AHS Faculty Member McKee Focuses on Justice and Equity Work

Katherine McKee, Assistant Professor in Leadership Education in the AHS department and co-director of the Oaks Leadership Scholars, is deeply committed to transformative leadership and justice work in agriculture. McKee has an extensive background in agricultural education and leadership work, including serving as a high school agriculture teacher, a curriculum specialist, and a 4-H Youth Development Agent among other roles. McKee was working in the Office of Faculty Development at NC State for the TH!NK Initiative, teaching an undergraduate course in AEE, and working with the Oaks Leadership Scholars when her current faculty position became available in the department.

Describing why pursuing her current position was important to her, McKee notes, “I wanted to work in AEE because I have been an agriculture teacher, an extension agent, and a leadership scholar and my graduate degrees were from similar departments. I wanted to be in AHS at NC State because this was the only College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the country that was supporting a leadership for justice and equity (transformative leadership) program.”

“I wanted to work in a place that understood that justice and equity work are essential to the future of agriculture.”

In her role as Assistant Professor, McKee has taught Leadership and Management of Volunteers and Critical and Creative Thinking courses, and currently teaches Foundations of agricultural and extension education, serves as an advisor to graduate students, and serves on the department’s graduate committee. Her primary research “focuses on developing leadership among youth, college students, and professionals with an emphasis on transformative leadership and adaptive leadership.” 

McKee is also involved in a variety of projects and initiatives on campus, including the Oaks Leadership Scholars program, a university level Scholars program for NC State students focused on transformative leadership. The Oaks Leadership Scholars began with an Association of Leadership Educators mini-grant, a Dean’s Enrichment grant, and support for the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences that McKee created with fellow faculty member Dr. Jackie Bruce. McKee says, “We have our fifth cohort going through the program now and I am so proud of how the program has grown and the work these students have done to apply transformative leadership to issues of justice and equity.”

In addition to the Oaks Leadership Scholars program, a few of McKee’s other favorite involvements include working with Agents for Change, a leadership development program for early career Extension Professionals; New Beginnings for Colleges of Agriculture, a NIFA grant funded program to “develop cultural competence among college faculty for working with students from The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and to facilitate access to the university for youth from ECBI”; the #PassTheMicYouth program, during which McKee has contributed to the development of the Critical Positive Youth Development model; and the AHS Racial Justice committee, for which she is a co-chair.

McKee was recently awarded the Association of Leadership Educators Rising Star Award, which recognizes “an early career ALE member whose leadership and service upholds and embodies the association’s mission to strengthen and sustain the expertise of professional leadership educators” (ALE). “It feels affirming to receive an award from an association of colleagues I respect so deeply”, says McKee. “The Association of Leadership Educators has been a wonderful professional ‘home’ for me. They have  provided opportunities for collaborating with colleagues, discussing what leadership and leadership education can and should be, while offering a place to develop friendships.”

When asked what advice she has for students in the field or students seeking employment in AEE, McKee emphasized the need for adaptability, inclusion, and strong leadership. “Agricultural education, extension, and leadership education are changing and will need to continue to do so as our communities change and grow at a rapid pace. The ability to manage change will become even more important over time. Further, the ability to develop and lead inclusive programs that meet the needs of all of the people in our communities will be essential. I believe anyone who wants to work in these fields will benefit from developing the mindset and tools to embrace change and engage with people across who we have not served well historically.”