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Communications and Agricultural Education

Communications and Agricultural Education

Kansas State University
1612 Claflin Road
301 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3402

785-532-5633 fax

Career Opportunities Bright for Agricultural Education Students

Alex Walters Ag Ed

More positions open for teachers than colleges and universities can fill

Growing up in Plainville, Kansas, Alexandra Walters considered a career in social work or education, but decided early on to teach about agriculture.  A 2018 graduate of K-State, Walters is a first-year agriculture education teacher at Peabody-Burns Middle School-High School in Peabody, Kansas, where she teaches classes in plant science, animal science, food science, agricultural mechanics and others.  “My students enjoy anything they get to design themselves,” she said. “For their fall final, my Food Science class created their own Christmas cookie business where they were tasked to take a traditional recipe and swap a nutrient to make it healthier. The students had to conduct sensory analyses and reviews with their peers in the school and reevaluate their recipe. The project went over really well, not only with students in the class, but also those around the school.”

Unlike Walters, the path was not as clear for ag education teacher Anthony Meals, who grew up in a military family that moved around often. “I did not take my first ag course ‘til I was a junior in high school when we moved to Clay Center, Kansas,” Meals said. “I had a long desire to be an educator, but I was always waffling between being a history teacher or English teacher. It was not until I took an ag class that I knew this is what I was being called to do.”  A 2014 K-State graduate, Meals is in his fifth year of teaching agriculture at Blue Valley High School in Randolph, Kansas.

Meals and Walters are part of a growing trend in middle schools and high schools across the country to offer agricultural education programs, and colleges and universities can’t turn out graduates fast enough to keep up with demand.  “There is a nationwide shortage of agriculture teachers,” said Brandie Disberger, an instructor in Kansas State University’s Department of Communication and Agricultural Education. “Here in Kansas we are currently only graduating about half of the needed agriculture teachers. We have had 100 percent placement in this major for over 20 years.”  While some students put their skills and knowledge to work in production agriculture after high school, many further their education by moving into university agriculture education and other higher education programs. They then have a range of career opportunities available to them, including going back into the classroom to teach others.  Disberger, who taught high school agricultural education herself for 10 years before coming to teach at K-State, said contrary to some perceptions there are ag education openings in urban and suburban school districts as well as in rural areas.  K-State has offered courses in agricultural education for more than 100 years, but the program is relatively small. Agricultural education classes typically range from 12 to 25 students. Currently there are 90 undergraduates in the program, with about 20 graduating each year. The program is growing, however, and Disberger anticipates more than 25 graduates in 2020.

Nationwide, in 2017 there were 12,690 agriculture education teachers, according to the National Association of Agricultural Educators. More than 5,500 of them were female.  Students who have an interest in agriculture and a passion for working with people make excellent candidates, Disberger said, noting that as of May 2018, average starting salaries in Kansas for students with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education were more than $40,000.  The average salary of agriculture education teachers across the country in 2017 was $43,093, according to the NAAE, with averages across the U.S. varying by region.  “It is critical for people and agriculture, that people understand how agriculture and the industry impact their lives,” said Jonathan Ulmer, K-State associate professor of agricultural education. “High school agriculture guides students through career exploration and preparation through the classroom, laboratory, FFA and work-based learning.”  The breadth of training that high school and college students receive lends itself to a range of career opportunities, Disberger said. About 80 percent of K-State’s ag education graduates go on to teach at the high school level, but some move into careers in extension where they teach adults in less formal settings. Others work in agriculture-related sales or service positions, non-profit organizations or pursue advanced academic degrees.  Students study a variety of topics, from energy systems to animal science to plant systems; food products and processing; biotechnology in agriculture; power, structural and technical systems; and more.  Agricultural education students learn through classroom and laboratory work, but also through experiential learning, typically outside the classroom. Many high schools also use the National FFA Organization and other programs to help students hone their leadership skills.

When asked about his students’ favorite project, Meals said it depended on where their interests were, for example: “If you asked my Ag Mechanics students, it would be individual woods projects; if you asked my Vet Science class, it would be either the surgery training unit or animal grooming unit; if you asked my Applications in Horticulture class it would be the annual spring landscaping project around our school; and if you asked our Ag Engineering students, they would describe troubleshooting prototype designs on the 3D printers.”  

“Some individuals think that career and technical education programs, including agricultural education, are closing in high schools when it is just the opposite. They are growing rapidly,” Disberger said, noting that the number of Kansas FFA chapters had grown to 198 in 2018 from 181 in 2016. 

What’s at stake? In Kansas alone, agriculture contributes nearly $62.8 billion to the state’s economy, about 43 percent of the total. Kansas is a leader in wheat and sorghum production, as well as cattle and meat production. The state’s farmers and other agricultural businesses export $4.2 billion to countries around the globe.  Educating middle, high school and college students who in turn contribute by becoming better teachers, farmers, ranchers, industry and community leaders is the goal. 

