By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When she was in the eighth grade, Susie Whittington couldn’t wait to join FFA as her two older brothers had done before her. Sadly, women were prohibited from joining FFA at that time. But during her freshman year at Benjamin Logan High School in Bellefontaine, Ohio, FFA eased that restriction and welcomed girls.
That was 1969. Today, Dr. M. Susie Whittington is professor of agriscience education in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education and Leadership (ACEL) at Ohio State University.
“I guess you could say I’ve come a long way since my first year in FFA,” Whittington said.
ACEL prepares communicators, educators and leaders in the food, agricultural and environmental sciences to integrate research-based learning, practice and engagement, in ways that will advance positive changes that strengthen individuals, families and communities.
More importantly, Whittington has been selected as president-elect of the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA).
The NACTA is a professional society that focuses on the scholarship of teaching and learning agriculture and related disciplines at the post-secondary level. Members of NACTA are from two-year and four-year colleges, public and private.
Formed in 1955, the goal of NACTA is three-fold: provide a forum for all post-secondary teachers of agriculture for discussion of issues relating to the advance of agriculture; seek improvement in the post-secondary teaching of agriculture through examination and discussion of courses, teaching and testing techniques, facilities and materials; and promote and reward instructional excellence in agriculture and the research supporting this instruction.
Whittington will serve as president-elect for 2020-2021 and will take over leadership of the organization at the 2021 annual conference, which will be held at OSU’s Wooster campus in June 2021. And she can’t believe that it all began with her interest in FFA.
“Many high school ag teachers across the nation fought back at the idea of women in FFA,” Whittington recalls. “My freshman year I became secretary of our chapter and at the time that position was the office most girls held. Eventually, my high school ag teacher convinced me to become an ag teacher.”
After obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education at Ohio State University in 1982, her Masters in 1988 and her Ph.D. in 1991, she fast-tracked her way to join the agricultural department at OSU in 2000. She taught a variety of courses in the agriscience education major, preparing students to become high school agricultural educators.
Whittington says it’s a great time for youth to be looking into any agriculture-related endeavors in college and beyond.
“Colleges with ag science ties are stronger than ever,” Whittington said. “A lot of that can be attributed to much of our population moving toward our locally grown movement,” she said. “I believe as that movement began to take shape the word ‘agriculture’ became defined differently and broadly in peoples’ minds that they did previously.
“And then there was the sustainability movement and more and more people associated this movement with agriculture and the science behind it. Agriculture began to diversify more and ag began to share its story more broadly than ever.”
Whittington said the field-to-plate initiative allowed people to understand all aspects of the industry that agriculture touches.
“Agriculture has come a long way and people are discovering the science involved in producing foods that are healthier,” she said. “So it’s a great time for high school seniors to take a strong look at agriculture.”
“NACTA is fortunate to have Dr. Whittington in this role because she brings in a wealth of national and university leadership experience from serving as president in the American Association for Agricultural Education to the university-wide Director of the Second-year Transformational Experience Program (STEP) here at Ohio State,” said Dr. Scott Scheer, professor and interim chair of ACEL.