ALEC Fall 2018 Newsletter

ALEC Alumna Awarded for Efforts

Hailing from Valdosta, Ga., Sara Hughes has been surrounded by agriculture for much of her life, beginning in her childhood. Hughes and her older siblings were involved early in the agricultural industry on their family farm. In seventh grade, she joined the FFA chapter at Hahira Middle School, sparking her interest in what was soon to be a lifelong passion. Through middle and high school, she was an active FFA member and showed pigs as a student. Upon graduation, she began her college career at Valdosta State University and then Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, before transferring to the University of Georgia. She majored in agricultural education due in large part to the positive influence of her high school agricultural education teacher. 

“My high school ag teachers had a major impact on me, and I wanted to have that same influence on students myself,” Hughes said. 

Hughes graduated from UGA with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Education and stayed to complete her master’s degree in agricultural education. During her graduate program, Hughes served as a graduate assistant in our department. Later, she continued her education and earned a specialist degree from Piedmont College in Curriculum and Instruction. 

Hughes’ career began from humble beginnings as a paraprofessional at an elementary school in Madison County. While not her original plan, this unique experience helped equip her with knowledge and experience that benefitted her in other positions. Later, she taught seventh grade life science at Madison County Middle School. However, she continued to search for an agricultural education program. 

After years of waiting, she was offered an agricultural education position at Madison County Middle School to begin a new program. After some time, she was contacted by Athens Christian School and offered the opportunity to begin a program and FFA chapter at the first ever private school. While at Athens Christian, Hughes had much success, including training multiple state winning Career Development Event (CDE) teams and a state and national officer! 

When her family’s poultry operation began to expand, she needed a position closer to home. At that time, Oglethorpe County Middle School needed a new agricultural education program, and she accepted that position just six miles from her family's operation. She has loved her past five years spent there, and it has helped her develop an even stronger passion for the work she does. 

Hughes’ passion for her students has grown over the years, as evidenced in her recent College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) Young Alumni Achievement Award. Hughes was recognized at the 2018 CAES Alumni Banquet for her excellence in agricultural education. 

“This was such a humbling opportunity to be recognized for the work that I love to do and think is so vitally important to our world and society! There have been many people who have helped and supported me along the way that share in this recognition as well,” Hughes said. 

She explained that her wonderful support system helped get her through her years of teaching, including her husband, friends, and of course, students and parents. She was raised in a family that instilled in her values such as a strong work ethic and respect, which have been instrumental in her success. She was always encouraged and supported to succeed in her educational endeavors, and this constant encouragement and support has been one of the driving forces in her work today. 

Since her time as a student at UGA in the ALEC Department, Hughes has made a name for herself throughout the agriculture community, and has done an exceptional job representing the ALEC department as a whole. She has truly embodied many of our key values including education and the promotion of the agriculture industry, while changing the lives of students she has encountered along the way. 

Please join us in congratulating Sara Hughes for her achievements, and with thanking all our Georgia agricultural education teachers who support students across the state.

Sarah Hughes
Sara Hughes with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and CAES Dean and Director Sam Pardue.

Rural Stress Summit    

To the public, the American farmer is often imaged as the strong person with tough hands that works relentlessly, feeds America and is unbreakable. Often it seems to be forgotten that farmers are people who have struggles just as everyone else and sometimes even more. The stresses of being a farmer 24/7, financial pressure, unpredictable weather, the public being reliant on their crops being plentiful and other factors cause pressure that can affect the mental and physical health of farmers. 

“Suicide among rural communities relative to large metropolitan areas is about 50% higher, and it’s been increasing over the past several years,” said Sam Pardue, Dean and Director of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia. 

Pardue became aware of these statistics and developed an idea for hosting the Rural Stress Summit. On December 10 and 11, the Summit brought different stakeholders together to discuss the challenges facing rural America that can hurt the mental health of farmers and others. “Let’s start talking about issues even if we may be a little uncomfortable about it,” Pardue said. 

Dean Pardue’s Summit was instrumental in moving forward some of the research occurring in ALEC. Jessica Holt, assistant professor of Agricultural Communication, also conducts research related to this topic. 

“One of the things I am working on specifically is how we can provide extension agents with resources to direct farmers in the right areas to get the help they need,” Holt said. 