Richard Baker Retires

Richard Baker

To hear Richard tell it, he became a broadcaster because a fraternity brother told him he should get into the media business because he likes to talk.

With those inspiring words, Richard set off on his quest, studying at K-State and working at several radio stations across Kansas in the 1960s and 70s. He was running a black radio station in Omaha when legendary K-State broadcaster Ralph Titus called him looking for a new news director at KSAC, the college’s radio station that would later become KKSU. Richard ran the news operation for the radio station from 1977 until 2002, when the university lost the station, to the regret of many. At that point, Richard was offered the opportunity by our former department head to transition to teaching agricultural communications, which he did from 2002 until this week.

Throughout his four decades at K-State, Richard also produced a weekly interview program called Perspective. His original charge was to share information that people would not otherwise have easy access to, so for decades, Richard has hosted a wide array of thought-provoking author on topics from astrophysics to xenophobia.

Whether working by serving the Kansas listening audience or working with students, Richard has held to – and taught – his personal ethics of fact-based reporting, fairness, quality and transparency. He’s never been afraid to ask the tough questions – and as a good journalist, he actually relishes those moments. Iron sharpens iron, and Richard, to his credit, helped many a colleague and student sharpen their skills and thinking. 

The department thanks Richard for his four decades of service at Kansas State University!   

Agricultural education student named National FFA Star in Agriscience

By Gaea Hock

Eric Koehlmoos, senior in agricultural education, was named the 2018 National FFA Star in Agriscience.

As a high school student at South O'Brien in Paullina, Iowa, Koehlmoos used his home ATF-approved ethanol facility, to research the processes used in a commercial ethanol plant. In high school, his research competed nationally and internationally. While at K-State, Koehlmoos has conducted research on teacher perceptions of the Kansas FFA Agriscience Fair. 

Read more about Koehlmoos and his research

College of Agriculture faculty and student attend international conference

By Gaea Hock

Chad Miller, associate professor of horticulture, and Gaea Hock, associate professor in agricultural education, attended the International Conference on Educational Innovation Oct. 17-19 in Agrarian Topics in Lima, Peru. Zachary Callaghan, junior in agricultural education, also attended the conference. 

They each had a presentation or a poster presented at the conference.

Agricultural education undergraduates receive research awards

By Gaea Hock

Undergraduate students and faculty in agricultural education were in Fargo, North Dakota, Oct. 6-8 to participate in the North Central American Association for Agricultural Education conference.

Zachary Callaghan and Caitlin Dreher, both juniors in agricultural education represented K-State extremely well at the conference. They competed against professors and graduate students in several areas. The two undergraduates received the following awards:

  • First Runner Up Research Presentation — Zachary Callaghan and Gaea Hock.
  • Outstanding Research Poster — Caitlin Dreher and Gaea Hock.
  • Outstanding Innovative Idea Poster — Zachary Callaghan, Gaea Hock and Brandie Disberger.

Dr. Ulmer to receive Honorary American FFA Degree

Jonathan Ulmer, associate professor of agricultural education, was recently selected to receive the Honorary American FFA Degree on Oct. 26 in Indianapolis.

K-State Communications and Agricultural Education faculty to present at Education Research Conference

Patrice Scott reports, "Kansas State University will be well represented at the American Educational Research Association conference in New York this week where multiple College of Education faculty and graduate students will present."  Brandie Disberger, instructor of Communication and Ag Education and Sally Yahnke, associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction, will present "Professional Development Needs of Alternatively Certified Career and Technical Teachers: A Borich Model." 

Agricultural Education Club Organizes the College of Ag Scavenger Hunt at KSU Open House 2018

AGED Open House 2018

The Agricultural Education Club coordinated the College of Ag Scavenger Hunt during open house.  Matthew Schick organized the event for the Agricultural Education Club.  He gathered donations from 13 different organizations within the College of Agriculture to print over 300 t-shirts.  Individuals who completed the scavenger hunt earned a free College of Agriculture T-Shirts.  Student volunteers passed out scavenger hunt cards and t-shirts.

 The Agricultural Education Club would like to thank the following sponsors:

-Agricultural Technology Management Club, Alpha Gamma Roe, Alpha of Clovia, Feed Science Club, Food Science Club, George Wright Society, Horticulture Club, Milling Science Club, Plant Pathology Club, Sigma Alpha, Wheat State Agronomy Club, Ag Economics/Ag Business Club, and Collegiate Cattlewomen.

