is Laura Kennedy and I am currently an agriscience teacher at Wilson Middle School in Fishersville, Virginia.  I graduated from Penn State in 2011 with a Masters degree in Agricultural Extension and Education; since then I’ve had the opportunity to work with both secondary and middle school agriculture students. I am now going into my third year of teaching and my second year at the same school! As many will say, the first year as an agricultural teacher can be very challenging – being a new teacher at a new school two years in a row – still just as challenging; but with those challenges come A LOT of fun and life lessons.

Ms. Kennedy and 6th grade Agriscience students engaging
in a wreath making lesson!
As I think back to what brought me to this point, I wanted to make sure that I shared key pieces of information that might help others as they conquer their first few years as an agriculture teacher. First being, do not take on too much your first year of teaching – this is key!!  Many times throughout this year and last, I found myself wanting to be just as great as the other teachers who maybe had 20+ years on me -- and at times I would get discouraged when I would realize I had maybe run out of time and couldn't do certain activities, or I wished I would have planned activities differently because the original plans didn’t work out. As a new teacher feelings of discouragement and frustration then led to questioning whether or not I was cut out for this. At those moments when I felt the most self doubt, I would always think back to what was taught to me by my professors – don’t try and conquer it all in your first few years, you’ll burn out. Remembering this made me feel good, and gave me the confidence as a first year / new teacher to know that even if I didn't get to an activity or event this year, I could and would the next.  I also found myself giving this advice to many of the other new agriculture teachers around the county who were challenged by their own self doubt.

Ms. Kennedy with three of her 2013-14 Chapter Officers
who received a scholarship FFA jacket!
Another piece of information that really stuck with me was the importance of being involved in your professional organizations like PAAE and NAAE – I’m teaching in Virginia so we have the VAAE. These associations grant so many opportunities and provide such great information, not to mention the lasting relationships that you build with other teachers and vendors throughout the state and even the country. Last year I made a promise to myself that I would make it a goal to attend conferences put on by these associations because of the advice that was given to me by my agricultural teacher educators. With that being said I laugh because at this years’ ag. teachers’ conference, I volunteered to become the Northern Area Vice President for VAAE. To be honest I was terrified by the thought of having the extra responsibility -- but with the overwhelming lack of volunteers to fill the position I raised my hand.  What makes me excited about this opportunity is the fact that this association is so important in aiding not only current ag. teachers, but future ones as well -- and it is because of what I have learned throughout this continuing process that I feel so strongly about these associations.

The last thing I would like to share is this – there will be times in life, not just in your career, where opportunities will present themselves and you will feel, for whatever reason inadequate, which then may prevent you from participating – but in those moments, please remember that the only person who is doubting your ability is yourself – push past that and participate, raise your hand and get involved. As Mary Kay Ash (Entrepreneur, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics Inc.) said don't limit yourself; many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, you can achieve.” To all future and current educators, enjoy this year and remember to have some fun!

To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog

Laura Kennedy (Polatnick)
Guest Blogger
2011 PSU AEE Graduate
Twitter: @LaKennedy0906

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Montana Maybe? Penn State AEE Alumnus Explores the Great West!

[A summer reflection by our student blog manager, 2014 Student Teacher Jeanne Case]

One of my roommates is interning with Dow Agri-Sciences in Montana this summer and during her travels she met an agricultural teacher that is a Penn State alumna. After continuously telling me that I absolutely HAVE to get a teaching job in Montana, she gave me the contact information of Jodi Koterba, the PSU alumnus. 

People always tell me that there are not jobs in agricultural education right now- citing stories where friends cannot get jobs. In my opinion, people have trouble getting these jobs because they don’t want to relocate. Dr. Foster has shared close to 500 jobs with the 2013 graduates from 41 states. Both the USDE Secretary, Arne Duncan, and the USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, have publicly commented on the crisis of a shortage of secondary school-based agriscience teachers. In fact, there has been a shortage across the nation for over 30 years, it is just getting much worse!  The nation is in need of agricultural teachers – maybe not necessarily in Pennsylvania at this time, but they are needed across the country. – This is  why I am contacting teachers across the nation to get their stories. (If you are reading this and have a story to share on your state, please comment below or send an email to me at  

Students working on their greenhouse
Montana is different than Pennsylvania, as they have a much smaller population size. In larger populated areas they have multiple teacher programs but most of the state is lightly populated with very small schools. Therefore, some places must combine two or more districts into one building, making the distance that students have to travel to school very great. This negatively impacts intracurricular (like FFA) and extracurricular programs that wish to conduct after school events. Montana’s agriculture is different from Pennsylvania as well since they have a different climate. They get less rainfall, rely more on irrigation and dry land farming, and more than half the state is range lands where they typically use it for grazing cattle, sheep and wildlife. With different a climate it brings different agricultural education. Agriculture education changes as you travel across the country due to the changing climates. It wouldn't do much good to teach about how to raise oranges in Pennsylvania or Montana. That would be a subject better suited for Florida or California.

