Posted: June 6, 2018

Jillian Gordon, a 2015 Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences' graduate in agricultural and extension education, has been working to develop a national FFA chapter at Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia. Written by: Kelly Jedrzejewski

Caption: Jillian Gordon, at right, is shown with members of the national FFA chaper at Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia

Caption: Jillian Gordon, at right, is shown with members of the national FFA chaper at Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia

Gordon, formally of Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, always knew she wanted to be a high school agriculture teacher, but was unsure where she wanted to attend college. She explored several schools outside Pennsylvania before touring Penn State. Daniel Foster and John Ewing, both associate professors of agricultural and extension education, spoke with Gordon and convinced her that the program at Penn State was the best place for her.

"Both Dr. Foster and Dr. Ewing made it very clear that they wanted me to be part of the program," she said. "I didn't feel like I was going to be just another person at a large university. I knew it was a great place to train to be an ag teacher and having that personal connection through Dr. Foster and Dr. Ewing made the decision to attend Penn State an easy choice."

During Gordon's time at Penn State, several experiences made lasting impressions on her. Gordon was part of Alpha Zeta, a coeducational national agricultural fraternity, where she gained valuable social skills and professional networking opportunities. "It was an excellent group of people who were all interested in succeeding both in college as well as after graduation. Everyone had a desire to work toward a bigger goal and it was a great environment to be in."

Gordon also wrote for Onward State, and said it was a good way to branch out and get to know the whole University community.

Ewing describes Gordon as someone who was always willing to help others learn. "Jill always has a smile on her face and she really wants to help her students succeed. She has a passion for helping youth understand the importance of agriculture and our environment. She's also fun to work with as she often sees the positive side, even in difficult or unfamiliar situations."

After graduation, Gordon was hired to teach agriculture classes at Clarke Central High School. Previously, the ag classes at the school were only offered part time, but Gordon was hired specifically to start a national FFA chapter at the school. Active in the FFA herself in high school, Gordon's chapter has been growing since its inception during the 2016-17 school year.

"We're a very diverse chapter; about half of my students are African American, 25 percent are Hispanic, and the rest are a mix of Caucasian and other races," she said. "There's also a very diverse socioeconomic standing among the kids. This dynamic gives us a unique perspective and a chance to embrace these differences."

The Clarke Central High School FFA chapter has partnered with the Junior National Society for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (Jr. MANRRS). The group, which has a collegiate chapter at Penn State, is designed to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering, agricultural and mathematics fields for students from diverse backgrounds.

Aside from continued growth, Gordon's goals for the FFA chapter include gaining recognition for more than just winning awards. "Yes, I'd like my students to win plaques at the events we attend, but it's not the most important aspect for me," she said. "I want my students to gain a strong foundation from the activities we do, and know that when they leave my chapter, they feel like confident leaders who can be part of any organization and succeed in all areas of their futures."

Ewing explains that agricultural and extension education majors at Penn State have numerous opportunities to learn what it's like to be an agricultural education teacher in a high school setting. These opportunities include observing teachers and students in classrooms and laboratories, as well as taking part in conferences, competitions and conventions that they will be attending with their own students.

"The faculty and staff of the AEE major work closely with our Pennsylvania agricultural education teachers," Ewing said. "We provide professional development to all of the agricultural education teachers, but we especially focus on those teachers who are in their first through third years of teaching with a special program called 'New and Beginning Teachers.' This allows us to stay connected with and help those teachers who may need support in the first few years of their career."

Foster added, "At Penn State, we strive to empower our teacher candidates to be prepared to teach all learners about the exciting opportunities in food, fiber and natural resources; wherever they are in the world, no matter the context."

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