Holt’s research also seeks to identify Georgians' needs for accurate messages on science. Her research focus is on consumer messaging and how audiences can understand specific messages easily, because she realizes both research and messaging is not a one size fits all. The Rural Stress Summit was an effort to bring important groups to the table to address the needs of rural America and the farmers that live in it. Holt was instrumental in moderating the final session of the Rural Stress Summit. 

“I hope it will be more than just a two-day event where everyone goes home and says ‘oh that was nice’, and that we will actually start doing some things,” Pardue said.

Dean Sam Pardue addresses the Rural Stress Summit

Unexpected Encounters

Every year in October, Spence Field of Moultrie, Ga., is flooded with exhibitors and visitors from all over the nation eager to spend three days in this south Georgia town. What began as a mini-trade show known as the AET Club Dealer Days on the ABAC campus in 1964, has now been transformed into one of the nation’s largest agricultural-based trade shows. The Sunbelt Ag Expo has been in existence for 41 years, and to many is known as North America’s Premier Farm Show. It brings in over 1200 exhibitors every year to fill the 100-acre exhibitor site which is adjacent to a 600-acre research farm used for demonstrations throughout the expo. With over 300 different seminars and demonstrations offered to visitors along with the extensive list of exhibitors, the Expo has something to offer anyone walking through its gates. 

This year, our agricultural communications students and faculty members from the ALEC Department had the opportunity to experience the Expo for themselves. On October 18, 11 students, accompanied by Drs. Abigail Borron, Jessica Holt, and Don Edgar, got a firsthand look at this year’s Sunbelt Ag Expo. While attending, students were put on assignment to find a story and share it, whether through writing, photography, or videography. These students have spent large amounts of time in the classroom practicing their writing, photography, and videography skills and this was a chance for them to put what they had learned to the test. Every student had a different experience, and some were extremely successful during their visit to the Expo. 

Allison Hawk, an agricultural communications junior, attended the event. She had previously attended the Sunbelt Ag Expo while a high school student; however, this year it made a larger impact. 

Hawk was given the opportunity to step outside of her comfort zone, and network with a wide variety of vendors including companies and organizations such as Georgia Farm Bureau, John Deere, and Georgia Grown. She explained how she felt it was a valuable experience for her and her peers to have the opportunity to work in an environment outside the classroom to challenge them. 

“I think it was very beneficial to take what we were learning and apply it to a real life situation. In class, we practice what we’re learning with each other and that is beneficial, but being able to use that knowledge in a different environment really helped with actually applying what we’ve been taught,” Hawk said.  

Cole Sosebee, senior agricultural communications student, also attended the expo this past year, and was blown away by all that is showcased throughout the event. He had the opportunity to see agricultural products and companies on another level, and expand his overall knowledge of the industry. It was a great chance for Sosebee, along with other UGA ALEC students, to step out of their comfort zone and put their skills and knowledge to the test. 

Sosebee explained that at the beginning it was tough for him to approach people as he searched for a story to write, but with some practice, it became much more natural. While on the hunt for a story beat, he was approached by representatives from a company known as Growing America, which is an agricultural cooperative that focuses on agricultural issues while telling the story of the American farmer. He was interviewed by the company and asked to share his future plans in the agriculture industry. 

“The old saying still rings true, it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. Just making connections in the industry can open up so many pathways,” said Sosebee. 

Not only did this experience allow him to foster connections with industry leaders, he was then offered a job by Growing America. Through this brief encounter he was able to convey the knowledge and experience he has gained while a student in the ALEC Department. Yet, of equal importance he was able to show his passion for the industry. This brief encounter has now opened a new set of doors for him, and hopefully has for many of our students. 

If you would like to support our students in other travel and learning opportunities, please consider making a gift to the ALEC Department here.

Cole Sosebee
Cole speaking at Sunbelt Ag Expo



Passion and Positivity  

Born and raised in Danville, Pennsylvania, Dr. Eric Rubenstein lived the majority of his early life up north in Pennsylvania before venturing down to the southern region of the nation. He attended Penn State University where he received a Bachelors Degree in Agricultural and Extension Education with a minor in Civic and Community Engagement. After receiving some advice from faculty members at Penn State he decided to go to the University of Florida to pursue his Masters and Ph.D. in Agricultural Education and Communication. Shortly after graduating, Rubenstein was offered three job positions, one of them being a position here at the University of Georgia, which was when he joined our ALEC team.

