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Some of the Western Illinois University agriculture students who participated in the College Aggies Online (CAO) Scholarship program competition. The WIU Agriculture Club won first place — and $5,000 (to be used for ag student organizations) — in the national contest, beating out the University of Florida and the University of Missouri.
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Ag Students Win National College Aggies Online Competition

December 10, 2015

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MACOMB, IL — Recently, approximately 70 Western Illinois University agriculture students learned their efforts to advocate for their chosen field of study yielded a $5,000 scholarship award. Last week, the Animal Agriculture Alliance announced the results of its seventh annual College Aggies Online (CAO) Scholarship program competition. Western Illinois University's "Agriculture Club" beat both the University of Florida (second place, $2,500 —"Gator Collegiate CattleWomen") and the University of Missouri (third place, $1,000 — "Sigma Alpha") and won the $5,000 first place award, which will be used for agriculture student organizations at Western.

Over the course of the Fall '15 semester, students in WIU School of Agriculture Instructor Jana Knupp's course, "Agriculture 340: Communicating Agriculture Issues," participated in the CAO contest. According to the CAO website, the program is a nationwide initiative aimed at helping college students and collegiate agriculture clubs utilize social media and community engagement to share agriculture's story. Groups and individuals taking part in CAO competed for group scholarship funds (in the club competition), as well as for individual scholarship awards. (See

Knupp said the club competition was comprised of a series of challenges, and her students were busy over the semester taking part in the activities and events that helped them bring home the first place award. (See the complete list of their activities and events below.)

"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.

"I was ecstatic to hear that our students were rewarded for their efforts with a first place finish in this competition," noted WIU School of Ag Director Andy Baker. "The competition engaged our students through advocacy, educating, planning and communicating, which are all beneficial work-place skills. It provided a platform for them to practice these skills not just with their peers, but also with the general public. It was the easiest decision I ever made agreeing to support Ms. Knupp's effort to participate in this event. The students were great! I believe their efforts exemplify our departmental slogan, 'Cultivating Agricultural Leaders,' through the empowerment of our students."

The lineup of activities and events that Knupp's students participated in include:

  • Students worked at two 5K run/walk events at Western, during which they promoted the benefits of chocolate milk for runners and walkers. They handed out chocolate milk and freebies, which were sponsored by Prairie Farms Dairy.

  • Students visited four area schools and a local daycare, including: Liberty (IL) Community Unit School District, second grade class; Lincoln Elementary School (Macomb, IL), first grade class; Warsaw (IL) High School; Macomb High School; and the WIU Infant and Preschool Center. Knupp noted students visited the local schools and the infant/preschool center to teach students about agriculture. She also said ag students read books to the children at the WIU Infant and Preschool Center and at Lincoln Elementary School.

  • Students hosted 50 students from The Crossing Preschool at the WIU Livestock Center. The Illinois Farm Bureau sponsored supplies for this event.

  • Students passed out 400 caramel apples on Apple Crunch Day (Oct. 22) and promoted Illinois apples and agriculture. The McDonough County Farm Bureau sponsored the supplies for this activity.

  • Students held a "Meat-In Day" (Nov. 19), during which they passed out 300 brats, pork facts, recipe cards and other giveaways while answering questions about meat production. The Illinois Farm Bureau provided the brats, and the National Pork Board provided the pork supplies.

  • Students hosted two movie nights and screened the agriculture industry-related films "Bitter Seeds" (2011) and "Temple Grandin" (2010).

  • Ag students hosted a canned food drive at Hy-Vee (Macomb), during which they collected more than 500 lbs. of food. The activity landed WIU students in third place at the CAO mini food-drive contest.

  • Students distributed more than 500 pieces of candy with meat myths attached to them to dispel meat myths.

  • Students hosted an agriculture trivia game at the WIU Livestock Center.

  • Students visited area farmers' markets four times to speak with producers and customers about topics such as organic crops and crops with genetically modified organisms (GMO).

  • Students hosted guest speakers such as Erin Brenneman of Brenneman Pork, Inc., and Sarah Grant (McDonough County Farm Bureau) and Linda Olson (Illinois Farm Bureau).

  • Ag students hosted several students who knew very little about agriculture at WIU's Agriculture Field Lab and at Western's Kerr Agricultural Field Laboratory.

For more information, contact Knupp at (309) 298-1246 or via email at

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