Dr. Tracy Kitchel graduated from Ohio State with his undergraduate degree in agricultural education in 1998 and his masters in agricultural education in 1999. Shortly after graduation, he became an agricultural educator and FFA advisor for Archbold High School in Fulton County. These days, Kitchel is a professor and chair for the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education and Leadership (ACEL) at the Ohio State University.
[ACEL]: Why did you select your major or graduate program?
[Kitchel]: I started my undergraduate career as an agricultural communication major. I was drawn to that work because I had recently been elected as the State FFA Reporter, which, at the time, meant I was working with our magazine, Ohio FFA News. Throughout the year, however, I was drawn to working with FFA members and found it rewarding. The decision to change my major was solidified when I worked at the past state FFA officer session at Ohio FFA Camp; I knew I wanted to work with students.
Why did you choose to attend The Ohio State University?
I’m not certain I thought of any other place. I knew I wanted to be in agriculture and I felt attending Ohio State was the clear choice. Even though I had been on campus for various reasons, I didn’t even do an official campus visit (something I don’t recommend, but it worked out for me).
How did your education at Ohio State influence your choice of career or your career path?
I wouldn’t be on this path had it not been for Ohio State. In particular, it was with my advisor, Dr. Jamie Cano, who insisted I do a literature review as an undergraduate, which would lead to my master’s thesis the following year. He planted the seeds that I needed to get my Ph.D. and be a professor. He assigned a student teacher for me to serve as cooperating teacher because he felt that experience would be invaluable as a teacher educator (and it was). He connected me with one of his former Ph.D. students, Dr. Bryan Garton, which led to me studying at the University of Missouri for my Ph.D.
What were you involved in as an Ohio State student (student organizations, honoraries, campus jobs, Greek life, etc.):
I was president, secretary and banquet co-chair of Agricultural Education Society, a member of Alpha Tau Zeta (now FarmHouse) fraternity, president of Phalanx (the college student organization that soon-after morphed into the CFAES Ambassadors), and served as co-chair and narrator of the College Recognition Banquet. On campus, I worked as a Night Assistant in the Scott/Norton House Dorms and worked for the Ag Safety program in what is now FABE department. Off campus, I was an Ohio FFA intern, worked at Ohio FFA Camp two summers, and served as an office page for the Ohio Senate. I did my early field experience and student teaching both at Versailles High School with Dena Wuebker.
What classes did you enjoy the most while at Ohio State? What was your favorite and why?
My favorite courses were my ag comm and ag ed classes. I still use what I learned from Dr. Paulson’s AGRCOMM 200 and 300 courses today. My teacher preparation courses were great. I felt prepared as a teacher because of them. For the most part, there was a cohort of us that progressed through to student teaching. We laughed a great deal over the years. Our teaching labs were particularly comical, yet did a great job preparing us for the realities of teaching.
What professor, faculty or staff member had an impact on your education?
As I shared before, Dr. Jamie Cano had the most impact on my career. I also appreciate the patience Dr. Jan Henderson afforded me, even when I didn’t always deserve said patience. It’s that kind of grace I’ve attempted to share with my own students even when said grace is not easy to give. I also appreciated how deeply intentional Dr. Hedges was in his teaching. That intentionality is something I always strive toward in my own teaching.
What is your favorite memory related to your time at Ohio State?
I have so many great memories. I developed a great group of friends (time and change has surely shown…). We all bonded over football games – I still get emotional when I go to the games. Again, we had great times as a student teaching cohort. I really enjoyed student organizations and be a part of campus. I could go on and on.
What was your first job following your education at Ohio State?
After graduating with my B.S. in ag ed, I started my M.S. in ag ed and was a graduate associate for AGRCOMM 390 (now 3130). After that, my first “out of college” job was as agriculture teacher and FFA advisor for Archbold High School in Fulton County (Ohio).
What positions have you held since graduating and where have you worked?
I moved around a bit over my 18 years after leaving Ohio State. After being an ag teacher at Archbold High School. I was a graduate assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of Missouri. After graduating, my first faculty position was as an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky (UK). I left UK after 5 years and became associate professor and director of graduate studies for the Department of Agricultural Education and Leadership at the University of Missouri (MU). At the end of my time at MU, I served as assistant vice provost for graduate and postdoctoral affairs where I served as the secondary leader for the Office of Graduate Studies (other places called the Graduate School). In particular, l was in charge of areas and programs such as campus fellowships, student-faculty issues, the campus TA training and development of our directors of graduate studies. In August 2016, I returned to Ohio State to be Professor and Chair of ACEL.
I’ve spent most of my career in higher education and in those professor roles, have taught courses from teaching methods, research methods and introduction to leadership. I’ve conducted research on pre-service and early career agriculture teachers. Finally, I provide service in working related to agricultural education, agriculture teachers and FFA.
Share any awards or honors you have received over the years
Some of my more meaningful awards include the USDA Excellence in Teaching Award (Early Career Award), North Central AAAE Distinguished Teacher and Distinguished Researcher Awards, Gold Chalk Award (University of Missouri) for excellence in graduate teaching, Joe T. Davis Outstanding Advisor (University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture), OAAE Outstanding Young Ag Teacher Award, Honorary American FFA Degree and CFAES Alumni Young Professional Award.
As of today, what is your favorite career highlight?
In a truly authentic way, my favorite career highlight was the opportunity to return to my home department and serve as its chair. Up there on the list, in a far less serious way, is having presided over the master’s degree ceremonies at the University of Missouri when I was Assistant Vice Provost. I have to admit – that was cool. (At Ohio State, we have one ceremony per term and the university president presides over all those ceremonies throughout the year – that’s not typical, by the way).
What advice would you give to a current student?
Don’t wait to be invited – find ways to take charge of your own career by getting involved and meeting people different than you. Find ways to really become self-aware of who you are. I credit my experiences at Ohio State in helping me do that and it wasn’t always easy. Balance your out-of-class learning with your in-class learning (both are valuable). And study abroad – I really have only one major regret and that was it. I had to wait years into my career to travel internationally.
What did ACEL cultivate in you?
My engagement with ACEL has cultivated so much in me and continues to do so now that I’ve returned home. The overarching theme is that ACEL cultivated my potential, even when I didn’t think I could do any better. The surprising thing is that even as chair, I still feel like the department continues to push and invest in me even when I feel it’s my job to do that for others.