By: Joe Ramstad, U of M Junior
One of my most favorite quotes comes from an ancient Chinese proverb, and it goes like this: “If your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for ten years, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.” This summer, my internship experience through the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council (MAELC) has allowed me to literally plant some crops through various gardening and landscaping projects, but more importantly, I have been able to help plant people. The agricultural education internship program, designed by MAELC and generously sponsored by key industry partners like AgriBank, partners college-level agricultural education students with current agricultural education programs across the state. I was fortunate enough to be placed in Dassel Cokato High School, where I spent the summer working with numerous students, two phenomenal agricultural educators and one supportive community. Going into my internship, I knew I wanted to become a high school agriculture teacher, and my desire to achieve this goal has grown immensely through my positive experience this summer. However, I always wondered what the role of an agriculture teacher would look like throughout the summer months. Fortunately, I witnessed this firsthand thanks to this internship and have grown in more ways than I could have ever imagined. Today, I would like to take some time to reflect on this internship experience along with some key learning opportunities and experiences I had along the way.
When I found out I would have the opportunity to be a part of the Dassel Cokato agricultural education community, I was thrilled! Growing up, I met several friends from Dassel Cokato through participation in FFA, which is an intra-curricular, agricultural-based youth leadership organization. Based on my conversations with those friends, I knew that their program was highly successful. I always wanted to learn more about their program and what made it so strong, and this summer, I definitely saw these “key ingredients” come together.
Since I am a huge fan of food, I’d like you to picture the best looking plate of spaghetti and meatballs you have ever seen in your life. Take a second to focus in on the nice bed of spaghetti at the bottom of the plate; these noodles represent strong agricultural education teachers and FFA advisors. Just like noodles are essential to spaghetti and meatballs, without at least one agriculture teacher, it would be impossible to even run an FFA or agricultural education program. This summer, I learned so much from the advisors I worked with, Mr. Marquette and Ms. Nelson. They have both taught me so many skills this summer ranging from curriculum development to greenhouse maintenance and were both essential to my experience, just like they are essential in the lives of their students.
Next, think about the giant, flavor-packed meatballs that are served right on top of your noodles; these meatballs represent unique students. Students offer so much to a successful agricultural education program, but beyond their skills and abilities, I have learned that their greatest asset is their personalities. Just like each meatball’s flavor profile is unique, their unique and special personalities add so much “flavor” and “pizzazz” to the program. Through the students’ active engagement this summer, I have seen the difference their positivity and energy can bring to any day or any situation the program encounters. The reason why they are so positive and energetic is because the two teachers I have worked with have given them the freedom to be themselves. Now, as an aspiring agriculture teacher, I can clearly see the value of making students feel comfortable and encouraging them to be themselves.
Lastly, consider the smooth and tangy pasta sauce; this tasty sauce represents community support. This support is what really brings the dish together. I have learned that students and agriculture teachers can only do so much — it is crucial to find previous FFA members or community supporters in the area and call upon them for help and guidance. The Dassel Cokato agricultural education program has one of the strongest community support systems in the nation because the supporters are able to not only help out at events or in the classroom, but more importantly, because they always bring out the best in both the students and the teachers. All three of these key ingredients are well-balanced at Dassel Cokato, and I am so glad I got to see the teachers, students and supporters in action this summer!
In addition, this summer would not have been complete without some incredible experiences and memories along the way. This internship was essentially comprised of four key experiences along with some other smaller daily tasks and activities. The first of these experiences was helping with the two mini chapter officer retreats, where I wrote and facilitated leadership and teambuilding activities for the Dassel Cokato FFA Officers. These activities then were strategically supplemented with the officers having plenty of time to establish team expectations, build trust and make accountability plans. Additionally, throughout the internship I had the opportunity to write and review agriscience curriculum. My cooperating teachers will be able to utilize this curriculum in their classrooms and it will also be made available on the brand new AgCentric Trailer, a mobile trailer unit that teachers, community members and event coordinators can rent out and use as they see fit. The curriculum along with associated equipment and supplies will be stocked on this trailer, making it an affordable and easy-to-use option for anyone interested.
One additional component of my internship was attending the 2017 Minnesota Association of Agricultural Educators (MAAE Conference) in Willmar in July. At the conference, I networked with educators, stakeholders and supporters of agricultural, food and environmental education while gaining resources I can use as a future educator. Finally, to wrap up my internship, one of my last main projects was helping at the Wright and Meeker County Fairs. I assisted in recruiting volunteers, planning educational displays and exhibits, wrote training curriculum and interacted with several students and fairgoers.
To say that this internship was incredible would be an understatement. I am still astonished by all of the support I received from the teachers I worked with, the energy the students brought each time I worked with them and the hospitality provided by community members and alumni. This internship has certainly intensified my desire to teach agriculture and provided me with countless new connections, memories and experiences I will always remember! Thank you, Dassel Cokato and MAELC, for this incredible internship program!
One of the most rewarding parts of this internship experience was supervising students at various events. The students shown in this picture just completed an evening promoting FFA at the Cokato Corn Carnival!