As an assistant professor for agricultural education, Rubenstein dedicates much of his time to his students. However, when growing up, if asked what he wanted to do in the future, he would not have said teach as his first option. For much of his time as a kid he wanted to pursue a career in veterinary science. However, after losing some beloved animals he owned and worked with, he decided that instead of working long hours and being on call for animals his whole life, he would be on call for his students instead. Whether it be helping a student complete a project, care for an animal, write a paper, plan their college career, or find their passion, Rubenstein has embraced it all in order to benefit his students in the long run.

“Honestly, my favorite part about my job is seeing students graduate and seeing the impact they have on their students. I get to see the passion they discovered, and it is exciting for me to see where they went,” Rubenstein said. “Now, working here in the ALEC Department I get to see that through my students and then through their students in return. It is really neat to see the ripple effect on what we can do and the impact we can have in a classroom.”

Rubenstein explained that one special part about teaching is having the chance to be a part of the larger impact on society as a whole, and to him there is no greater profession than teaching. Education is the foundation of our nation, and our educators have the chance to play a role in encouraging, motivating, and guiding our next generation as they move up into the work place. It is not an easy job, and it is not for everyone, but with a passion for children, agriculture, and education this could be the perfect career. Our educators truly have the chance to be a light in their students’ lives, and change their lives for the better.

“I recently had a student that graduated college, she was a Junior the last year I taught high school and she told me, ‘you really are the reason I didn’t drop out.’ It’s that one kid, if you can motivate that one kid, prove that home is not so bad, that life is going to be okay, and you can get through something you just have to have a positive outlook on it. It’s really important to motivate them and find the joy in their life,” Rubenstein said.

We are extremely grateful to have an educator like Dr. Rubenstein in our ALEC Family here at UGA. His energy and positivity is always seen throughout his work, and he stated that of all the departments he has experienced throughout his time in school, there is just something special about the ALEC family.


Learning From Life's Teachable Moments

Luz Morales, a senior in our department, is excited to be wrapping up her undergraduate career with not only a major in Agricultural Education, but also two certificates. One of them is in Sustainability, and the other, Environmental Education. For those who don’t know, the Environmental Education Certificate was started in Fall 2016 by Dr. Fuhrman from the ALEC department and Dr. Irwin from the Forestry department. Luz chose to participate in this certificate program after being enrolled in Dr. Fuhrman’s Teaching with Animals course, where she fell in love with the idea of bringing what she learned from that course into her future agricultural education classroom.

Some of the requirements Luz has completed to earn this certificate have included the Teaching with Animals course, a science course, a curriculum development course, and her capstone project. For this project, Luz chose to do a research project under Dr. Fuhrman, where she did a needs assessment of the Oasis Catolico After School Program, and then taught a lesson there. Through this study, she was able to come to the finding that the tutors in the program needed content knowledge in the areas of science and social studies. She was able to set this project up so that someone can continue the research to help those tutors gain the knowledge and experience they need to create a more successful program.

While Luz has enjoyed the certificate program overall, her favorite part has been the experience she has gained from it through her involvement in teaching and research. Through the Teaching with Animals course, Luz was able to practice her teaching skills by writing a lesson plan that incorporated the use of small animals and demonstrating that to Extra Special People students in Watkinsville. While she believes it has been easier for her to complete the certificate because she is already a student in the ALEC department, she also says that there is a place for everyone who has an interest in environmental education. There were students ranging from forestry students to art students in the service-learning course that she was required to take for the certificate, and she said that they all found their place in the program and thoroughly enjoyed it. For their project, they worked with Howard B. Stroud Elementary School to incorporate environmental education into their existing curriculum. This entailed creating lesson plans, designing signage for the program, as well as general clean-up of the schools’ forest land.

Throughout her experience, she has enjoyed working with Dr. Fuhrman because he is a very energetic person who has always been able to give her great advice. “He understands the obstacles that you face as a researcher, a student, or even just as an individual. He’s very uplifting and is just a good person to be around, especially when you’re under stress. He’s been a great advisor to me, and is always encouraging people to find life’s teachable moments”. Along with Dr. Fuhrman, Luz has also enjoyed being in the ALEC department because of how close and welcoming it is. “It makes it really nice that the professors in my department care enough about me to know my name and ask how I’m doing”.

After she graduates in May 2019, Luz plans on going straight to graduate school here at UGA to pursue a Master’s Degree in Agricultural and Environmental Education. She is currently a member of the Double Dawgs program so it will only take her another year, and she plans on entering the classroom to teach agriculture at a middle school after that. When asked how she plans on using what she learned from the Environmental Education Certificate in the classroom, Luz said “One thing I really like about environmental education is that it includes soft skills and other skills you need to learn as you grow up. It takes the environmental education curriculum and uses it to teach teamwork and communication. I’ll be able to use it to help students learn things they’ll use for the rest of their lives”.

