Faculty Member Focuses on Justice and Equity Work
Katherine McKee, assistant professor of 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. She 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. When her current faculty position became available, McKee worked in the Office of Faculty Development at NC State for the TH!NK Initiative, teaching an undergraduate course in agricultural and Extension education (AEE) and with the Oaks Leadership Scholars Program.
Describing why pursuing the post 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 because this was the only College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the country supporting a leadership for justice and equity (transformative leadership) program.”
As an 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 various projects and initiatives on campus, including the Oaks Leadership Scholars, a university-level program for students focused on transformative leadership. The program began with an Association of Leadership Educators mini-grant, a Dean’s Enrichment grant, and support for the department that McKee created with fellow faculty member Jackie Bruce. She 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.”
“I wanted to work in a place that understood that justice and equity work are essential to the future of agriculture.”
McKee’s other activities include Agents for Change, a leadership program for early-career Extension professionals; New Beginnings for Colleges of Agriculture, a NIFA grant-funded program to “develop cultural competence among faculty working with students from The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians”; #PassTheMicYouth, which she has contributed to 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,” she says. “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.”
What advice does McKee have for students in the field or seeking employment? She emphasizes the need for adaptability, inclusion, and strong leadership. “Agricultural education, Extension, and leadership education are changing and will need to continue doing so as our communities change and grow rapidly. 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.”