Whittington selected as president-elect of NACTA professional society

Dr. M. Susie Whittington, professor of agriscience education in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership (ACEL), has been selected as president-elect of the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agricultural (NACTA). NACTA, which was formed in 1955 as a professional society, focuses on the scholarship of teaching and learning in agriculture and related disciplines at the postsecondary level. Members of NACTA are from two-year and four-year colleges, both public and private.

Whittington will serve as president-elect for 2020-2021 and will take over leadership of the organization at the 2021 annual conference, which is scheduled to be held at Ohio State’s Wooster campus in June 2021.

Since joining the department in 2000, Whittington has taught a variety of courses in the agriscience education major, preparing students to become high school agricultural educators through teaching methods, cultural proficiency, and program planning, as well as graduate courses in data collection and in advanced teaching methods.

In addition to her faculty role with ACEL, Whittington serves as executive director for Ohio State’s Second-Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP), which is a university-wide program focused on student success and development that allows students opportunities to engage in high impact practices that cater to their individual interests and needs.

“We are so proud in ACEL and Ohio State to have our very own Dr. Susie Whittington serve as president in this premier international organization,” said Dr. Scott Scheer, professor and interim chair of ACEL. “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 (AAAE) to the university-wide Director of STEP at Ohio State. NACTA will certainly thrive and improve with Dr. Whittington as its president.”

“As a member of NACTA since the early 1990s, my teaching has benefitted from the talent and expertise of its members,” said Whittington. “I look forward to giving-back and to paying forward to a society that has given so much to me.”

Whittington is a three time graduate of Ohio State, earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in agricultural education in 1982, 1988 and 1991, respectively.

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. For more information on the academic programs and research available in ACEL, or to donate to student scholarships, please visit acel.osu.edu.

Faculty and graduate students represent ACEL at virtual NACTA conference

Congratulations to our ACEL faculty and graduate students who represented our department so well at the annual NACTA (North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture) virtual conference held last week.

Dr. Susie Whittington, professor of agriscience education, was announced as the 2020 President-Elect.

Dr. Mary Rodriguez, assistant professor of community leadership, was recognized with a 2020 Educator Award.

Paper presented include:
“Comparing agriculture students’ migration intentions in El Salvador and Honduras” by Amy Boren Alpizar, Pablo Lamiño Jaramillo, and current ACEL Ph.D. student Rafael Landaverde (while student at Texas Tech).

“Evaluating the impact of an educational intervention on farmers in El Salvador” by current Ph.D. student Rafael Landaverde (while a student at Texas Tech), Amy E. Boren-Alpìzar, Sarahi Morales, Matt Baker and John Rayfield.

“Limitations and Opportunities of 4-H Clubs in Honduras: A Stakeholders View” by current Ph.D. student

Rafael Landaverde, Amy Boren-Alpizar, Stephen Brady, Dustin Homan, Patricia Arce and Marjorie Mayr.

“Student Perceptions Abroad: The Impacts of Climate Change in Trinidad & Tobago” by Ph.D. Rafael Landaverde and Mary Rodriguez.

Posters presented include:
“A Mixed-Methods Study on Teaching Methods for Andragogy on Gene-Editing Technology” by master’s student Robert Thiel, Amanda Bowling and Joy Rumble.

“A National Multi-Decade Look at Trends for Graduates of Agriculture and the Related Sciences” by Ph.D. student Aaron Giorgi and M. Susie Whittington.

“Autonomy, Collaboration, and Personal Development through a Capstone in Leadership” by master’s student Summer McLain, Jera Niewoehner-Green and master’s student Paige Andrews.

“A University Level Exploration of First-Generation Students of Agriculture and Related Sciences” by Ph.D. student Aaron Giorgi, M. Susie Whittington and Anne McDaniel.

“The man with the mullet”


Chase Gasser lines up across from a teammate in a defensive practice drill. Regarded as one of the toughest players on the team, Gasser enjoys the chance to play football for the club team.