Jodi Koterba, originally Jodi Hall, graduated from Penn State in 1995 with a degree in Agricultural Education with honors in Ag Ed and Horticulture. She also got her master’s degree in Agricultural Education from Penn State in 1997. She found her first place of employment in Ephrata, PA for nine and a half years. Jodi didn't make her way to Montana until January 2004, when she accepted a 4-H extension agent position in Helena, Montana. However, AFTER 8 months, she ALREADY MISSED TEACHING! This led Jodi to get an Industrial Technology position with Great Falls Public schools, at the time of employment there was not an agricultural program and she had to start it herself!

While Jodi was starting her own program there were some bumps in the road, such as the school district wanting the opportunities for the kids….. but they did’t want to start the program. I am sure many teachers across the nation can relate to this frustration with school district administrations. To begin the program, Jodi started with a landscape curriculum that worked well with the high school construction tech program, where the students build a house from start to finish in one school year. Through that class and the success of the students, the school became more willing to offer more ag classes. One of Jodi’s biggest challenges was informing her school district, the community, parents, and students about the many different aspects of the agriculture industry. (This is something that many teachers struggle with.) Even in Montana, Jodi deals with the issue of people only associating cows, plows and sows with the word agriculture.

Induction of the new chapter officer team. 
This year Montana’s state convention was the highlight of her program, they received four state FFA degrees, had a member elected as a state FFA officer, received 1st place in the hall-of-chapters displays, and had two first places in prepared public speaking and discovery creed competition. Also, during the school year the FFA chapter membership grew from 12 members to 58 members, which made it a wonderfully busy year. The chapter accomplished this  growth after only 5 years of creation, as they were chartered in 2009.

Jodi’s words of advice are “Agricultural Education is a family. It is absolutely critical that you become a part of the professional organizations available. I have taught in Ag Ed and in Industrial Tech. There is no comparison to the support and encouragement available in the Ag Ed community. When you become an Ag teacher and FFA adviser it is a lifestyle commitment. It is important that your significant other, family, and personal life are committed to your profession (and some would say addiction!). I say this with the fondest of hearts as I thought I was leaving in 2004 but was unable to stay away.”

As my roommate was still badgering me about how I really need to teach in Montana because they have more positions open than people, I asked Jodi about the agricultural education situation in Montana. She enlightened me by saying that their state government has begun providing funding to improve state agricultural programs which then makes it possible for programs to start or expand –thus creating more positions that need filled!

To learn more about Montana FFA, visit: Individuals interested in Montana Ag Ed Opportunities should contact Brad King, the Montana Agricultural Education Specialist. He is willing to email updates of teaching positions available in Montana if you send him your contact information (e-mail address and phone number) His office number is 406-444-4451 and his email is

FFA Members walking around during Christmas time.
 To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog

Jeanne Case
Student Blogger
2014 Dover HS Student Teacher
Twitter: JRose_Case

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2012 Follow Up: Doug Masser, a year later = Vandal Pride

Doug in front of the University of Idaho sign,
but still representing the Nittany Lions.
Doug Masser, a 2012 Penn State AEE gradaute, is working on his Masters of Science degree in Agricultural Education at the University of Idaho. Because Doug was certified to teach high school agriculture with his undergraduate degree from Penn State, he is now focused more on research classes and classes that will help him out as a future agricultural teacher. The research he conducts focuses on community support for agricultural education and looks at ways to make community partnership stronger in ways that will improve agricultural education programs. To go along with his assistantship duties Doug also helps to advise the University of Idaho CFFA where he helps with coordinating chapter events, local CDE's and coordinating the National FFA Convention trip. 

Doug and the Idaho's CFFA members
 at National FFA Convention
After Doug graduated from Penn State he did not plan on going to grad school, he thought he was going to teach agriculture in a high school in Pennsylvania. Since he was in Schreyers Honors College at Penn State he had to complete an undergraduate research thesis – he enjoyed the research but he was not thinking about getting his masters until later on in his career. After graduation he went to Korea with other agricultural education majors at Penn State,  he also attended two research conferences to present some of his undergraduate research work. While at the conference, he met a man by the name of Dr. Jeremy Falk (, an assistant professor at the University of Idaho. Dr. Falk encouraged Doug to visit the campus and think about a masters in Ag Ed. When Doug went to visit the campus, he was very wary about moving across the country and leaving Pennsylvania, but he loved his visit and even signed an apartment and his assistantship contract the second day there. Doug said “I am a firm believer that every experience someone has shapes who they are later in life. That’s why when this opportunity fell into my lap; I knew it was too good to pass up.”

