In 2013, there were approximately 380 agriculture teachers working in schools across North Carolina. Today, thanks to NC State’s agricultural education program and other teacher preparation programs across the state, there are more than 580. Travis Park, professor and director of undergraduate programs for the Agricultural and Human Sciences Department, has been excited to watch that number grow over the last eight years, and is eager to see how agriculture education will continue to expand as a discipline in the years to come.
As professor and director of undergraduate programs for the department, one of Park’s primary responsibilities is in managing the unique structure and requirements of the agricultural education undergraduate degree. Park is also involved in a number of grant-based projects, one of which, organized in collaboration with the Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutritional Science Department, strives to increase enrollment in the food science major through a variety of routes. “Our model includes preparing NC agricultural teachers and family and community science teachers (FCS) with the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education’s Food Science and Safety curriculum, developing a food science community of practice, engaging teachers with the food industry in NC, and enticing students to come to campus for a food science fair,” notes Park. Other grant projects include an Agriculture Foundation grant project designed to provide enhanced agricultural experiences for students through intensive field trips across North Carolina, as well as the Rurally Engaged Agricultural Leaders Program grant, which supports the leadership development of students from rural communities.
In addition to leading undergraduate programs and serving on grant projects, Park also pursues research on content area reading and writing integration in career and technical education, especially agricultural education. “What excites me about this area”, says Park, “is that integration of reading and writing are really effective approaches to helping all students learn. In agriculture, we see the highest need for advanced literacy skills compared with other areas of careers and college. Literacy is one of the keys to student success at all levels.” Park, along with other colleagues in agricultural education, have also recently begun pursuing research in teacher preparation programs and assessment in agricultural education, an area of study that closely aligns with his teaching appointment in the department.
One new project Park is excited about is introducing the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) to North Carolina. “CASE is an inquiry-based, student-focused curriculum that prepares students for next-generation careers in agriculture”, says Park. The professional development and curriculum require teachers to complete a robust eight-day ‘CASE Institute’; upon completion of the institute, they are certified to teach the curriculum. “Thus far we have prepared almost 25 NC agricultural teachers in CASE”, notes Park. “In partnership with the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, we hope to prepare more teachers in the future.”
For Park, teaching is a calling. Before joining NC State, he served as a researcher and professor at Cornell University, pursued doctoral studies at the University of Florida, and taught high school agriculture in Indiana. When working with undergraduates, Park strives to incorporate aspects of his family and community responsibilities into the student experience. “My brother-in-law often comments that his job in the insurance and safety industry is just a job, but he sees my engagement with students and NC State as a passion”, says Park. He especially appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with other faculty in the Agricultural and Human Sciences Department on projects preparing teachers, researching agricultural education, and extending professional development opportunities to practitioners. “The faculty at NC State”, Park notes, “are world-class and balance all aspects of the land-grant mission.”
Park emphasizes that a primary goal for undergraduate students should be to keep all career opportunities open to them for as long as possible. “They should make decisions, engage in opportunities, and practice good discipline so that they have multiple employers vying for them as they approach graduation”, he says. And, students shouldn’t expect to be the same people at graduation as they were on orientation day. “Undergraduate students should expect and plan to be changed people at graduation. To be and become an improved version of themselves, they should step out of their comfort zone, explore courses outside of their major, and engage with people of diverse backgrounds.”
AEE 103: Fundamentals of Agricultural and Extension Education
AEE 426: Methods of Teaching Agriculture
AEE 427: Student Teaching in Agriculture
AEE 491: Seminar in Agricultural Education
AEE 500: Agricultural Education, Schools & Society
AEE 641: Practicum in Agricultural Education
Keep up with Travis Park and happenings in agricultural education at NC State on the Agricultural and Extension Education Facebook page.