By Zachary Steiner
agricultural communication student

Chase Gasser was curiously wandering through the involvement fair on the oval of Ohio State’s campus his freshman year when he saw the OSU club football team booth. This was an open door for him to once again play the game he loved so much—football.

Regarded by his coaches and teammates as someone who embodies the culture of the club team and plays with energy every snap, Gasser has had a successful career. He also is an agricultural systems management major in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Gasser is a native of Creston, Ohio—a small farming community in Northeast Ohio where he grew up with an agricultural background and playing football each fall for his local high school team, the Norwayne Bobcats.

Originally, Gasser did not know what to expect when he first showed up for practice with the club team. He did not know what it would be like, but he took a chance and club football has since become a full commitment for him.

“I didn’t think it was going to be serious at all. I showed up thinking it was going to be a good old time,” Gasser said. “It was me going out on a limb to give it a try and here we are.”

Gasser, who stands at sturdy 6’2’’ and 220 lbs., is listed as the team’s starting defensive tackle. A man who rocks a long blonde mullet and scraggly facial hair, he fits the job description. His playing style certainly fits the mold as well.

He would describe his demeanor on the field being like a wild man—fitting for someone who prepares for each game listening to AC/DC.

“You just gotta be a wild man. You gotta be gritty. You can never shy down from the guy across from you,” Gasser said. “Playing defensive tackle, those big offensive linemen are often bigger than me, so I can’t be intimidated.”

OSU club football team’s first-year head coach, James Grega, took one look at Gasser and instantly thought he would be a great addition to the team. What gave it away? The long blonde mullet that flows from his grey helmet.

“The first thing that comes to mind is the hair and you see the hair and you think this guy has to be a good football player because you can’t pull off that hair and not be good at football,” Grega said.

Being named to the All-American team for the National Club Football Association his first two seasons, Gasser certainly has a career full of accolades. However, what his teammates most appreciate about him is the leadership he has brought. He exemplifies what it means to be a buckeye on the club team.

“From day one, the first time he came out to practice, you could just see you weren’t going to have a tougher guy on the team, a guy that is going to give everything he’s got every play. He brings a ton of energy to practice and to our games,” Grega said. “He’s been one of those guys who has been instrumental to establish the culture of winning.”

Gasser believes you have to play the game with energy. He prides himself on being a team player—sacrificing for the teammates around him.

“This sport is all about passion and playing for the guy next to you and it is something to have the opportunity to play at a university like this,” Gasser said.

The team is made up of a wide range of people from different backgrounds. Everything from players formerly on the varsity squad to small-town farm kids, Gasser enjoys the challenge of bringing the group together.

“This is the most absurd group of people you will ever see on one team, but somehow we found a way to click,” Gasser said. “You just have so many different people, so many studs in high school who knew they were not going to play division one somewhere, so they came here and found this special club we have.”

The club players at Ohio State are playing because they have a chance to strap up their helmets a few more times before they hang up the cleats for good. Like varsity student-athletes, club athletes must balance their practice and competitions with schoolwork, jobs and whatever else they are involved in.

For Gasser who has been employed at the Ohio State beef and sheep facility since his sophomore year and is a full-time student, this has proven to be challenging.

“Trying to balance chores at the farm, schoolwork, and practice can be tricky at times, but you just have to grind,” Gasser said. “Find those chances to work on stuff and get it done.”

Alike his mentality on the field—playing with a high energy and passion—Gasser attributes his success on the field and the classroom to his upbringing. He believes with 100% certainty that farmers are the toughest people around.

“Everyone on this team knows I live at the OSU Beef and Sheep facility and they think I have this farm strength, farm tough attitude and that is for sure,” Gasser said. “That is what agriculture is. Whether that is physical strength or mental strength, I mean, you look at farmers, they’re the toughest people I know, and I try to carry that same mentality.”

Being the lone agricultural major on the team and clearly standing out from others with his mullet and mustache, his teammates and coaches appreciate his comfort in being himself no matter who is around.

