Faculty Research Spotlight
“The academy is an intensive ten-day professional development program that covers three major content areas within agricultural mechanics, including small gas engines, electricity, and welding.”
Agricultural education teachers across the nation are not adequately trained in agricultural mechanics, which deals with maintenance and repair of farm machinery. This has led to low teacher self-efficacy and is a contributing factor to why teachers leave the profession. Furthermore, there is a significant shortage of skilled labor to fill industry demand. Industry leaders have identified agricultural education students as a source to fill the shortage, but they need rigorous and relevant instruction from their teachers.
It is well documented that secondary school-based agricultural education (SBAE) teachers are ill-prepared to teach agricultural mechanics due to a lack of training in their pre-service training programs. The number of agricultural mechanics courses required in most university agricultural education programs has dwindled as the number of credit hours in degree programs has been cut and other course requirements added. In many cases, these courses have been completely eliminated. Meanwhile the popularity of agricultural mechanics at the secondary level continues to grow among high school students. Larger classes coupled with ill-trained teachers and dangerous equipment leads to potential safety issues, among other liabilities, and creates a recipe for disaster.
To improve training for SBAE teachers across the United States, I wrote a grant proposal to create the Agricultural Mechanics Academy, which was funded by the USDA. The academy is an intensive ten-day professional development program that covers three major content areas within agricultural mechanics, including small gas engines, electricity, and welding. Each area integrates content knowledge, skill development, and teaching tips, tricks, and methods. Safety and laboratory management methodologies are highlighted throughout the entire program. The objectives of the academy are as follows: a) improve competency to teach agricultural mechanics; b) improve laboratory awareness and management skills; c) prepare secondary agricultural education students to fill the skills gap in the agricultural mechanics workforce.
The first-of-its-kind Agricultural Mechanics Academy kicked off this summer from July 27 through August 5, 2021. We will have USDA funding for annual training through 2024, which allows all participants to train at no cost to them. Academy participants received numerous teaching resources and classroom items for being selected and taking part in the academy. Those items included sets of small gas engines, curriculum, and tools from Briggs & Stratton with training provided by Power Distributors; welding gear packs, curriculum, and training from Lincoln Electric; and Agricultural Technical Systems and Mechanics textbooks from American Technical Publishers. Participants also earned more than 120 hours of continuing education credit.
I collected data from participants before and after the academy. They answered questions about their perception of teaching, including professional knowledge, performance, ability to teach others, available tools and equipment, curriculum, and post-secondary training. This fall, undergraduate students funded through the College of Applied Arts Learning Community Grants will analyze the data.
For other grant-seeking faculty, I highly recommend serving on a grant review panel as one of your first steps to get a project funded. As a panel member, you will see examples of funded projects and what separates outstanding proposals from the rest of the pool. I also strongly recommend working well in advance of the project deadline. This will allow time for others to review your work, provide edits and suggestions, and identify the “blind-spots” in your proposal. It is better to have peers beat up on your work prior to submission than have a review panel triage your proposal. Finally, I recommend putting yourself and your ideas out there without worrying about rejection. You are going to get rejections and that is OK, but the answer will always be “no” if you don’t put your proposals out there.
My research focuses on the teaching and learning of agricultural mechanics which falls under the STEM umbrella. With a faculty appointment in agricultural education and agricultural mechanics, I can collaborate with faculty in the College of Education and the College of Science and Engineering without feeling like I am outside my comfort area. I am currently working on a research project that utilizes virtual reality and a virtual assisted welding simulator to improve teaching and learning in welding education.