Doug helping to run a Parliamentary Procedure workshop.
In regards to living in Idaho, Pennsylvania native said that everyone is really friendly and that the lifestyle is more laid back. Doug thought that he lived in a rural part of Pennsylvania, but living in Idaho there is a lot more land and a lot less people. The agriculture in the state is different than that in Pennsylvania such as in Southern Idaho there are a lot of potatoes, onions and other crops that are grown in irrigated valleys and in Northern Idaho, where Doug is located, there is dry land and wheat farming in the rolling hills. Since the agriculture is different in Idaho from Pennsylvania, the agricultural education is different too. He said that agricultural mechanics is a large aspect with approximately 60% of the agricultural education classes being taught are agricultural mechanics. The other classes include animal, plant, food, and environmental sciences as examples.  However, similar to Pennsylvania, all the teachers are dedicated to their student’s success. Doug has been in grad school for a year and has met many of Idaho’s 120 agricultural teachers and feels that they are a tight knit family that supports each other and are dedicated to the future of agricultural education.

After Doug finishes his masters degree he wishes to return back to Pennsylvania and find a job teaching high school agriculture. He missed the being in the classroom and teaching. However, now that he has moved across the country for his masters degree he is more open to moving and teaching anywhere across the nation. Doug would like to “encourage everyone to stretch themselves to do something different and leave their comfort zone. New situations bring with (them) new challenges that help us all grow as individuals and professionals.”
A piece of University of Idaho's campus.
 To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog

Jeanne Case
Student Blogger
2014 Dover HS Student Teacher
Twitter: JRose_Case

Monday, July 22, 2013

PAAE Summer Conference - Student Teacher Style

[Editor's Note: Every year, we conduct an orientation for cooperating teachers, university supervisors, and teacher candidates to ensure that everyone is on the same page for the upcoming year/internship. We purposefully conduct this at the summer conference of the agricultural teachers association to introduce students to the professional organization. Below is the perspective of one 2014 teacher candidate, Ms. Jeanne Case, who will be student teacher at Dover High School. Follow the adventures of this student teaching group on Twitter at #psuaged14]

A couple weeks ago I attended the Pennsylvania Association of Agricultural Educators (PAAE) conference in Manheim, PA. Since I am interning with the PA Farm Bureau this summer and am living in Harrisburg I was a simple 45 minutes away from the conference – or so I thought. As per typical Jeanne, I got lost and was late despite giving myself an extra 15 minutes when I left home. Thankfully one of my peers, in my student teaching cohort, Mr. Billy Saylor, called me and gave me directions and I did not miss that much of the conference.

My peers and I started the conference meeting with our student teacher mentors and talked about what the perfect student teaching experience would look like. Ideas were thrown around, such as our individual experiences with different aspects of FFA – ACES, SLLC, chapter meetings, CDE’s, etc. We also thought it would be good to go to department meetings, meet with the principal and other teachers in the building, as well as attend a school board meeting. Respect of the students, teachers, and each other was also an important subject. Some people seem to think that the student teachers have to be in competition with each other since we are graduating at the same time and looking for jobs. This year we are striving to work together, to really help each other out, to work as a family and a team. We should be building each other up rather than breaking the group down.  Drama is not an option in our cohort.

After we met with the teachers and Dr. Foster and Dr. Ewing, we split off for some focused instruction for teacher candidates with leaders of the program and recent graduates like Ms. Laura Rice, Ms. Mackenzie McCollum and Mr. Doug Masser. They tried to calm our fears of the upcoming semesters. They also stressed how it is important to dress tastefully because we may have the opportunity to meet important people and it is important to present yourself well because everything is an interview. We went over appropriate clothing for different events.  Dr. Foster is not the best at expressing what girls should be wearing –" uh, nice pants and a shirt" - is not a detailed enough answer for a girl.  Ms. Rice and Mackenzie were really helpful. The individuals running this session also stressed that if we keep up with our work, rather than waiting until the end of the semester, that student teaching really is manageable and will not “kill us”.