“He embraces who he is, and he doesn’t deviate from who he is at all and I think the guys on the team appreciates that and they gravitate towards it,” Grega said. “Everybody feeds off his energy and his emotions and it is always positive.”

With a motor that never quits, hair that stands out amongst a crowd and the toughness of a farmer, Gasser wants his legacy to be one thing—a national championship.

“The first national championship in OSU club football history. That’s it. That’s what we want,” Gasser said.


This feature story was written by Zachary, an agricultural communication student enrolled in the Agricultural Communication 2531 course during the 2019 Autumn Semester. Dr. Joy Rumble instructed the course.

Rodriguez awarded NACTA Educator Award

Dr. Mary Rodriguez, assistant professor of community leadership in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership (ACEL), has been named a recipient of the North American Colleges of Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Educator Award. This award recognizes educators who excel as teachers in the agricultural disciplines. She was recognized as a recipient during the organizations virtual conference in early June.

Rodriguez currently instructs a variety of courses for ACEL, including the Teaching Methods in Non-Formal Learning Environments, Community Leadership and Foundations of International Development. Throughout her time with Ohio State she has also taught Foundations of Personal and Professional Leadership, Research Methods, Teaching Methods in Non-Formal Learning Environments and Extension Education in Developing Countries to both undergraduate and graduate students.

“Dr. Rodriguez is an outstanding educator in ACEL. She has attracted students who have specifically come to our department to work with her, both internationally and within the United States. She uses innovative teaching techniques such as out-of-classroom instruction, demonstrations, and service learning,” said Dr. Scott Scheer, interim chair for ACEL and professor of community leadership. “Student feedback provides strong evidence of her teaching and learning skills. For example, ‘Dr. Rodriguez is a great teacher! She is very engaging, very respectful and understanding of students,’ and ‘Dr. Rodriguez was a phenomenal educator – always challenging and pushing students and providing opportunities for practical application of the material we were learning in class,’ are consistent messages on her course feedback forms. Dr. Rodriguez’s recognition with a 2020 NACTA Educator Award is well deserved.”

Rodriguez joined the ACEL faculty in 2015 after earning her Ph.D. in agricultural extension from the University of Florida (UF). She also holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and a master’s degree in international agricultural education from Texas A&M University, earning those in 2008 and 2010 respectively.


“When I was working on my PhD at UF, I was set and determined to work for an international organization. I wanted to focus my career on research and outreach. Then I got the opportunity to teach an intercultural communication course as the lead instructor. This changed everything for me,” said Rodriguez. “I saw the impact that teaching can make when you push students to think critically and to engage with difficult conversations. I love my research. I love working with communities. But every student that comes away from classes with me thinking about the world in a different way or having found their own place when it’s sometimes hard to do so, makes it all worth it”.

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. For more information on the academic programs and research available in ACEL, or to donate to student scholarships, please visit acel.osu.edu.



JUNETEENTH: Remembering June 19, 1865

Dear ACEL Community,

Today is the 155th anniversary when black slaves received the news in Texas of their freedom from Federal soldiers; two and half years after the Civil War ended and the Emancipation Proclamation.  Really not that long ago. There have been additional amendments and legislation to secure other freedoms including the 13th Amendment (to abolish slavery, Dec. 1865) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even though proclamations, declarations, and legislation have been passed to free slaves, grant equal protections and right to vote, only true freedom and equality will be achieved when racial bias and beliefs of superiority are removed from hearts and minds. It is difficult because often these beliefs or implicit biases are hidden and affect our thoughts and actions in an unconscious manner. Together in ACEL through education, communication, and leadership we will work to promote anti-racism that fosters racial equality and justice.

The recent CFAES update from Dean Kress and educational guide from Dr. Dickerson (see attachment) provides helpful insight and perspective for Juneteenth.

