The Western Illinois University School of Agriculture was recognized as a top nationwide program during the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) convention Nov. 30-Dec. 4 in New Orleans, LA.

School of Agriculture Director Andy Baker was presented with the 2021 NAAE Outstanding Postsecondary Agriculture Program award during the convention.

The award, sponsored by Bayer, is presented to postsecondary programs which “emphasize lasting teaching methods, enhance student motivation and exemplify great experiential learning.”

Western Illinois University School of Ag Honored as a Top Nationwide Program

WIU School of Agriculture Director Andy Baker, center, is pictured with NAAE Region IV President Deanna Thies, left, of Missouri, and NAAE President Sherisa Nailor, right, of Pennsylvania.

The WIU agriculture program was honored because of strong results in training and placing new agriculture teachers. Over the last 21 years, the program has an 87 percent placement rate, and a 66 percent retention rate.

“The success can be found at the heart of WIU, Dr. Baker,” according to an NAAE news release. “Dr. Baker has led the program since 1999, thus providing continuity of focus for all matters. Baker has the primary responsibility for coordinating and delivering the ag education curriculum, supervising faculty and support staff, and coordinating all activities associated with the University farm.”

The NAAE pointed to several WIU courses that have helped the University become a leader in agricultural education, including the Summer Experience in Ag Education, where students are interviewed for student teacher placements. They also praised the WIU program for establishing partnerships throughout the state, including working with St. Paul School in Macomb to teach younger children about the agriculture industry, and with the Illinois Farm Bureau to sponsor the Collegiate FFA Greenhand Motivational Conference.

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Baker said it is a true honor to have the University’s agricultural education program recognized by the national organization.

“This honor truly reflects the hard work and dedication of our graduates in securing teaching positions, and their ability to retain these positions, plus secure tenure,” said Baker. “It is also a privilege and honor to be nominated by your peers within the state of Illinois to qualify for a Region IV award. It is a priority of mine to ensure that our graduates take pride in their institutional choice, as well as strive to be the best educators they can be, and that their decision to become agricultural educators is by choice and not by chance.”

Western Illinois University School of Ag Honored as a Top Nationwide Program

Cambridge High School agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor Trent Taber, center, is pictured with NAAE Region IV President Deanna Thies, left, of Missouri, and NAAE President Sherisa Nailor, right, of Pennsylvania.

In addition to the WIU award, 2015 University alumnus Trent Taber, the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Cambridge School District, was also honored by the NAAE. Taber and the Cambridge High School agriculture program were one of six agricultural education programs nationwide to receive the 2021 NAAE Outstanding Secondary/Middle School Program award during the national convention.

More than 50 percent of the students at Cambridge High School are enrolled in an agriculture class, where the Three-Circle-Model of Agriculture Education is implemented.

“Mr. Trent Taber has organized and managed the Cambridge agriculture program to be nationally-recognized in a variety of activities, and is more than deserving of his Region IV award,” said Baker.

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The NAAE said through Taber’s work as FFA chapter advisor at Cambridge High School, he stresses the importance of leadership development for all students and encourages their participation and involvement in their chapter.

“This award recognition is a direct reflection of the hard work that the students, school staff, administration, alumni and community have put in to grow the future of agriculture in Cambridge,” said Taber. “We are so blessed as a small school to have stakeholders who see the value in agricultural education.”

NAAE, with offices in Lexington, KY, is the professional organization for agricultural educators, with over 8,000 members nationwide. It provides professional networking and development opportunities, professional liability coverage and extensive awards and recognition programs to its members. The mission of NAAE is “professionals providing agricultural education for the global community through visionary leadership, advocacy and service.”

For more information about the WIU School of Agriculture, visit wiu.edu/agriculture.

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Western Illinois University School of Ag Honored as a Top Nationwide Program
Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.