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WIU agriculture students, who are competing in the College Aggies Online (CAO) scholarship program/contest, passed out apples and caramel to more than 400 students and faculty on the Macomb campus Oct. 22 to promote Illinois agriculture and Illinois apples. (The activity was sponsored by the McDonough County Farm Bureau.) According to WIU School of Ag Instructor Jana Knupp, the CAO club competition is comprised of challenges, and her students have completed several already. They have until Nov. 30 to complete more, when the club competition ends. Up for grabs in the club contest are scholarship dollars for student ag programs and organizations.
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WIU agriculture students passed out apples Oct. 22 on the Macomb campus as part of their "Communicating Ag Issues" course (taught by WIU School of Ag Instructor Jana Knupp), as well as for a challenge they took up as part of the College Aggies Online contest.
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WIU students in School of Ag Instructor Jana Knupp's "Communicating Agriculture Issues" course this fall are taking part in the College Aggies Online competition for scholarships. Part of their participation in the competition is to complete challenges for points, such as speaking at a local 4-H meeting (pictured here).
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WIU Ag Students Advocate for Agriculture via College Aggies Online Competition

November 11, 2015

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MACOMB, IL — This semester, Western Illinois University agriculture students have been talking up their chosen field of study on WIU's campus, at University-sponsored activities and at community events. Their efforts to advocate, or "agvocate," and "to tell agriculture's story" are part of a nationwide competition, the College Aggies Online (CAO) Scholarship program. The students are participating in the challenge-based contest through their WIU course, "Agriculture 340: Communicating Agriculture Issues," taught by WIU School of Agriculture Instructor Jana Knupp.

According to the CAO website, the program is an initiative of the Animal Agriculture Alliance "that connects college students from across the country who are interested in promoting agriculture." Groups and individuals taking part in CAO are competing for group scholarship funds (in the club competition), as well as for individual scholarship awards. Knupp said students in her Ag 340 classes are competing as a club, and Brooklyn Karhoff (Sutter, IL), junior, is competing in the individual contest.

"The course is centered on advocating for agriculture. Last semester, I had students talk to Hy-Vee customers about where their food comes from, but this year I changed the course slightly, and when I found this contest, I knew it was a perfect fit. Students learn more and are more engaged when they are participating in hands-on activities, and I try to provide as many hands-on activities as possible," she noted.

Knupp explained the activities are all outreach oriented, and they require students to work on their communication skills, including talking with individuals who may have opposing or differing views.

"Today, more than ever before, consumers are interested in where their food comes from; however, most people are three or more generations removed from the farm, so there is a great lack of knowledge and understanding about agriculture. People take what they hear via social media as the truth, when oftentimes what they are reading is incorrect or misleading. The more these agriculture students can practice talking with consumers now, the better off they will be in the future," she said.

Advocating Activities Yield Returns

The club competition is comprised of challenges for the students. According to Knupp, her students have completed several already and they have until Nov. 30, when the club competition ends.

"For the College Aggies Online competition, I met with Sarah Grant of the McDonough County Farm Bureau and interviewed her," explained Eric Little (Colchester, IL), a senior agricultural science major, who is among Knupp's students competing in the club contest. "This interview turned out to be more interesting than I had originally anticipated, and it actually made me want to get out and help educate more people about production agriculture. Through this class, I have realized the importance of advocating for agriculture and the need to educate people about real farming operations."

Brooklyn Karhoff, who is competing in the CAO individual competition, said she was motivated to take part in the individual category of the CAO program because of the scholarship opportunity and because she feels it provides a great way to educate people about agriculture.

"Through the class and the competition, I have learned how to properly reply to controversial issues. Instead of arguing, you have to reply with facts," Karhoff explained. "I've learned that positively educating the general public is more beneficial than arguing, and I hope one day my positive views can make an impact on the agricultural world."

According to Knupp, an upcoming CAO challenge activity is a "Meat In Day" event, which is set to start at noon Thursday, Nov. 19 on the north side of Knoblauch Hall. Knupp said her students will be giving away free brats and discussing meat production in the U.S.

"The challenges we've completed so far have included passing out chocolate milk (donated by Prairie Farms) after the 'Ol' Stompin' Ground' 5K during Homecoming (Oct. 3), as well as at the WIU's Fallen Soldiers 5K (Oct. 10). Chocolate milk provides the perfect ratio of protein and carbohydrates, and therefore, is an excellent post-workout refueling liquid," Knupp said. "Students also passed out candy with meat myths to educate people about the truths behind meat nutrition and production, and on October 22, they passed out apples and caramel to more than 400 students and faculty on campus to promote Illinois agriculture and Illinois apples. McDonough County Farm Bureau sponsored this activity. Other activities we've engaged in to complete challenges for the CAO contest include: hosting guest speakers, organizing agriculture documentary movie nights and canned food drives, surveying vendors and customers at the farmers' market; and hosting a preschool field trip. It has been a busy semester to say the least," she added.

For the competition, each challenge is assigned a certain amount of points, and Knupp said she and her students were given a list of challenges (with their assigned point totals) from which to choose. The winning group in the club competition will receive a $5,000 scholarship, with second and third places to receive $2,500 and $1,000 respectively. The scholarship funds would be used within the School of Agriculture to assist in with student programs and student organizations.

"For the individual competition, the tasks must be completed in a week. These tasks include posting on social media, participating in webinars, writing blog posts, among other activities. The individuals with the top three scores will each receive a scholarship, with the first place winner receiving a $2,500 scholarship. There are also extra prizes and mini-scholarships throughout for the individual competition," Knupp explained.

Knupp said her students' participation in the CAO competition is paying off. By completing the various challenges and engaging in her course activities, she said they are enhancing their individual abilities to communicate about agriculture to consumers.

"We want everyone to know that farmers work each day to ensure their food is safe and sustainable," she added. "If anyone wants to know more about where their food comes from, we encourage them to get in touch with us, and we'd be happy to visit with them and provide a tour of the WIU farm."

For more information, contact Knupp at (309) 298-1246. Learn more about the College Aggies Online program at

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (
Office of University Communications & Marketing