“June 19th is known as Juneteenth, it’s also known as Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, and Cel-Liberation Day, and is an American holiday that celebrates the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy. Learn more about this African American tradition that has been around since the late 19th century. On this historical day take time to consider one’s own bias by reading, listening or watching a video. Resources can be found on the OSU Focus on Racial Justice website as well as the Smithsonian Magazine website.” (Dean Kress, CFAES Update)

ACEL stands in support and solidarity with our Black, Indigenous, and people of color students, staff, faculty, and stakeholders.

Dr. Scott Scheer
interim chair
Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership

ACEL 2020 Alumni Awards

The alumni board of the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership (ACEL) at The Ohio State University is pleased to announce six alumni as recipients of the annual ACEL Alumni Awards.

Dr. Bob Horton ’78 MS, ’83 PhD, Jenna Large ’08, Lisa McCutcheon ’97 MS, Scott Sharp ’92, Hannah Thompson-Weeman ’11, ’12 MS and John Wilson ’55 were selected for this honor amoung a record setting number of applicants.

Young Alumni Award

Jenna Large ’08

Large is an account manager, project owner and learning designer for Vivayic, Inc. She resides in Texas.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman ’11, ’12 MS

Thompson-Weeman is Vice President of communications for Animal Agriculture Alliance in Arlington, Virginia.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Dr. Bob Horton ’78 MS, ’83 PhD

Horton has been instrumental in shaping 4-H into what it is today. He is respected for his leadership and impact on adults, youth, volunteers and teachers across the country, in addition to the publications and curriculum his has produced.

John Wilson ’55

Wilson held a diverse career in agriculture, serving as an agricultural educator and manager of a fertilizer plant. He later worked at Sauder Woodworking Company and played a crucial role in shaping Four County Career Center and Northwest State into what they are today. He is known for his active service in leadership roles in his Northwest Ohio community.

Mentor to Students Award

Lisa McCutcheon ’97 MS

McCutcheon has spent the last 20 years as a 4-H Youth Development educator in Licking County, Ohio. She has been committed to serving as a mentor and supervisor to ACEL undergraduate students completing field experiences or internships. Her commitment to developing students in ACEL in this way puts her in a class of her own among current Extension professionals.

Scott Sharp ’92

Sharp has spent over 25 years teaching agricultural education at Amanda-Clearcreek Local Schools and has mentored hundreds of students, many whom have gone on to become State FFA officers, successful college students and respected industry workers and leaders. Many current and former ACEL students have benefitted from the time and work he has invested in the many student teachers he hosted throughout his career.

ACEL undergraduates named to Dean’s List for Spring 2020

Congratulations to more than 100 ACEL students who were named to the Dean’s List for the 2020 Spring Semester.

The spring semester was hit with many challenges, including our university moving to virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are proud of these students who excelled in their courses during this unprecented experience.

Agricultural Communication
Samantha Augustine
Schelby Beach
Amber Bergman*
Allison Bourne
Mallary Caudill
Madison Coppel
Carley Coppler
Alexis Elliott*
Hanna Fosbrink
Christina Gaerke
Courtney Heiser*
Lea Kimley
Madison Layman
Danielle Leeper
Hannah Martin
Megan Maurer
Aubrey Mazey
Josie McDowell
Kasey Miller
Maria Moore
Abagail Myers
Emma Newell*
Meredith Oglesby*
Lindsey Okuley*
Lauren Preston
Hallie  Roberts*
Elizabeth Sahr
Bethany Starlin
Zachary Steiner*
Jonathan Stepp
Marlee Stollar*
Kamala Sweeney
Cheyenne Wagner
Abigail Werstler
Sydney Wilson
Alexis Wooten

