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The Growing Agricultural Science Teachers (GAST) grant program provided funds for five WIU alumni to attend a National Association of Agricultural Educators regional conference, as well as the Indiana FFA Leadership Camp, in June. Pictured are the five WIU alumni who attended and WIU School of Agriculture Professor Andrew Baker. (L to R): Laura Belville, Kami Kates, Blaine Hartwick, Baker, Bryan Schullian and Matt Meyer. Photo courtesy of Andrew Baker.
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GAST Grant Funds Ag Ed Teacher-Retention Effort

July 20, 2011

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MACOMB, IL – "Currently there is a national shortage of agricultural educators at the secondary level." That's according to the "Teach Ag" campaign -- an ongoing national effort sponsored by the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE). Just as the NAAE's "Teach Ag" campaign has been on a mission at the national level to recruit and keep agricultural education teachers, Western Illinois University School of Agriculture's "Doc B." has also been on a mission in west central Illinois to instill the love of teaching agriculture -- and continues to foster it among his students, old and new.

This summer and last, through the Growing Agricultural Science Teachers (GAST) grant program, Professor Andrew Baker -- "Doc B." to his students -- has been able to help a number of WIU alumni attend the NAAE's regional conference. According to Baker, the GAST grant funding is provided through the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and is directly linked to the four teacher-education institutions in the state (one of which is Western), as well as to the community colleges.

"Each participant received a travel stipend for attending the conference through the grant," Baker explained. "Each participant was able to accumulate half of his or her annual professional-development hours needed for state certification. One of the objectives of the grant is to assist in retention of beginning agriculture teachers in the state, and accumulating professional development assists teachers in retention," he added.

Baker noted that the GAST grant also provided funds for his former students to attend the Indiana FFA Leadership Camp in June. The five WIU alumni who attended this year included:

  • Matt Meyer (Stockton High School agriculture teacher; three years' experience)
  • Blaine Hartwick (Triopia High School agriculture teacher; three years' experience)
  • Kami Kates, (Astoria High School agriculture teacher; three years' experience)
  • Laura Belville (Liberty High School agriculture teacher; one year of experience)
  • Bryan Schullian (will begin as the Southeastern High School agriculture teacher fall 2011)

Belville noted the opportunity provided by the GAST monies and Dr. Baker provides new teachers with a great opportunity to travel and meet experienced teachers.

"Without the support of the GAST grant money from Dr. Baker, I would not have been able to attend. This money assists us with the traveling expense of such a conference," she said. "I was able to network with other ag teachers from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky. There were many different ideas shared during several tours that we went on, which gave us great tools and knowledge that we will be able to use in the classroom."

In the summer of 2010, Baker was also awarded GAST funds that paid for nine secondary-level agricultural teachers and WIU alumni to attend NAAE's regional conference in Ohio. That year, Hartwick also benefitted from the grant funds and noted that he appreciated the support provided by his former instructor Doc B., as well as that of his alma mater.

"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.

For more information about WIU's agricultural education program, contact Baker at (309) 298-1246 or Learn more about Western's School of Agriculture at Learn more about the NAAE's "Teach Ag" campaign at

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