Luz Morales

Alumni Spotlight

A native of Chatsworth, Ga., Emilia Jackson grew up in Murray County where she spent much of her high school career playing sports, working on her family’s beef cattle farm, and of course, dedicating time to the National FFA Organization. With much of her life spent surrounded by agriculture, it was fitting that she would choose to pursue a career in agricultural education, however agriculture was not the only thing near and dear to her heart from her childhood. With a die-hard Georgia fan as a father, from a young age she was destined to be a Dawg, and specifically in her case, an AgDawg. 

She entered the University of Georgia majoring in agricultural education, which was just the beginning of her time spent in our department. Four Towers, the Athens home to the ALEC Department, soon became Jackson’s second home as she spent much of her time there as an undergraduate student, and also later on when she was working towards earning a master’s degree in agricultural leadership. ALEC will always hold a special place in her heart as she grew to love the small and close-knit community associated with the department. 

“Although the professors did not realize it at the time, they helped me understand the importance of developing relationships with students and how that impacts the overall learning. ALEC folks really are the best,” Jackson said. 

Jackson’s time at UGA provided her with some of her fondest memories. She explained that one of her favorite parts about Athens and UGA specifically would have to be the history and traditions. Being able to walk in the same places that Abraham Baldwin, Andrew Soule, and so many others who saw a need for educating the state’s people in agriculture and mechanical arts is really special to her. Along with that, there is a thrill and sense of excitement in earning the right to walk under the arch after graduation and ring the chapel bell to celebrate just as so many bulldogs have done before. UGA holds a special place in Jackson’s heart, and it has helped her get to where she is in her career today. 

She now resides in Cave Spring, Georgia and is the agricultural education teacher at Pepperell High School. She and her husband raise cattle and help to manage Jackson Farms in addition to their other jobs. One of the most unique parts about her job is being able to connect to a community through her position as an agriculture teacher, and one of her favorite parts about her job is working with her students and seeing them succeed. Jackson is extremely passionate about the work she does and truly embraces every aspect of teaching, whether it be working in the classroom, outside with FFA members, attending FFA events, or even just running into past students, her work always excites her. 

“Every day students come into my room who are hungry, homeless, sad, angry, and they are expected to learn just as well as the student sitting next to them. Most of their problems I cannot fix, but I do try to support them as much as I can when they walk in my door and hope that maybe along the way they learn a few things because they know that I care about them as a person,” Jackson said. 

She takes every opportunity she is given to support her students and is a great representation of the ideals the ALEC department upholds. Her work has not gone unnoticed, and she makes a conscious effort every day to do what is in her power to positively impact her students. Jackson was just recently awarded the Floyd County Teacher of the Year for the countless hours of work she has dedicated to teaching and providing for her students.

Emilia Jackson

Agricultural Water Efficiency Team

Dr. Abigail Borron and Dr. Jessica Holt have partnered with the Agricultural Water Efficiency Team (AgWet) on their research related to soil moisture sensors being used with the production of cotton and peanuts. These sensors are put into the soil to help farmers make irrigation scheduling decisions to improve their overall yield, and the data can then be sent to a device such as a smartphone to graph and document it. Extension agents in each town work closely with their local farmers to input these systems and develop personal connections with them. Within the large research team, there are three sub groups that focus on different areas of the overall research.

The technical group includes engineers and soil experts who focus on the logistics behind the probes and sensors to ensure the product is functioning as it should be.  The social science group, which is the area Borron and Holt are involved in, focuses on the economic impact and perspectives of farmers who might be using the devices. They have been conducting surveys and interviewing farmers to gather data on their thoughts and opinions of the technology. Focus groups will be conducted in early January with farmers throughout the south Georgia area who have tested or been exposed to the AgWet technology. 

The third group focuses on education and outreach by taking the findings from the social science and technology groups and applying it to other settings. Extension agents focus on local outreach and inputting these systems into classrooms and community gardens. They hope to use these sensors to show students how water moves within crops and further their knowledge of the system. Holt and Borron focus their research on how effective people believe this system is, and report that back to the larger group. 

“One of the most important parts about our research is listening to the farmers and interpreting what they tell us,” Holt said. 

In the next couple months, they will gather their data and begin to analyze farmers’ opinions on the use of these sensors in their farming practices. While from the outside it seems effective, it is vital that they listen to responses from farmers, and adjust the system based on what the farmers tell them. The next stage in their research will involve focus groups that will be hosted next month, and then they can move forward to other portions of the project. 

AGWet Research
Pictured above, Adam Rabinowitz, Jessica Holt, and Abigail Borron.

Student Highlight

Reaganne Coile, a junior at the University of Georgia, has been given the opportunity to serve as the legislative intern for Senator John Wilkinson for the spring 2019 semester. She hopes to use her knowledge and experience from her agricultural communications major and public policy and management minor to assist Senator Wilkinson as he works with the Georgia General Assembly. 

The Georgia Legislative Internship lasts the duration of the Georgia Legislative session which begins in January and can end in early-mid April. Coile will live and work full-time in Atlanta. As a legislative aide to the Chair of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, she will correspond with Senator Wilkinson's constituents and interest groups, draft research briefs, attend hearings and briefings, and any other matters which Senator Wilkinson's office is involved with. 

“From this experience I hope to gain insight and experience in the field that I plan to go into upon graduation. I hope to see firsthand the incredible work the Georgia General Assembly does each year and to determine a specific career path for myself. I also hope to take away professional connections as I am excited to get to work with everyone else in Senator Wilkinson's office as well as other legislative aides who will be working in other offices,” Coile said. 

Coile is excited for the work she will get to do over the next semester, and is hoping this position will help her solidify her future career plans. With a hands-on and involved position such as this one, she will gain valuable work experience and have the opportunity to foster professional connections with people in the agriculture industry and legislative realm.

Reaganne Coile

UGA Students Attend National FFA Convention

Students from the University of Georgia Tifton and Athens campuses, enrolled in the agricultural education program, attended the National FFA Convention in October to gain real-world insight about their future roles as teachers. 

For the past couple of years, ALEC faculty have traveled with students to the convention. This year, four of our five UGA agricultural education faculty traveled with these students. They included: Drs. Barry Croom (Tifton), Don Edgar (Athens), Eric Rubenstein (Athens), and Ashley Yopp (Tifton). Although some students have attended the convention as middle or high school students, most students see the experience anew through the eyes of a teacher.

“This experience allows our students to begin to make the transition from being a college student to a middle or high school teacher charged with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of the children in their care,” Rubenstein said.

Caroline Waldrep, a CAES senior majoring in agricultural education, is a veteran attendee of the FFA convention, but gained a new perspective during this year’s convention in Indianapolis. 

“This was my sixth time attending,” Waldrep said. “I always love attending National FFA Convention, because it brings me so much joy to see so many others sharing their passion for agriculture ... I was encouraged by how passionate they are about agriculture, and I know it’s going to bring me so much happiness to be able to make trips like this with my own students in the future.”

During their time at the convention and expo, the 23 CAES agricultural education students helped with contests, attended workshops, witnessed student successes and mingled with FFA members from all corners of the nation. They also shared their experiences at UGA while working at the expo’s UGA booth.

“I spent time answering questions and sharing my experiences at UGA to prospective students,” said Jay Moon, a CAES senior agricultural education major who worked at the booth. "It was a great experience to meet so many individuals who have been inspired to further their education in agriculture.”

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the FFA trip was the sense of pride the UGA students felt about their chosen major. Attendee Haley Sosebee, a CAES agricultural education major, said the experience reminded her of why she chose a career in agricultural education.

“It was a reminder of what I love about FFA and agriculture education,” Sosebee said. “Being in a college classroom for so long really made me feel disconnected from the things I loved as an FFA member. I am constantly focused on getting through college, and I seem to lose sight of what makes me passionate about agriculture education. The convention brought all of that excitement back.”


Students attend FFA

Congratulations, Ag Dawg Graduates!

This year’s UGA Tifton campus graduation address was given by Dr. Ashley Yopp, assistant professor in ALEC. Congratulations to all of our Fall 2018 graduates!

Anna December 18 graduate
Ashley Yopp December 18 graduate
Tifton December 2018 graduation

Photo Contest Results

Thank you to all who entered our ALEC Photo Contest. Five photos were selected to be showcased in our ALEC Four Towers building. If you make it to campus, please stop by and see the new artwork from our students and alumni. Congratulations David Shane Curry, Abbey Gretsch, Sadie Lackey, and Amanda Stephens Newquist!