Editor’s Note: In celebration of National FFA Week (Feb. 15-22), we asked McKenzie Baecker a former ED intern and current student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to guest author this post.
Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and graduating high school with a class size of 40 makes it easy to assume that I didn’t have the opportunities or the quality education needed to succeed beyond the classroom. However, since joining the FFA (formerly known as the “Future Farmers of America”) as a seventh grader, a foundation was laid to open many possibilities for my future. The student organization helped me network with agricultural leaders, interact with students from across the country, and grow as an individual.
In nine years of FFA membership, my agriculture teacher pushed me outside my comfort zone by encouraging me to compete in speaking contests and attend leadership conferences to meet new people. I served in leadership capacities and have given back to my community through a variety of service projects. It did not take me long to realize the positive impact that FFA can make on students and I found myself developing a passion for the organization and agricultural education. After experiencing all of this and watching the enthusiasm of other agriculture teachers, it felt natural for me to pursue my own career in agricultural education.
Along with my classroom/laboratory instruction and Supervised Agricultural Experience, FFA opened the door to the opportunities and quality education that many believe does not exist in a small, rural school. The combination of all three of these elements and dedicated agricultural education teachers, I left high school both college and career ready.
In 2010, I started college at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls as an agricultural education major and FFA came with me. While college has been filled with many wonderful experiences, one of the most valuable was this past fall when I had the opportunity to intern with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in Washington, D.C. After receiving the offer, I traded my barn boots for heels and this small town girl hit the city. While working on rural education outreach efforts at ED, the puzzle piece I had of growing up in rural Wisconsin and graduating from a small school suddenly fit into a much larger picture. I was surrounded by talented individuals who were all working to ensure our nation’s students receive the quality education they deserve.
As I approach my final year of college, I am eagerly awaiting my turn to make a positive difference in the lives of students, whether that is teaching in a classroom, or working on educational issues at the government level. Agricultural education puts in students’ hands what they need today so they can be themselves tomorrow, and I am ready to play my part in that noble task. FFA has led me here and my desire to influence positive change in education is keeping me here.
McKenzie Baecker a former intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach and a senior at the University of Wisconsin-River Fall.