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Sarah Smart: A Humble Spirit and a Determined Mind

Raised on her family’s six-generation farm, Sarah Smart knew she wanted to be a part of agriculture for the rest of her life. Teaching was not in her plans, but after fate and faith met, she soon found her passion for teaching agriculture education after graduating from NC State in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Science. She currently teaches agriculture education at Tuscola High School in Haywood County, NC. Besides being a full-time teacher, she is also a part-time college student obtaining her teaching license and Master’s in Agriculture and Extension Education, which she hopes to complete by the 2024-2025 school year. Balancing school, a full-time job, and her family’s farming operation is not easy, but to Smart, it’s all worth it! Through it all, she does it with a humble heart and determined mind.

In her family’s diversified farming operation, they have everything from dairy cattle to vegetable produce and row crops. Smart explains “My soul sings when I’m on the farm. The only thing that comes close to that is when I’m in the classroom teaching young people about agriculture.” Smart has always held the desire to learn more about agriculture and for these reasons, she chose the agricultural and extension education (AEE) program at NC State as her field of study. NC State has allowed her to utilize her experiences, hands-on learning, research, and techniques, applying them directly in the classroom as an instructor

Smart with her agricultural education students

When asked why she decided to take this path, she replied “In short, to invest in Haywood County, youth, and agriculture.” Growing up, Smart always wanted to work in agriculture and she enjoyed helping people through tutoring. However, she did not foresee herself teaching. Oddly enough, as she was deciding what to do after graduation, a spot opened at her old high school in her hometown, which is only about 15 minutes from her family’s farm. After a lot of thought and prayer, she realized that she was being called to teach. Ironically, Smart entered NC State as an agricultural education major and changed it to agriculture science but it was all for the best, as she believes the Agriculture Science degree program was better suited for her anyway.

Another big factor that played into Smart’s decision to take the position as an Ag Ed teacher is that she wanted to invest in Haywood County. During her time at NC State, she was diagnosed with cancer twice.  Her home county raised enough money to pay for all of her medical expenses and college education. In teaching and developing her county’s youth, Smart has found a way she can give back to all those that have given to her. 

During her time as an undergrad, Smart was a Thomas Jefferson Scholar her freshman and sophomore year, and a Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fellow in her senior year. She also worked with the non-profit “All We Are” to help Ugandan schools and hospitals gain electricity. Additionally, she worked with local church missions in the triangle. Smart was a four-year member of the Young Farmers and Ranchers (YFR) club at NC State, which she thoroughly enjoyed. After moving back home, she joined her county’s local Young Farmers and Ranchers club. Smart loves that she was able to build that connection at NC State and carry it back home.

Smart on her family farm

As an aspiring Ag Ed graduate student, Smart is enrolled in Dr. Wendy Warner’s online agriculture education class. Online classes can be impersonal and challenging, however, she says “even though I’ve never met Dr. Warner in person, I feel like I know her. She has been one of the most supportive instructors I have ever had.” As a first-year teacher doing lateral entry, Smart had many new ins and outs to figure out. Dr. Warner has provided valuable insight and techniques to handle the challenges she has encountered. She has also been understanding when it comes to scheduling and deadlines, which Smart is very grateful for. As a new teacher who is taking students to various agricultural events and learning the ropes of the NC education system, it can be hard to get everything accomplished. Dr. Warner’s support and patience have allowed Smart to perform well in her class and enjoy it!  “Every assignment feels like it directly benefits me in the classroom, which makes the work ten times more valuable.” Because of Dr. Warner’s compassion, excellent communication, and generous flexibility, Smart is confident in continuing her education and capable of balancing work, family, and school. 

Several other NC State faculty and staff members have helped Smart develop into a successful student and alumnus. As her advisor, instructor, and greatest mentor and cheerleader, Dr. Joy Morgan has had an enormous impact on Smart’s undergraduate college career. In her words, “The English language falls short when I try to describe how significant her impact was on my life. I will always appreciate all she did for me during some of the hardest times of my life.”  Other teachers that impacted Smart’s life and developed her as a student include Dr. Vivek Fellner, Dr. Tavis Park, Dr. Jim Flowers, Dr. Katie McKee, Dr. Jackie Bruce, Mr. Jon Allen, and Mr. Robert Branan. Because of the impactful teachers Smart encountered in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), she says that NC State has gone above and beyond in its hiring of incredible agricultural staff.

Smart’s family serves as her number one inspiration, and her Uncle Donald Smart tops the list.  Her uncle, who is an alumnus of NC State, has worked tirelessly for the last 50 years to improve agriculture on his family farm in Haywood County and across the state of North Carolina. In 2016, he was inducted into the Western North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame. Given the opportunity to make an acceptance speech, he advocated for the current agricultural issues that North Carolina faced at the time, rather than making the speech about himself. Until this point in her life, Smart understood that her Uncle Don was a great farmer and father figure, however, she didn’t realize the extent of his contributions and accomplishments. It was simply because he never bragged or boasted about himself and it was from this experience that Smart realized she wanted to be just like her Uncle Don. Her goal is to have an impactful, meaningful life, but she doesn’t care if her name is mentioned or if she receives the credit.  She sums it up by saying “While we are mortal, the work we do can be immortal if we remove our name from such things.”

Smart with members of her FFA chapter

Although Smart is a new teacher still trying to figure out the ropes, she is working to build a 10-acre farm next to her school’s campus to utilize as an agriculture classroom. She hopes to use the farm to teach students about business management, vegetable production, crop production, livestock management, and marketing. In addition to the farm, she is working to expand the greenhouses and horticulture facilities her school currently has to include more plants, more variety, student-made planting containers, and student-managed outdoor raised beds. Looking to the future, Smart sees herself continuing to teach agriculture, managing school agriculture facilities, and coaching students as an FFA Advisor. Moreover, she sees herself taking on more of her family’s farm responsibilities. Her family intends to expand in the next few years and she plans to assist with that expansion. She is grateful to be at work in the high school program she was raised in, while also contributing to her family’s sixth-generation farm. 

Smart is one of two agriculture instructors at Tuscola High School and between the two of them, they teach seven different courses ranging from agricultural production to animal science. She says she is fortunate to have such an amazing teammate with whom she can share the workload. Currently, they are managing and expanding the horticulture facilities, maintaining the mechanic, wood, and welding shop facilities, and working on building the livestock facilities. Smart is thankful to be able to teach students the same concepts that she gets to use on her family farm. 

Smart describes the importance of her work by saying “Reaching the youth in my community and our country is critical for the future of agriculture to prosper.  Without consumers that appreciate and understand agriculture, the industry is doomed to struggle.” She strives to produce youth that is passionate about agriculture, and that will lead and create innovations for the future of agriculture. But what she feels is more important, is that her work is connective on a personal level. With so many distractions, daily decisions, and technology, a lot of people have little they feel passionate about these days. However, engaging students through activities such as taking care of livestock, or cultivating plants, helps young people discover something they can truly care about. Smart states “This world can be stressful, but the agriculture classroom can be a student’s escape from a stressful situation, or a fail-safe business incubator, to succeed!”