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According to Western Illinois University School of Agriculture Professor Andrew Baker, he was able to provide his former students (nine WIU alumni) with the opportunity and monies to attend the National Association of Agricultural Educators Conference in June through a funded grant application for the Growing Agricultural Science Teachers (GAST) program (funded through the Illinois State Board of Education). The attendees were (from L to R): Alison McGrew, Avon High School (Avon, IL); Baker, WIU School of Ag; Blaine Hartwick, Triopia High School (Concord, IL); Matt Meyer, Stockton High School (Stockton, IL); Elly Stremsterfer, Polo High School (Polo, IL); Mallory Swanson, Kewanee High School (Kewanee, IL); Cindy Schriner, Milledgeville High School (Milledgeville, IL); Doug Nelson, Mt. Pulaski High School (Mt. Pulaski, IL); Stacey Rohrscheib (Warsaw High School, Warsaw, IL); and Laura Belville, VIT High School (Table Grove, IL).

Grant Funds Trip/Professional Development for Nine WIU Ag Ed Alumni

July 20, 2010


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MACOMB, IL -- For a few alumni of Western Illinois University's agricultural education (or "ag ed") program, their summer vacations included some time spent with one of their former professors. Perhaps, for some, that doesn't sound like an ideal summer holiday. But for nine WIU ag ed program graduates, a few days with Andrew Baker, professor in Western's School of Agriculture, meant the opportunity to not only continue to learn from him, but also the chance to attend the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) Conference in Sidney (OH) late last month.

According to Baker, he was able to provide his former students with the opportunity and monies to attend the NAAE event through a funded grant application for the Growing Agricultural Science Teachers (GAST) program, which is funded through the Illinois State Board of Education. Baker noted the GAST grant funding is directly linked to the four teacher-education institutions in the state (one of which is Western), as well as to the community colleges that offer the intro to ag ed course that transfers into the four-year institutions. He applied for the grant in Fall 2009, and he was notified of its funding status just before Christmas last year.

"The grant was funded at the $42,000 level for recruitment and retention of agricultural science teachers," Baker explained. "A part of this grant stipulated an initiative to send practicing agriculture teachers to the NAAE conference. I was able to recruit nine of our former students, and through the grant, I provided them a travel stipend to attend the conference."

Blaine Hartwick, a 2008 graduate of WIU's ag ed program and who currently teaches agricultural science at Triopia High School in Concord (IL), was grateful for the opportunity to take the trip for a few reasons. Not only did he get to benefit from the NAAE Conference's educational sessions, field trips (the educators toured different agricultural operations in Ohio, including a 1,700-head dairy farm, a food-processing plant and a fertilizer storage facility) and strategic planning sessions, but he also was able to accumulate professional development hours, which are necessary for beginning teachers to earn for Illinois re-certification.

"In order to renew my teaching certificate, I have to earn 125 hours of continuing professional development hours (or CPD hours) a year during my first five years of teaching. That's 25 CPD hours per year, and through my attendance and participation in the NAAE conference, I was able to earn 12 of those hours. In three days, I received almost half of what I need for the year," Hartwick explained.

Baker also noted that the reality of the State of Illinois' budget issues, and the subsequent impact on education and educators in the state, makes the fact that he was able to help send nine agricultural science teachers to a national conference all the more rewarding.

"It was an opportunity for them to learn, network, travel and accumulate professional development hours. With the challenging fiscal environment that education in our state is in today, it's likely that most of them would not have been able to attend without the grant funding," he said.

The nine WIU alumni/teachers that attended the NAAE Conference with Baker included: Alison McGrew, Avon High School (Avon, IL); Blaine Hartwick; Matt Meyer, Stockton High School (Stockton, IL); Elly Stremsterfer, Polo High School (Polo, IL); Mallory Swanson, Kewanee High School (Kewanee, IL); Cindy Schriner, Milledgeville High School (Milledgeville, IL); Doug Nelson, Mt. Pulaski High School (Mt. Pulaski, IL); Stacey Rohrscheib (Warsaw High School, Warsaw, IL); and Laura Belville, VIT High School (Table Grove, IL).

In addition to providing the funding for nine WIU ag ed program alumni to attend the NAAE Conference this summer, the grant monies also provided resources for some of Baker's other endeavors identified in the grant application.

"We are at the tail end of the grant, so most of the activities have already occurred, but I was able to offer three scholarships for new students enrolling in the program. I was also able to purchase some recruitment items through the grant. And one of the most successful endeavors, besides the NAAE trip, was the offering of the 'brown bag,' lunchtime seminars. As part of this brown bag program funded through the grant, I was able to secure four experienced teachers to each present a two-hour workshop on a specific topic for some of my ag ed students."

Baker's efforts to obtain and facilitate additional learning opportunities and benefits for Western's agricultural education students would likely come as no surprise to his former students. According to Hartwick, his experience in Baker's program was full of opportunities and rewarding and beneficial learning experiences for soon-to-be agricultural science teachers.

"He provided us with opportunities to go out and teach students, in real classroom settings, which gave us the chance to learn about what to expect in our own classrooms. He also taught us things relevant to managing the ag classroom and managing an FFA chapter. In the graduate-level classes I have taken, it seems to me that my fellow Western alumni (who are taking the grad classes with me) are more prepared and initially have a better grasp of the material than students who earned their agricultural science degrees from other state universities. I feel fortunate to have come out of Dr. Baker's exceptional agricultural education program, and I am still very glad I chose Western to obtain my bachelor's degree. I'm also very grateful for the opportunities Dr. Baker and the School of Ag continue to offer me as a graduate of WIU."

For more information about Western's agricultural education program, contact Baker at (309) 298-1246 or AJ-Baker@wiu.edu. Learn more about Western's School of Agriculture at www.wiu.edu/ag.

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (TE-Koltzenburg@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations