CALS alumna marks special anniversary as agriculture teacher

In 1986, when Gwen Gentry Clark graduated from N.C. State University with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education, she made a list of goals she hoped to achieve in her career as a high-school agriculture teacher. Among those goals was that at least one of her students could obtain the coveted American FFA Degree. This year, as she celebrated her 25th year as an agriculture teacher at Avery County High, she also celebrated the achievement of that goal – twice over.

Not one but two of her former students became the first students ever from Avery County to earn the degrees, which they received at the 2011 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Ind., this past October.

One of the two honorees is Clark’s former student Olivia Watson, who graduated from Avery in 2009 and is now a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences student majoring in agricultural education.  The other is 2010 Avery graduate and current Lenoir-Rhyne University student Jared Clark — who is also Gwen Clark’s son.

Jared and Olivia were among 60 FFA members from North Carolina who earned the 2011 American FFA Degree.

“The American FFA Degree is the highest award an FFA member can earn as an individual,” Clark said. “It is a strenuous application and one that an FFA member must set a goal of achieving while in high school, as early as the 10th grade.”

Clark herself was awarded the Honorary American FFA Degree in 1999.

At Avery County High, she teaches three levels of horticulture courses and agricultural advanced studies. And of course she is adviser to the high school’s FFA.

“The leadership potential through the FFA is amazing,” she said. “I am a product of it myself. Watching students gain self confidence and know that they are unique and that there is a place for them in this organization is amazing.”

– Terri Leith

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