Student teacher, Billy Saylor, with the winery grapes
We also received our own teacher " big idea"  books to keep track of any ideas that we may want to use later or things that we will want to look up to implement in the classroom.
Following lunch we split into different groups and went to a session that was hosted by teachers from across the state. I went to an electrical lesson where three different teachers shared how they teach electrical wiring in their class. All of them did it completely different but it still got the same point across.Students learn things differently and it was nice to see different ways to teach the same subject. It will be important to keep that in mind during our teaching career as some techniques may work with some students and not with others – it is good to keep an open mind and be willing to change your teaching style to help a student learn.  Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

As PAAE is an agricultural conference we. of course, have to support ALL aspects of the agricultural industry so we went on an industry tour of a local winery. We toured the farm then got to learn how they process the grapes on the farm and make their product. We even got to sample that product with a little swirl, smell and sip. To bring out the different flavors there were local cheeses and crackers provided as different foods change the taste palate of your mouth and create a different experience.

Student teachers listening to a presentation about the wine industry in PA
To end the evening we had dinner at a local auction barn and played Minute to Win it. Teams were made up of teachers and student teachers alike as we battled to win. It was a good bonding experience for all involved, the participants and spectators alike. Lots of the games were quite silly and it got everyone out of their shells, mingling and forming connections, which is what conferences and networking events are all about. Here are a few example videos of competition in action!!

Dr. John Ewing in the infamous "Pencil Snatch". Mad Skills

Mr. Herb Hoffeditz puts his nose in it!

Our Teacher Educators Team Up. Dr. John Ewing & Dr. Daniel Foster

2014 Student Teachers Billy Saylor and Caleb Wright Exhibit Team Work!

The second day of the conference and the last day for the student teachers had us attending more workshops to learn of opportunities that we can provide to our future students such as certifications, dual enrollment and tests to prove that our students are learning adequately, to name a few.

We were also able to listen to issues happening in the state, such as state days and other events. There was time to network with different teachers from across the state and make connections and friendships. I even met a woman whom I had talked to previously via email and facebook that is an alumni of the Greek organization I am involved with. It turns out that she was in the house the same time as my mom and that she and my mom actually worked together in the pasture research lab sorting different types of weeds. My mom even went to her wedding and took wedding photos for her. I love to network and make connections and I also love to meet alumni as they just seem to pop up out of nowhere and provide excellent resources. I also met another man who is actually the father of my student teacher mentor; I had talked to him on the phone last fall to interview him for a project in one of my AEE classes. It was very nice to be able to put faces to names.

We, the student teachers, ended our portion of the conference with a meeting to discuss why it was important that we were there and the importance of professional organizations. Agriculture is such a small industry while being so large.  It is important to help each other out and share ideas, as it helps the industry to constantly grow in the forward direction.  On behalf of this spring’s student teachers I know that we were very appreciative of the opportunity to attend the conference, to make friends and to learn a lot about the profession that we are about to enter. It was a great jump start to the fall semester!

To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog

Jeanne Case
Student Blogger
2014 Dover HS Student Teacher
Twitter: JRose_Case

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Domestic Study Away: Teach Ag! Society sees Wonders of the World!

Note from the Editor: The following is an excerpt/observation of Jillian Gordon, a 2015 student teacher candidate and a participant in the 1st annual PSU Teach Ag Society Domestic Study Abroad Trip to Arizona. The Trip was for 8 days, and 13 teacher candidates traveled over 1500 miles visiting 6 outstanding programs (2 urban, 2 rural, 2 reservation) and 3 state/national parks. A huge thank you to the CHS Foundation for their continued support of the National Teach Ag Campaign and programs to prepare multiculturally competent agriscience teachers for the world! This is the first of what we hope to be several installments of observations by members who attended the trip.

Sitting off by myself, I stared off into the Grand Canyon, wonder and curiosity sifting through my brain.  The site of the sheer enormity offered by the Grand Canyon put me in a place that I had never really thought about before. Regardless of how long you stare, you will never really take it all in. Regardless of how hard you try, it would be almost impossible to see every last piece of it and appreciate it for all that it’s worth. Thinking to myself, things began to click. I am a huge fan of cheesy metaphors, and this one might have just been the best I’d had yet. Travelling across the country to see all of these amazing agricultural science programs in Arizona, I thought it was only fitting we stopped at Grand Canyon National Park to see one of the wonders of the world. And if you really think about it, the Grand Canyon and Agricultural Education have a lot in common. Now before you write me off as nutty, before you start wondering who exactly let this crazy girl on this trip, how about I get you a little context, shall we?