Agriscience Education
Gabrielle Adair*
Haley Back
Megan Bergman
Maryellen Bliss
Allison Butler*
Whitney Clagg
Collin Dunaway
Devan Eckert*
Madeline Elfrink
Troy Elwer
Kayla Erickson
Haley Evans*
Kaitlyn Evans*
Sean Fitzsimmons
Mitchell Gehret
Bailee Griffeth
Samantha Grogg*
Caleb Hickman*
Maggie Hovermale
Jessie Howald
Seth Johnson
Alaina Kessler
Elizabeth Kohler
Elizabeth Landis
Taylor Lutz*
Samantha McAllister
Rebecca McCarty
Chloe Metcalf*
Hayley Milliron
Madisen Morlock
Cody Myers
Julia Naus*
Taylor Orr*
Olivia Pflaumer
Milan Pozderac
Charlee Prushing*
MaKayla Risner*
Dakota Sayre
Danielle Schneider
Robert Selvey*
Sydney Stinson*
Claire Vilagi
Jamie Walter
Annalee Warrens
Barbie Warthman
Brittany Weller*
Ashlee Williams
Chloe Wilson
Haley Wilson
Loryn Wright
Rose Zeedyk

Community Leadership
Madison Allman*
Trenton Baldwin
Jessica Crook
Abigail David*
Juliana Erwin*
Melanie Fuhrmann*
Anthony Garner
Thomas Hoover*
Courtney Hovest*
Allyson Irwin*
Emma Johnson*
Allyson McCurdy
Eliza McFarland*
Deja Reid
Kayla  Ritter*
Jacob Shuman
Gage Smith
Elizabeth Strine
Emily Wilson*

Those with an asterisk (*) beside their name received a 4.0 GPA for the semester.

“62 years of Christmas Tree Farming”

By Stacey Butler
agricultural communication student

In the middle of a brilliantly blue sky, the sun shined, warming the shoulders of the people hiking along the trail surrounded by enormous pine trees. The air was filled with the fresh pine aroma, as guests were greeted at the roadside shack and handed a map of the farm along with a sharp saw. People of all ages chattered and took in the sights, remarking on the vast number of trees to choose from, as they set off to find the perfect Christmas tree for their home.

Off in the distance, the putt-putt of the orange tractor could be heard making a loop around the farm, pausing so freshly cut trees can be laid on the trailer and transported back to the entrance. Seated upon the tractor, wearing a permanent smile is the owner of Hickory Ridge Tree Farm, Karl Rieppel.

Rieppel waves as he drives his tractor around his 75-acre Christmas tree farm. The final stop on his route is back at the shack where Rieppel’s sons, John and James, can be found measuring the trees and collecting payments. The high school and college age employees then take the trees to be baled in netting. Lastly, the fresh cut tree is carried and tied to the roof of the vehicle before the guests are thanked and wished “Merry Christmas” as they head for home.

Rieppel’s parents, Perry and Ruth, purchased the 60-acre farm in Alexandria, Ohio back in 1954. By 1957, they had begun planting Christmas trees in what was previously a soybean field. A few years later, Karl purchased an additional 15-acres, bringing the land total up to 75-acres.

Along the way, Rieppel earned his degree from the Ohio State University in liberal arts before joining the United States Army.

“I was active duty for two and a half years and then I was a reservist for another 30 years,” Rieppel recalls. “I was in the 32nd air defense command.”

When he completed his active duty, Rieppel earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Miami in Ohio and eventually became an educator. Rieppel built his house on the property in 1976 for his family.

“We’ve been here all our lives,” Rieppel’s son, John, said. “We’ve seen people, their kids as little babies, they’ve been coming here forever. We would start recognizing people, and they recognize you, so it’s kind of cool to be a part of their life.”

Christmas tree farming is a year-round operation for Rieppel and his family. Every spring, Rieppel begins the process of planting young saplings. Each tree will be sprayed to prevent disease and bugs from ending their young existence. Summertime includes maintaining the trees, removing dead trees, and mowing all the land.

The Christmas trees grow over the course of roughly 10 years before they are selected by a family in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Rieppel and his crew will trim and shape the trees to look iconic like those in Christmas stories. Although the farm does offer tree purchase year-round, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are by far the most popular time for tree sales.

Even with the production of fake and pre-lit Christmas trees, the choose and cut tree farms are still doing well in business. It was difficult for Rieppel to put a number on the average amount of trees they sell annually because it depends solely on the weather. Some years they sell around 1,000 trees and then in other years they can sell well over 2,000.

