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Developing the Future Leaders of Agriculture

Agricultural and Human Sciences (AHS) alumni, Jackie Knowles, is leading the future generation of agricultural leaders as an agriculture education (Ag Ed) teacher and Future Farmers of America (FFA) advisor at Southern Lee High School. Knowles graduated from NC State in May of 2017 with a major in agriculture education and a minor in animal science. Putting her education to good use, she currently teaches five different agriculture courses and provides students with instruction in the subjects of generalized agriculture, animal sciences, and sustainable agricultural production practices.  

Knowles’ students in the school greenhouse

Before becoming an Ag Ed teacher, Knowles served her country in the military.  She compared her job in the military as being similar to agricultural extension (on a global aspect). When deciding on a career, she reflected on her agricultural background, specifically her experience in the animal sciences industry, and had initially chosen to study veterinary bio-science. However, Knowles was not completely sold on this study of agriculture so she reached out for guidance. Her life was changed during one phone call with Dr. Jim Flowers, the Agriculture and Extension Education (AEE) program director at the time. She explains that after a phone call discussing the agriculture education program with Dr. Flowers, she decided to switch from veterinary bio-science to Ag Ed and instantly knew she had chosen the right career path!  Knowles said that “Teaching young people agricultural vocational skills just made sense to me as far as the next step in my career.”  That initial phone call with Dr. Flowers led to a satisfactory, successful career path. Because of her accomplishments in the Ag Ed field, Knowles’ became a recent recipient of the 2022 Outstanding Young Alumni Award presented by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) at NC State!

Jackie Knowles with daughter
Jackie Knowles with her daughter at the CALS Alumni Award Ceremony

When asked how her time at NC State has impacted her, Knowles said “NC State just feels like home!” Knowles’ journey to obtaining her undergraduate degree took a little longer than most due to her military service. However, she found support and assurance within the AHS department, saying that her college experience felt like coming home to family. “From the time I started coursework in AEE, it just felt different, I was more than a number; my professors even knew my children’s names.” The impact that the AHS department had on Knowles’ education and life is still evident in her teaching today. When doing research with her students, the first resource she looks to is NC State. Knowles’ career allows her to bring students back to campus and share the resources and experiences she had as a student (and that they could have one day as well)! NCSU also gives her opportunities to connect with other military veteran alumni, which allows her to retain lifelong bonds within the Wolfpack Community. 

There are several NC State professors that Knowles looks up to and that was instrumental in helping her develop throughout her college career. These include Dr. Travis Park, Dr. Wendy Warner, and Dr. Joy Morgan. Because of their impact, Knowles knows that she can rely on them for ideas and support. She says these professors are excellent assets for the field. Another professor, Dr. Gary Moore serves as an inspiration for Knowles, who was her student teaching observing professor.  She says that Dr. Moore is the epitome of “loving your job,” saying that he enjoys what he does, and hardly makes it look like work! Knowles hopes to display that same work ethic and attitude to her own students. Although retired, Dr. Moore continues to make an impact in the world of agriculture and serve the agricultural community at NC State.

Knowles with her FFA Students

Knowles thoroughly enjoys her job and plans to stay at Southern Lee High School to continue to teach agriculture courses and serve as an FFA advisor. She stated, “I have big ideas for my program and I’m excited to see what my students and FFA Chapter will continue to do.” In her classroom, students are exposed to hands-on activities where they problem solve, as well as, apply what they learn with the program animals, greenhouse, and land lab areas. Her role as an FFA leader is to provide guidance and knowledge to students that are interested in agriculture and leadership.

Exposing students to new and exciting experiences is the main focus of any teacher, and that goal is no exception for Knowles in her own teaching. She also believes that students learn better when they are enjoying what they do, which is why she goes to such great lengths to provide an enjoyable, yet educational experience for her students.   Engaging students with hands-on and applicable agriculture experience is exciting and enriching, and as an Ag Ed teacher, Knowles has taught students that had never seen or touched a livestock animal before, grown food from seed, or were aware of the many agricultural-related careers aside from being a farmer or veterinarian. “It’s so amazing to see their faces when they discover something new!” Being able to share her love of agriculture helps her students understand the importance of it in their day-to-day lives, while also exposing them to the many agricultural-related career opportunities for their futures.