Ag Ed Alum Coaches High School FFA Team to National Win
November 28, 2012
MACOMB, IL – In only his third year of teaching, Western Illinois University alumnus Doug Nelson (Altona, IL) has already achieved two goals he originally wanted to achieve in his first 10 years of teaching agricultural education at the high school level.
Nelson earned his bachelor's degree in ag ed from Western in 2010 and is in his second year of teaching at Princeville High School (Princeville, IL). (Nelson spent his first year of teaching at Mt. Pulaski [IL] High School.) In late October, his four-person team of FFA students took home the national first-place win in the FFA Farm Business Management Career Development Event (CDE) at the 85th National FFA Convention held in Indianapolis (IN).
The team—comprised of former Princeville students Dallas Herrmann, Jaylyn Knobloch, Paige Ehnle and Josh Feucht, who are all enrolled in Illinois Central College—defeated 40 other teams from across the United States in the farm business management category. According to Nelson, the students won the state contest last May (while they were all seniors at Princeville), which made them eligible to compete at the national level this fall. He said although their win at the state level helped prepare them for the national level competition, they all went the extra mile this fall, with his coaching, to continue to study for the national level competition.
"Because they all have jobs and are in school, we met at night and would typically practice until 8 or 8:30. To prepare, we reviewed the last seven years of national tests and the resource materials the national FFA provided, so we had an idea of what questions would be asked. But they still threw quite a few questions at us we had never seen before," he explained.
Nelson noted, at Princeville, winning the Illinois FFA farm business management contest is a bit of a tradition. He said his predecessor, Joe House, had coached and taken FFA teams to state-level competitions many times, adding that former Princeville FFA teams won at that level seven times. Nelson's team's win, though, was the first time the Princeville FFA ever won the National FFA Farm Business Management CDE.
"One of my short-term goals in my career was to coach an FFA team to win a state contest within my first 10 years of teaching, and then another goal I had is I wanted to eventually have a team place in the top five in the nation. I'm thrilled we've already achieved two of those so early in my time here at Princeville," Nelson noted. "I owe a lot to my predecessor, Mr. House. For 34 years, he helped contribute to the long and rich tradition of the FFA here. The Princeville FFA was chartered in 1929, the same year the Illinois FFA was chartered," he added.
Nelson also credits his studies in WIU School of Agriculture's agricultural education program for the accomplishment. Andrew Baker, professor and director of the ag ed program at Western, as well as other faculty in the department, provided him with a solid foundation for his career of teaching, he said.
"Dr. Baker taught me to set high expectations and to find a motivating tool for students. He is a real class act," Nelson said. "I had a really positive experience at Western with him and all the faculty in the agricultural education program at WIU. I highly recommended Western to the majority of my students."
According to Baker, it is a tremendous feat to win the state competition, but to win the national competition is like winning the lottery so early in one's teaching career.
"In order to accomplish this feat, it takes a substantial amount of time out of the classroom working with your students to prepare them for this competition," he said. "Doug always had a competitive edge as a student, being a collegiate livestock competitor at WIU. He graduated from ROWVA High School [Oneida, IL] and had the opportunity to be mentored by one of the top agricultural instructors in the state Rodney Main, who also is a WIU alumnus. Mr. Nelson also graduated with a very competitive cohort group that continues to set the bar high for proceeding agricultural education graduates. As a teacher educator, I am very fortunate to have examples like Doug to use in my classroom to motivate my pre-service teachers to excel in the classroom as future educators."
Now that Nelson has achieved two of his career goals so early in his teaching tenure, he said he will continue to set high expectations for his students and hopes to continue to compete—and win—at the both the state and national levels in FFA contests in the years to come. He also hopes to, one day, work on his family's farm near Altona (IL).
"I grew up on a farm, which my dad works on with his brothers. When I was a high school student, I was very involved in FFA, and I really enjoyed my experiences participating in it. I was our chapter president for two years, and I won a lot of contests. I know the benefits it provided to me, and I want to continue those opportunities for kids to get their résumés built up and give them the tools to help them succeed. The are jobs out there for them in the agriculture field, and I want to get as many kids fired up about working in ag as I can."
Learn more about WIU's ag education program at www.wiu.edu/cbt/agriculture/bachelor.php.