Hickory Ridge Tree Farm is home to six varieties of trees: Norway Spruce, Blue Spruce, Fraser Fir, White Pine, Scotch Pine and Canaan Fir. When the Rieppel’s first began selling Christmas trees it was originally a heavy market for Scotch Pines. Now the Canaan Fir, which thrives in Ohio soil, has since taken the lead.

The Canaan Fir is a genetic cross of the northern balsam fir from the northern United States and Canada and the Fraser balsam fir from the southeastern United States. The blue-green, flattish needles are a silvery color on the underside of the branches. Its fragrance is sweet and spicy like balsam and Fraser fir. Its soft lacing branches are sturdy enough to support ornaments of many sizes. Needle retention is very good for this water loving tree. (Tree Varieties, 2018)

“If we have good weather on these weekends before Christmas, we sell a lot of them,” Rieppel said. “If we don’t, then we usually sell about half.”

One thing Rieppel does regardless of tree sales is overplant. Overplanting helps ensure he has a steady supply of growing trees for the years to come. As a result, Hickory Ridge Tree Farms is notorious for its tall trees. The tallest tree they have sold so far was to a shopping center and stood 30 feet tall.

“People come here for the big ones,” Rieppel boasts. “We sell a lot of them in the 15 to 20-foot range. People come here because they know they can get them here.”

However, Rieppel is also the reason many people continue to return to his farm year after year. On December 1, Hickory Ridge Tree Farm was nothing shy of a steady flow of foot traffic. Regardless of whether it was their first time at the farm or their annual visit, every person had something kind to say about Rieppel and his farm.

“I remember my first time coming here and I didn’t know that it was cash or check,” Troy Widdis of Bexley, Ohio recalls of his first visit 15 years ago. “Mr. Rieppel just said, ‘send me a check,’ you know – the honor system, which is pretty cool.”

Widdis was searching for his own tree and was accompanied by his daughter and her boyfriend. Both houses were able to find a manageable tree to take home.

First time visitors, Sonnie and Alyssa Jones came on the recommendation of others. The family farm they had been frequenting closed when the owner passed away this year.

“There were two different families that recommended these guys [Hickory Ridge Tree Farms],” Alyssa Jones said. “So, I was like well this might be a good place. The kids love the ponds.”

Hickory Ridge Tree Farms has been the site for photography sessions and even proposals. The 75-acres houses thousands of Christmas trees, multiple ponds, deer, birds and other forest dwelling wildlife.

At the age of 76, Rieppel spoke about the future of Hickory Ridge Tree Farm. Ultimately, he hopes the farm will remain in his family for generations to come.

“It depends how long I go but I figure I’ll probably give it up in five years,” Rieppel said. “Then they’ll either maintain some of it or let it go back to forest.”

Regardless of what happens in the years to come, Rieppel is enjoying his life as a Christmas tree farmer. He spends a lot of his time tending his trees, maintaining the land, and planting for the future. His infectious grin can be spotted immediately as he comes up over the hill atop his tractor with a trailer overflowing with Christmas trees.

“My father was an engineer and a white-collar worker. I was a college teacher and a reservist, so this was a physical hobby for us,” Rieppel explains. “And it’s worked out good for me.”

Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, Hickory Ridge Tree Farm is located just two miles west of Alexandria, Ohio on State Route 37. Prices are based on the variety and height, ranging from $30 to $300 per tree.


This feature story was written by Stacey Butler, an agricultural communication student enrolled in the Agricultural Communication 2531 course during the 2019 Autumn Semester. Dr. Joy Rumble instructed the course.

“Organically cultivating an unconventional leader in agriculture”

(L-R) Chuck Crawford, Kolesen McCoy, Jeanne Gogolski and Kirk Merritt participated in a GrowNextGen workshop, which briefed leaders on how to connect STEM and agriculture education effectively.

