Coming Full Circle: Why I Became an Ag Educator
At the start of her college journey, Susan Jones was completely unaware of all the opportunities that awaited her at NC State. When she was not admitted to the freshman NC State Class of 2018 and was offered an alternative pathway program called “STEAM,” which is now Spring Connect, Jones found herself really discouraged. Little did she know that four years later, that program would be the main topic of her thesis during grad school. Once admitted to NC State, Jones found herself being pushed out of her comfort zone into a new world of endless opportunities. She found that many of her lifelong friends and cherished memories would be products of her time at NC State.
Jones double majored in agricultural education and poultry science during her undergraduate career, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2018. She continued her education by completing a master’s degree in agricultural and extension education in 2020.
“NC State gave me so many opportunities to prepare for my career, such as being able to work at the Chicken and Talley Turkey Research Units, study abroad twice, serve as president of the Poultry Science Club, earn the USPOULTRY Foundation Student of the Year Award, complete research during my undergraduate and graduate careers, and even become a published author in two research journals.”
“I am so grateful for everything NC State has offered me!”
While at NC State, Jones honed valuable teaching skills under the guidance of Wendy Warner, teaching multiple sections of AEE 226. Additionally, she prepared herself for her career by working as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Academic Programs officer under Anne Hubbard. These experiences provided Jones with invaluable skills for working with students and greatly contributed to her current career.
”My resume, and myself as a person, would not be the same without these NC State opportunities,” she says. “I am so grateful for everything NC State has offered me!”
Currently, Jones teaches at Athens Drive Magnet High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she teaches a variety of agricultural-based courses. Her work responsibilities vary from teaching students in the classroom to conducting numerous FFA opportunities throughout the school year and summer. Within her role, she has successfully written several grants, securing $8,000 in funding during her three years of teaching. These grants support various projects and upgrades within the agriculture program. For Jones, her foremost responsibility as an educator is to build meaningful relationships with students and ensure they have an encouraging environment in which to learn and succeed.
Jones’ biggest influence has been her high school agriculture teacher, Ronnie Warren. Warren not only inspired her to pursue agricultural education during high school but also instilled in her the belief that “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” a mantra that continues to guide her. This perspective was especially helpful when facing the disappointment of not being accepted into her dream college right after high school. This pivotal experience led Jones to write her mixed methods thesis on the impacts of the Spring Connect program during her graduate studies. Alongside her parents, Rick and Tamra Jones, several NC State faculty and staff, including Lynn Worley-Davis, Wendy Warner, Joy Morgan, Travis Park, Barbara Kirby, Ken Anderson, Anne Hubbard and Tricia Buddin, have significantly impacted Jones’ life and contributed to her career success.
Though not always in Jones’ initial plans, becoming an agriculture educator emerged as a passion and career option for her during high school when she became deeply involved with agriculture classes and FFA. Later, in college, she discovered a passion for poultry science as well. Her student teaching experience at Fuquay-Varina High School under Michael Bowden influenced Jones and helped her understand that she could combine both passions as an agriculture educator. Before entering the classroom, she decided to further develop her skills in teaching and research by completing a master’s degree. Since obtaining her degree in the spring of 2020, Jones has thrived as an agricultural educator and continues to grow in her role.
Most of the students Jones works with have limited or no background knowledge about agriculture. As an agricultural teacher, her goal is to equip students with the ability to make informed decisions as consumers about the food they buy and to provide them with a deeper understanding of the hard work and dedication involved in agriculture. Although teaching agriculture to urban students presents challenges, Jones embraces the opportunity to enhance her teaching approach by considering their prior experiences, or lack thereof, to ensure the content is relatable. Witnessing her students making connections to what they see in grocery stores is a rewarding experience. Furthermore, working with a diverse student body at Athens Drive provides Jones with a unique opportunity for learning from and teaching students from various backgrounds.
Jones is passionate about her position as an agriculture educator and looks forward to continuing to impact students in some capacity over the next five years. She hopes to find ways to engage in research projects, an area she deeply misses from her graduate program. While her time at Athens Drive has been a remarkable learning experience, she remains open to new career opportunities that challenge her to continue growing professionally.