I like to call myself an agricultural education junkie, and in May I was able to get my fix and scurry across the country to see the Grand Canyon State with Penn State’s Teach Ag Society on their first every Domestic Study Abroad Trip made possible by a generous sponsorship from the CHS Foundation. Ever since I had first signed up for the trip, I was counting down the days until the semester ended and I was boarding a plane. When the trip finally came around however, the departure was not what I was expecting. I was sick from an ill-timed head cold, queasy from the shaky landing that the Phoenix airport offered it’s travelers, and worn out from a hectic semester. At first, the trip that I had been so excited about seemed to turn into something that I was dreading. I will be honest, for the majority of the trip my body felt miserable. My mind, however, was healthier than it had been in a long time.

After travelling over 1500 miles across the Grand Canyon State, I am sure that you could guess that I took in plenty of remarkable sites. I was able to see the desert landscape, something that until then I had only pictured in my head as a Road Runner cartoon. It was refreshing to see that Arizona was nothing like I had imagined, after driving through beautiful state forests and finally the mesas and red rocks of the north. Travelling north onto the Navajo Reservation, I was able to see the beautiful Canyon De Chelly and as previously mentioned, Grand Canyon National Park.

The sites were beautiful. The truly touching experience, however, was the reason we came in the first place, to see what ag education was like on the other side of the country.

Looking back, I couldn't think of a more fulfilling and diverse experience in learning about school-based secondary agricultural education than the one we had in Arizona. From urban to rural, to schools on the Navajo reservation, the variety of programs we saw was mind-boggling. The more rural schools of Payson and Chino offered facilities unlike most of what we can see in Pennsylvania. A full working farm at Chino gave students the opportunity to truly have hands on experiences to supplement what they were learning in the classroom. While visiting Payson we were able to see a facility that was completely separate from the rest of the school, a show barn that allowed students to house their project animals and learn how to care for these animals. Heading further north to Monument Valley and Many Farms, I received a lesson not only on agricultural education in the area, but also the difference in culture. We were able to engage in Native American education delivered by a state public school, Monument Valley (A school noted by Time Magazine Schools that Work) and a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding school in Many Farms.  Students who I at first perceived to be so different from myself were more similar than I could have imagined. With seemingly all 49 states in between our homes, who could have guessed that I would have clicked with these students just as I do with students here in Pennsylvania?

The more urban schools of Peoria and Gilbert offered the same shock and awe of the previous schools. Although each program was so amazing different, each program fit exactly what their community needed, making them each equally successful. While every program we visited was completely different from the next, there were two common factors throughout the entire trip, passion and dedication. When talking to students about their involvement in their programs, you could see their eyes glisten and their smiles just light up when thinking about the experiences they've had. All of the teachers we interacted with had the passion and dedication to their students. I watched an ag educator choke on her words when talking about having to leave her program to move closer to her husband. I was just about ready to cry along with her. To put it simply, students are students and Ag Teachers are Ag Teachers! No matter where you go, they are passionate, they are curious and they are smart. Students are capable of more than you could ever predict. On top of that, I was able to see that no matter where you go agricultural educators put students first.

So now you’re wondering, “how exactly is the Grand Canyon like Ag Education?” From the perspective of the student, the Agricultural Education profession can have an impact as vast as the Grand Canyon itself. The student might not ever be able to see just how large the impact their teacher has not only on them but also on their peers. But neither will the teacher. Now does this mean that ag educators are the be all and end all? That once they've impacted a few of their students that their job is done? Absolutely not. When we compare the size of the Grand Canyon to the immensity of our planet itself, it seems rather, small doesn't it? That does not mean that it’s influence and power to awe is any less meaningful. It simply means that that Ag Education always striving for more. When a great teacher is matched with their students, an outcome occurs that is as amazing of any of The Seven Wonders of the World. This trip has lit a fire under me unlike any other, and I am excited to see where the best job in the world takes me someday.

Often, I have heard agricultural education majors talk about hoping to stay close to home when applying for teaching jobs. I get that, I understand wanting to go back to the program that helped encourage us to want to teach in the first place. But, we are lucky in Pennsylvania as that currently we do not have any openings going unfilled. After seeing how unequivocally unique but also shockingly similar school-based agricultural education is in Arizona, I have to ask myself how could I ever NOT want to go anywhere that this profession calls? 

This blog was written by Jillian Gordon, 2015 Student Teaching Candidate. Jill is also serving as a 2013-2014 National Teach Ag Ambassador.

To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog

 Ms. Jillian Gordon
Student Blogger
2015 Student Teacher
2013-2014 National Teach Ag! Ambassador