By Courtney Heiser
agricultural communication student

A flood of emotions filled the Lucas Oil Stadium as the lights dimmed and a sea of blue cheered during the final session of the 92nd National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis. Twenty-five candidates nervously anticipated the moment they would hear their name called to serve on the 2019-2020 National FFA Organization officer team.

After the election of four regional vice presidents and the national secretary, 20 candidates remained, including Kolesen McCoy, of Springfield, Ohio, intently listening to who would be elected to serve as the organization’s national president.

McCoy patiently awaited his fate. It was now or never, all or nothing and then it happened. “Your 2019-2020 National FFA president, from the state of Ohio: Kolesen McCoy,” was called out from the podium and McCoy became the third Ohioan in history to serve as the National FFA Organization’s president.

McCoy followed an unconventional path to obtain this leadership position, but his experiences with the Global Impact STEM Academy (GISA) and GrowNextGen (GNG) have cultivated his abilities and shaped him into the young agricultural professional he is today.

The Early Years
Early in his high school career at the GISA, McCoy was approached by his agricultural education teacher with an offer to be a part of an initiative to start an FFA chapter. McCoy was struck with curiosity, as, prior to this opportunity, he had never heard of the National FFA Organization.

“The unique pathway in leadership, personal growth, and the potential careers set before me sparked a passion that has stayed with me ever since,” said Kolesen McCoy, National FFA Organization president.

In cooperation with GISA, the GNG program, funded by Ohio Soybean Farmers, has been dedicated to providing opportunities to grow the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders for the ever-changing industry that feeds the world.

“Kolesen’s willingness to try new opportunities presented to him is one attribute that has stood out to me as he has developed as a young leader,” said Rachel Sanders, FFA Advisor at GISA and teacher leader for the GNG program.

In addition to McCoy’s notable contributions to GISA’s young FFA chapter, he also served as a high school ambassador for the GNG program. As an ambassador, McCoy showcased how agriculture is a STEM-related field by helping run bio-based STEM outreach events at local elementary schools and the Clark County Fair. He also conducted activities at the GNG Booth during State FFA Convention.

Finding His Purpose
“The first trip I ever took to Farm Science Review in London, Ohio, was sponsored by GrowNextGen,” said McCoy. “It was the small but very impactful moments like these where I saw GrowNextGen invest in myself as a young agriculturist that have stood out.”

Growing up, McCoy spent time on his grandparents’ farm in northwest Ohio. He learned about machinery and common practices of a corn and soybean operation, but his immediate household was not involved in production agriculture.

“GrowNextGen served as a great vehicle for myself to become involved in the reality of agriculture in the 21st century,” said McCoy. “Becoming involved in the mission to feed the world and invest into the communities around us has completely reshaped not just my personal outlook, but my professional outlook as well.”

As McCoy became more involved with his studies of agriculture at GISA and his experiences with GrowNextGen, he connected the dots and realized his potential to make a positive impact within the agriculture industry.

“The GrowNextGen program is set apart in its focus on student success through educational outreach and resources,” said McCoy. “The practicality of its mission to grow the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders for the changing industry of agriculture will always be present as our world grows. Every resource and initiative created is done so with the intention to fulfill the mission, and GrowNextGen delivers.”

Leaving His Legacy
“Kolesen’s aspiration for new opportunities led him to new adventures that allowed him to reflect and discover his purpose,” said Sanders.

In 2017, McCoy was elected to serve as the Ohio FFA state secretary. Throughout his year of service as state secretary, he was exposed to many opportunities and experiences which enhanced his leadership abilities and passion for agriculture and serving others.

Building upon his involvement with GNG, his impact on Ohio FFA as state secretary led to his election as the 2018-2019 Ohio FFA state president and now the current National FFA president.

“What makes this organization what it is, is the people involved,” said McCoy. “The classmates beside you, the agricultural educator behind you, and the supporters all around you encouraging you every step of the way. I genuinely am thrilled to be able to be an authentic advocate for the agricultural industry, a voice for our student body at the national level, and a kind friend to all both in and out of the blue jacket.”