Agricultural Education Student Teacher Interns Participate in Professional Development

Story by Anissa Zagonel, master’s student Click here for the full story: http://enewsletters.k-state.edu/agcomm/ag-ed-student-teacher-interns-participate-in-professional-development/

K-State agricultural education student teaching interns recently participated in two days of professional development for the Ag Ed Enhancing Pre-Service Instruction (EPIC) Experience sponsored by Kansas Corn Commission. Students were able to tour and talk with various production agricultural sectors in Garden City, Kansas.

Corn Tour

Communications and Agricultural Education Alumni Create Magazine for Ranch House Designs

Ranch House Journal cover

Two of our graduates Meg Drake (Spring, 2013) and Melissa Grimmel Schaake (Spring, 2016) create "Ranch House Journal" magazine for Ranch House Designs. Meg is the editor and Melissa is the graphic designer. Our K-State program was featured in this magazine titled "Welcome to Wildcat Country". In addition, Nicole Lane Erceg (Fall, 2015 grad) wrote a story about Lyons Ranch, featuring KSU alum Amy Lyons Langvardt (Spring, 2008) in this publication. Click on the link to view the entire magazine via issuu: https://issuu.com/ranchhousedesigns/docs/rhj-spring2018-web . 

Kansas State University promotes Communications and Agricultural Education Faculty Members

Eighty-two Kansas State University faculty members are receiving promotions in rank, while 47 faculty members are earning tenure. "Each of our new tenured and promoted faculty members have made significant contributions through their teaching, scholarly endeavors and service to their departments, college, our university and their professions. We celebrate these outstanding achievements with them," said April Mason, provost and senior vice president. 

Dr. Jason Ellis, Department Head and faculty member in Agricultural Communications and Journalism, has earned a promotion to full professor. Dr. Gaea Hock, faculty member in Agricultural Education, has earned a promotion to associate professor.

Taking the Classroom Outdoors

Dr. Katie Burke is taking the classroom outdoors this year through a series of excursions for Agricultural Communications and Journalism students, staff, and faculty members. Students braved the icy April winds on the first excursion to the Konza Prairie. The hike through the recently burned tallgrass prairie provided adventurers an opportunity to get outside, de-stress, and to casually learn about fire, grazing, and the agricultural benefits of the tallgrass prairie. Students brought their cameras, enjoying and capturing the vista view of the prairie in early spring.

 Plans are currently underway for the second excursion. Want to join us? Have a great idea for a hike? Let us know! Email Dr. Katie Burke, kjburke@ksu.edu

Girls on the Konza Trail

Group at Konza Prairie

Dr. Jason Ellis named Department Head


On December 21, 2017, Dean John Floros announced Dr. Jason Ellis as the new Head of the Department of Communications and Agricultural Education. Dr. Ellis officially began his new position on January 14, 2018. He is the third person to fill this role, following Mr. Robert Furbee and Dr. Kristina Boone.

Dr. Ellis earned his bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University in 1998, with a dual major in agricultural communication and animal sciences and industry. After graduation, he went to work as an account supervisor for a Des Moines, Iowa, advertising firm until 2002. He returned to school and earned his master’s degree in meat science in 2003 and doctorate in agricultural education and studies in 2006, both from Iowa State University. He served as a graduate research assistant, project coordinator, extension specialist, and lecturer at Iowa State while pursuing his graduate degrees. He served as an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for five years before returning in 2011 to Kansas State University as an assistant professor and then associate professor.

The full university announcement can be found at http://www.ksre.k-state.edu/news/stories/2018/01/jason-ellis-department-head.html


ACT Club Hosts "Aggieland" at KSU Open House 2018

Students from the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow (ACT) club hosted a trivia game at Kansas State’s 2018 Open House on April 7th. The game was popular with all age groups and tested players’ knowledge about Kansas State and the Manhattan area. Chocolate-covered soybeans, courtesy of the Kansas Soybean Commission, were rewarded to all who played. A big thanks to our ACT club members and to all who stopped by our booth! 

Student Spotlight: Kaci Foraker Rocks Meat Judging

Kaci Foraker, sophomore in Agricultural Communications and student worker in the publishing unit, was part of the K-State Meat Judging Team that recently took 1st Place at the Iowa State Meat Judging contest. Kaci placed 4th in Individual Overall and 3rd in Pork Judging. Good job, Kaci!

Seven Students from the Department of Communications and Agricultural Education Become Ag Ambassadors

After completing the selections process (starting with 57 applicants), seven of our students have been selected as new Ag Ambassadors. There are 22 new members this year, many of whom are out-of-state students. Congratulations to Allison Bertz (ACJ), Katelyn Harbert (ACJ), Hannah Hosick (AED), Michaela Hughes (ACJ), Emma Lehmann (AED), Mia Pentz (AED), and Marie Reveles (AED)!