FFA chapters grow, but Nebraska agricultural educator pool is ‘dry’ | Local News

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ZACH HAMMACK Lincoln Journal Star

WAYNE, Neb. – Toni Rasmussen juggles many responsibilities as an agricultural education teacher and FFA counselor at Wayne High School. In just one day, she can teach welding or food science, lead field trips, or simply help students learn valuable life skills.

“It’s just an exciting career to be a part of,” Rasmussen said.

It’s also an area that needs more teachers like Rasmussen as schools in Nebraska and across the country grapple with labor shortages. This year alone, there have been a record 65 agricultural education openings in Nebraska schools, of which about 20 are still vacant. Many of these teachers also serve as a school’s FFA advisor.

It’s a “crisis situation” for schools and the agricultural industry as a whole, said Stacie Turnbull, state director of agricultural education for the Nebraska Department of Education.

“The problem is that we’re kind of dry,” Turnbull said.

Hoping to address the shortage, leaders of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Nebraska FFA pleaded on Wednesday for more agricultural educators on East Campus.

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Officials also announced that UNL’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is adding three faculty members to tackle the problem.

The three new positions, which will be based in Scottsbluff, Concord and Lincoln, will serve as “boots in the field” to recruit potential teachers and mentor new ones, officials said.

“CASNR really doubles down on how well we’re able to recruit, prepare and support teachers across Nebraska,” said Matt Kreifels, coordinator of UNL’s agricultural education teacher preparation program.

Agriculture is Nebraska’s largest industry, and very competitive, Kreifels said. Many students who would be qualified to be senior teachers are also recruited from other fields, such as agribusiness and animal and plant sciences.

But for those drawn to the teaching profession, there are several ways to enter the field, Kreifels said.

While UNL is the only college in the state to certify senior teachers, the university has agreements with community colleges and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture. These agreements allow students to transfer community college credits to UNL and graduate in four years.

University graduates with a bachelor’s degree in an agriculture-related field may also be eligible for transition certification at UNL. Teachers who specialize in a different subject can also earn an Ag-ed certification.

Officials also pointed to salary incentives, including additional pay for serving as an FFA adviser or through extended contracts offered by some districts.

The call for more agricultural educators comes as more than 5,000 blue-clad FFAers from more than 200 Nebraska schools converge on UNL this week.

The FFA’s annual state convention, which runs through Friday, is often a great recruiting tool to get students interested in teaching agriculture, Turnbull said.

The students participate in a job fair, competitions and a final ceremony at the Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday.

This year’s convention marks the first time FFA students have been able to meet in person since the pandemic began. The last two conventions were held virtually.

“Having them here on campus is the bread and butter of FFA,” Rasmussen said.

The FFA convention, along with last week’s State Meeting of Family, Career and Community of American Leaders, will draw more than 8,000 visitors to the capital. Events are a “vital cog” for hotels and restaurants, said Jeff Maul, executive director of the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Student conferences represent a $1 million to $1.5 million boost to Lincoln’s economy, Maul said. Many hotels are full or close to capacity, especially in the city center, he added.

Over the past decade, the number of FFA chapters in Nebraska schools has grown from 133 to more than 200. This year, 11,000 students will take agricultural education classes.

To support this growth, schools need quality teachers, Turnbull said.

“It’s a great career where you can live your passion every day,” she said.

Contact the writer at [email protected] or 402-473-7225. On Twitter @zach_hammack

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