“Kolesen is a very genuine young man who serves for the greater good,” said Sanders. “He truly has a positive outlook on life and will make the most out of any opportunity.”

In a short three years of service to both the Ohio FFA and National FFA Organizations, McCoy has humbly left a legacy and continues to make an impact as a leader in agriculture. Through his many opportunities to serve others, McCoy has made it a priority to grow with every new experience.

McCoy also represented Ohio in the 2019 American Soybean Association Ag Voices of the Future Program. This program is designed to expose young people with a farming connection to an education on major policy issues and advocacy.

“Ultimately, what makes the greatest impact is when you seek to serve and learn from the people around you,” said McCoy. “Learning this was what catapulted my growth as a leader.”

What’s Next for McCoy?
“It was because of the programs like GrowNextGen that I became more invested in the industry of agriculture, further influencing my decision to pursue both a degree and career in agribusiness,” said McCoy.

As a second-year agribusiness student in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Science at The Ohio State University, McCoy looks forward to pursuing a career that is connected to his passion of working with people and the agriculture industry. He is interested in agribusiness management, international trade and policy, organizational leadership, public relations and education.

“Through the intentional growth of my professional network sought after in these experiences, I hope to be a sound advocate and contributor to the agricultural industry and those in the rural community,” said McCoy. “Genuinely, I can say my experience with GNG served as a catalyst for opening my eyes to the incredible diversity and unity within the agricultural industry.”

GrowNextGen is the Ohio Soybean Council’s checkoff-funded program that brings agriculture science to the classroom by providing real-world educational tools to engage the next generation workforce. GrowNextGen helps expose students to different career fields in a thriving industry. To learn more about this program and other ways GNG is preparing the next generation for careers in agriculture, visit grownextgen.org.


This feature story was written by Courtney Heiser, an agricultural communication student enrolled in the Agricultural Communication 2531 course during the 2019 Autumn Semester. Dr. Joy Rumble instructed the course.


The tragic deaths of George Floyd,  Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor (only three of the many unjust deaths in the BIPOC community) over the last several months have amplified the long history of systemic racism in this country. Please know this message comes from a genuine place of care and concern; also that words alone cannot solve or address the racial injustices in the U.S., rather this work will involve our daily intentions, actions, and behaviors.

This quote from Kareem Abdul Jabbar rings true, “Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.” Link for full article: LATimesOpEd

ACEL stands in support and solidarity with our students, staff, and faculty in the black, indigenous, and people of color community (BIPOC). ACEL can and must be part of the solution to ensure that black lives matter and to help create a society free of injustices and racial disparities (manifesting in the areas of education, health, income, poverty, COVID-19, employment, to name a few.).

It will be critical for all of us in ACEL to use our strengths of education, communication, and leadership to work together in support and solidarity to stop racism, injustice, and violence. Our ACEL committee on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been making positive change to advance DEI, challenging ACEL to do the difficult work to acknowledge positionality and privilege. ACEL will be working closely with Dr. Patrice Dickerson, our new Assistant Dean and Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for CFAES, to continue these critical efforts.

We know more work needs to be done to recognize that personal and systemic prejudice and racism are pervasive realities in our society past and present.  We are committed to find additional strategies and places to shine light on these challenges so everyone in ACEL (faculty, staff and students) and all stakeholders we serve and engage with can learn and grow individually while they contribute to an equitable and inclusive system.  Making sure all members of our society are both seen and heard as we work toward a better future together will remain a key priority for our ACEL family.  We welcome suggestions and engagement as we strive towards inclusion and safety for everyone.

Your voice is important, so please reach out to me directly or any of our faculty and staff to share your concerns and input. It will take all us. Our incoming chair, Dr. Shannon Washburn is fully devoted to this effort and will be an advocate and leader for us as we work together.

ACEL stands in support and solidarity with our BIPOC students, staff, faculty, and stakeholders.