By: Dr. Tracy Kitchel
Chair of the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership
There are times in your life when things come full circle. It’s the idea that who you knew in one setting or what you had done previously surfaces or links to something in present time in a new, yet familiar way. After having had the opportunity to move back to Ohio this summer, I’ve had a number of “full circle” moments. For example, my office at OSU is the room where I defended my master’s thesis. When I met the donor of my first Ohio State scholarship this past fall where I’m now in a capacity to give back myself. When I walked into the Agriculture Hall of Fame breakfast, I found myself catching up with numerous friends, college mates, and acquaintances I had not seen for years after having convinced myself I wouldn’t know a single person in the room. When those full circle moments occur, I find myself reflecting on those links that had made those full circles come to fruition. I would argue that some of my most powerful full circle moments are connected with my involvement in FFA.
My first set of full circle moments happened when I had the opportunity to serve as the 1994-1995 State FFA Reporter. It makes sense, really. I had the opportunity to conduct chapter visits to inspire other FFA members like I had been inspired by state officers before me. I had the opportunity to be a part of running the state FFA convention, an event that had motivated me year after year as a high school student. The most significant full circle moments for me as a state officer was spending time with FFA members one-on-one. I was not the best officer in terms of meeting a large proportion of FFA members at any given event, but the members I did meet I knew well. I remember when state or national FFA officers took time to talk to me one-on-one. Those were very impactful conversations that helped shape my FFA career. I can only hope that some of my conversations did the same for others.
More full circle moments occurred when I became an FFA advisor. I was the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Archbold High School from 1999-2002. Again, there were many opportunities for those full circle moments. Some full circle moments felt more like karma. For example, I had know-it-all students in my class that drove me crazy – a characteristic that I’m sure I surfaced for my agriculture teacher who was equally annoyed with me. Others were more powerful. I remember the faces of my students when I took them to their first national FFA convention session – the same awe-inspiring face I had years prior. I recall my students understanding – and even thanking me – for requiring them to have nice-looking official dress, which is something I took pride in as an FFA member myself. I think my favorite full circle moment was watching students fall in love with agriculture in my classroom, just as I had fallen in love with agriculture from having lived on a farm and a love that was reinforced from my experiences in FFA.
I would be remiss in not sharing one of the most powerful full circle moments. As a professor and teacher educator, I have the opportunity to train future agriculture teachers and FFA advisors. I could spend hours on the full circle moments watching these future teachers move from student to student teacher to beginning teacher and now to master teacher. However, that powerful full circle moment is connected to one of my first college students, who happened to be the daughter of my agriculture teacher. Joseph K. Slone, former agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at National Trail High School, is on a short list of pivotal people who helped shape my career. Needless to say, there was immense pressure to make sure his daughter was take care of and trained well. I was a new Assistant Professor and newly-minted Ph.D. when Joe Slone brought his daughter Jessica to summer registration in 2005 at the University of Kentucky. I would be assigned as her academic advisor, would later teach her teaching methods course and eventually would be her university supervisor for student teaching. Whether she liked it or not, she was stuck with me. My parents shared with me that throughout Jessica’s college career, Joe would quiz them about whether I was staying or leaving (even when there was no evidence of me leaving). He shared with them that he had great relief knowing I was in Lexington and that I was her advisor. Be he also shared that if I ever left, 1. that relief would go away and 2. he would likely hunt me down. I took great pride (and felt great pressure) in knowing the trust he placed in me to not only take care of his daughter, but felt that pride and pressure even more so in being a key part of her development as an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. It truly was full circle in the most fulfilling way. I’ve enjoyed watching her career blossom and now that I’ve returned to Ohio, I am much closer to see her change students’ lives as she continues to build the Covington agriculture program and FFA chapter.
There were great things that occurred while I wore that blue corduroy jacket. My experiences in that jacket took me to places I had never been, both physical and otherwise. It transformed how I thought about myself, who I wanted to be, and gave me tools that I use in my life today. With that said, I think some of my best experiences with FFA have been after wearing that jacket. Your experiences with FFA do not end in high school – that’s only where they begin, if you let it. Find your full-circle moments by staying connecting with FFA locally, state-wide or nationally and consider becoming an agriculture teacher/FFA advisor yourself. You will find joy and fulfillment in engaging in those FFA full circle moments.