a lofty national ranking this year. A 2002 status study of university agricultural education programs, conducted by the University of Missouri, named the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education (AEE) as one of the top 10 programs in the nation. Says AEEs Dr. Gary Moore, The primary reason for that was our unique structure of housing the state-level leadership for public school agricultural education.
Moore refers to
the agricultural education (AgEd) leadership positions, traditionally
housed in the states Department of Public Instruction (DPI), that
have resided since 1996 in AEE in the College
of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C.
State. Whats unique is that this is the first arrangement
of its kind one that is now being studied as a model and emulated
in several states and that it has been spectacularly successful.
Some quick stats:
In 1996, there were 29,000 grade 7-12 students in AgEd in the state.
Today there are 42,000. The number of N.C. agriculture teaching positions
has increased from 320 to 380. The AEE leadership team has averaged
adding at least four AgEd programs per year in schools that didnt
have an agricultural education program before. And participation in
the state FFA is at an all-time
The AEE leadership
group responsible for this progress is headed by Marshall Stewart, State
Agricultural Education Coordinator, and includes Josh Bledsoe, State
FFA Coordinator, and three regional coordinators. David Harris coordinates
the west region from the Mountain
Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Fletcher. Benjie
Forrest, eastern coordinator, operates from the Vernon
G. James Research and Extension Center in Plymouth. Horace Johnson,
central region coordinator, is housed on campus in the AEE Department,
along with Stewart and Bledsoe.
The need to create
this team came in the mid-1990s, when staff downsizing began to take
its toll on the DPIs agricultural education program. The
agriculture teachers in this state, a base of supporters among FFA alumni
and the leadership of this College, including [now Dean] Jim Oblinger,
all saw it as an opportunity for AgEd and worked to establish a new
leadership structure at N.C. State, Stewart says.
Among those leading
this effort were State Rep. Harold Brubaker (then speaker of the House)
and former Gov. Jim Hunt. Other involved state legislators included
Dan Blue, Nurham Warwick and Leo Daughtry, plus state Revenue Secretary
Norris Tolson all FFA alumni.
decided they wanted to do something for AgEd, Stewart says, so
they established a new state model for leadership of AgEd in the public
The General Assembly
approved a bill in summer of 1995 to fund and establish the five state
leadership positions to be housed in the AEE Department.
a program from DPI that had a great heritage, tradition and success.
The downside was, because of reduction in resources, the program had
not progressed at the speed it was previously capable of. Time and people
were needed, says Stewart.
We started Jan. 1, 1996, and were told to create AgEd as it needs to be in this state, he says. We wanted to modernize without losing our traditional strengths.irst, the team contacted agribusiness and commodity leaders and asked what they thought future programs should include. The answers were clear and specific: more science and technology; more agribusiness, world trade and entrepreneurship; and acceleration of the good work in leadership development.
As a result, we
totally redesigned the curriculum in schools, says Stewart. We
now teach courses in biotechnology, agriscience research and environmental
studies. We have new modules in animal science. And we are trying to
push what the industry suggested: more business how to grow it,
merchandize it, sell it.
As mentioned earlier,
one thing thats growing is the number of school AgEd programs.
Existing programs that were standing still are now moving forward, and
new ones are being steadily established and thats no accident.
regional coordinators focus a generous amount of their time getting
the program into schools where it does not exist, Stewart says.
Thats our mentality not just maintain, but to grow:
to go to schools that dont have AgEd and show them its the
way to go.
The response from
public schools has been very positive, Stewart says. Weve
added agriculture teaching positions, ag programs and students. So in
my mind, its working. The leverage I have for continued success
is a quality program. We say to schools, You take this program,
let us help you find a qualified teacher, you support it, and it will
grow. They like what we do. And the affinity with N.C. State has
also ventures outside the public school box, Stewart says.
we became the first state in the country to go into private schools
and establish AgEd programs. The schools would call us because they
wanted to establish FFA chapters, but you cant have the club without
an AgEd curriculum. So we provide the support, and they pay for their
Its all part
of the teams job, he says, because its part of the
land-grant mission to serve everybody.
also includes home schools, Stewart adds. Weve been a real
trailblazer in opening up agricultural education opportunities to home-school
Among the types
of support the team provides to school programs are preparing, managing
and monitoring curriculum (under the auspices of the N.C.
Board of Education); providing professional development for teachers
through training seminars and workshops; and operating the FFA program.
Duties also include
marketing and promoting the program throughout the state and, in that
capacity, acting as outreach people for the university.
While the department
and the team are under the auspices of Academic
Programs in the College, Stewart mentions that he is an Extension
specialist, the first for public school AgEd in the country. The other
four members of the leadership group are Extension associates. We
are an academic program that has the Cooperative
Extension mindset of taking information and research the
university itself out to the people, he says.
In the process
theyre bringing more people to the university. Stewart notes the
increased student enrollment in AEE a 25-year high of more than
100 students and he mentions that applications to the Agricultural
Institute are on the rise as well, due to our getting their
materials into the hands of teachers.
We try to
build enrollment in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,
Stewart explains, and we want students to be prepared to lead
the agricultural industry in the state.
To reach these goals, he says, We have to redefine agriculture every day. The regional coordinators visit teachers to do this making sure the schools have the latest innovations and technology.compelling indicator of the programs effectiveness recently came from a Gallup Organization/FFA survey, which found that North Carolina agriculture teachers have the highest job satisfaction rating of AgEd teachers in the country.
I have to
believe that we had a role in that because we give teachers a lot of
support and open opportunities for them, Stewart says. We
want our teachers to feel good about themselves. We want every agriculture
teacher to believe and know that the job they do is fantastic.
an ag teacher, because of his or her community-based approach, has the
opportunity to change a young persons life for the better.
With that guiding
philosophy, Stewart believes, we took a good traditional program
and built on it for the new century. Its a balance of tradition
and innovation, with the result that every indicator enrollment,
participation is positive.
be measured in SAEs Supervised Agricultural Experiences, that
about 36 percent of students in public schools had SAE program experience,
Stewart says, now were running about 67 to 68 percent.
SAEs are planned
practical out-of-school activities in which students develop and apply
agricultural knowledge and skills. Such experiences can include planning
and operating an agricultural business, working in school laboratories
or on farms, interning in a horticultural landscape firm, conducting
a major agricultural experiment using the scientific process, producing
and marketing an agricultural commodity or raising livestock. SAE participation
is integral to FFA proficiency awards and degree programs.
every child needs such a work experience, Stewart says, whether
its traditional or an agriscience research project. Some states
say an SAE has to have a live plant or animal, but the definition is
broader here to extend the base of opportunities across urban, rural,
gender and ethnic groups to serve the needs of all children in
FFA cultivates people who work hard, are honest, have interpersonal communication skills and are confident, he adds. They take that skill set into the agriculture industry.