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Story by AEC

Last week, the Gator Collegiate FFA Alumni chapter at the University of Florida was recognized as the National FFA Winner for the Outstanding Collegiate FFA Alumni and Supporters Award.

Gator Collegiate FFA Alumni is a student organization housed in the UF/IFAS Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, part of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Membership is comprised of undergraduate students at the Gainesville campus or in Plant City. Throughout the year, the group puts a lot of emphasis on community service and giving back to FFA chapters and students across the state.

“When a lot of students graduate high school, they feel like they are leaving a big piece of their life behind with FFA,” said Devon Morrison, a senior student majoring in agricultural education and communication and current president of Gator Collegiate FFA in Plant City. “CFFA lets us stay connected to it all.”  

Throughout the academic year, the organization helps judge various career development and leadership development events for local FFA chapters. They also host a mock screening process for prospective state FFA officers, as well as conduct various community service activities and fundraisers, like hosting a blueberry U-pick.  

“Our role as a CFFA chapter is just to support and facilitate opportunities for current FFA members,” said Kristen Toomey, agricultural education and communication senior and president of the organization in Gainesville.  

Morrison said the national award is based on around service and volunteering. She was excited that their organization was able to take home the winning title because they are small in numbers, but the amount of work they do for the community is significant.  

Ambria Llauger-Torres, a senior agricultural education and communication student and vice president of the organization at Plant City, spearheaded the application process. She explained that the application has 12 different subtopics for evaluation, but she thought Gator Collegiate FFA set themselves apart with the amount and uniqueness of the different projects they take on throughout the year.  

“We don’t just serve one FFA chapter,” Llauger-Torres said. “We serve all of Florida, and we find different ways to do it. Instead of hosting a car wash, we might pack bags of food for those who need it.”   Llauger-Torres said this is the first time the chapter was recognized at the state level, let alone receiving the national title.  

“This award means a lot to us,” Morrison said. “But, it’s a goal for us to keep reaching for more.”    


The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.    

About National FFA Organization  The National FFA Organization is a national youth organization of 653,359 student members as part of 8,568 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization is supported by 344,239 alumni members in 2,051 local FFA Alumni chapters throughout the U.S. The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. The National FFA Organization operates under a federal charter granted by the 81st United States Congress and it is an integral part of public instruction in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Education provides leadership and helps set direction for FFA as a service to state and local agricultural education programs. For more, visit the National FFA Organization online at and on Facebook, Twitter and the official National FFA Organization blog. 

Story by Annie Muscato 

Home. For some people, it is a building that holds memories from growing up. It could be a room, decorated in paintings and tapestries. Others see home as a person. Perhaps a mother, father, sister or brother that can be reached with a quick dialing of the phone. Home can also be a community of people that one is surrounded by, accompanied by a sense of belonging and value. While many often have more than one “home,” alumna Tory Moore found home in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC).

For Moore, a lot of factors help contribute to her department feeling like home. There was a combination of material specifically relating to agriculture, classes that taught her skills needed by the industry she was interested in, and strong faculty mentorship that made AEC the perfect fit.

“[AEC was] like finding your family when you have been lost in a huge crowd,” Moore said.

Moore graduated from AEC in 2014 with her bachelor’s degree, specializing in communication and leadership development. After she received her degree, she began working for Farm Credit of Central Florida as a marketing coordinator. Today, she is with the same company, but is now the marketing director.

Moore credits her AEC curriculum to helping her develop the ability to be successful in her career. 

“Every new job requires you to spend some time gaining an understanding of the expectations of the role,” Moore said, “but the AEC department prepared me so thoroughly with the very specific communication skills needed to do the work that I was really able to hit the ground running.” 

Moore has had an unwavering passion for the Florida agricultural industry and the work she does with Farm Credit, but she said one of the most special parts of her job has been the opportunity to re-connect with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) and the students at Plant City.

As a local alum deeply entrenched in the agricultural industry, she meets regularly with Kati Lawson, an AEC lecturer based in Plant City. Together, they identify the practical skills that students need upon graduation to find jobs within their field.

Part of what makes something feel like home is always knowing there is a place to return. Today, Moore works professionally alongside so many of her AEC mentors and continues to use the skills she learned throughout her career in marketing.

Moore still gives her time and talents back to AEC, and knows there is always a “home” to visit within the department.

Story by Annie Muscato

The path for each alumnus of the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) is unique. For some, it travels straight into a job within the agriculture and natural resources industry, others funnel into the classroom, and there are still some students that continue their education by pursuing a graduate or professional degree. Chris Vitelli found his path as an AEC alumnus roaming across the country, consistently tied with higher education.

As a first-generation college student, AEC served as Vitelli’s introduction to his academic career.

“The communication skills I learned are, of course, invaluable,” he said, “but [AEC] really connected me to the world of higher education.”

Vitelli credits AEC faculty with fostering a feeling of support as a first-generation student and giving him the confidence to do anything with his degree. 

While he felt that all of the faculty invested in him, Vitelli said Dr. Ed Osborne really made him feel at home.

“He is an amazing faculty member,” Vitelli said about Osborne. “I always felt that he was truly invested in me as a person and as a student.”

Once Vitelli received his bachelor’s degree, he headed to Harvard University for his Master of Education degree in administration, planning and social policy. It wasn’t long, however, before he found himself back at the University of Florida (UF), working as the Director of Student Services for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Vitelli said his time working in student affairs allowed him to use the technical skills in AEC and helped him find his passion. Since then, he has served in a variety of capacities within higher education. In 2016, Vitelli became the new Merced College President in California. Merced College is part of the largest educational system in the world.

Last month, Vitelli made another trip back to Gainesville, when he was awarded the UF Alumni Association’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award. This award is given annually to a select group of alumni under the age of 40 “whose achievements positively reflect the Gator Nation."

“We are so pleased to have Mr. Vitelli recognized for his accomplishments,” said Dr. Brian Myers, professor and chair of AEC. “Our department continues to watch our alumni reach new successes and positively impact the world, and I am proud that Mr. Vitelli has received the Outstanding Young Alumni award for his achievements in higher education.”

Girls: Who run the research world.

Story by AEC
Photos provided by Kati Lawson

For Kati Lawson, the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) has been closely woven into her life, but there is a common thread that seems to pull everything together: mentorship.

As a high school student from Okeechobee, Florida, Lawson was bound and determined to attend Flagler College in Saint Augustine. Yet, her parents, with other intentions, carefully persuaded her to tour the University of Florida (UF). It was on this tour that Lawson met an individual that today she regards as a close mentor. His name was Dr. Ricky Telg, and he still works as a teacher, researcher, adviser and mentor for many in AEC today.

It was the interaction that Lawson and Telg had that guided her to redefine her dream and attend UF for her undergraduate degree.

“I actually chose AEC because of Dr. Telg,” said Lawson. “Basically, I wanted to take any classes he was teaching.”

She found both Telg’s mentorship and expertise invaluable as she considered her future career in journalism. With yet another unexpected turn, Lawson found herself moving back to Okeechobee for a career in teaching, a profession she fell in love with while educating fifth grade at her local elementary school. She let this newly discovered passion guide her to pursue and obtain a master’s degree from Angelo State University, where she studied education in guidance and counseling.

Telg’s mentorship travels with many of his students, Lawson included, far beyond commencement. One of the ways he does so is by sending out current job postings to his former students.

One such email called Lawson’s attention to a posting for a lecturer in AEC, housed in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at Plant City. While Lawson was intrigued, her first move wasn’t to edit her résumé and draft a cover letter. Instead, she gave her mentor a call.

At the time, Lawson was working as a College and Career Counselor at a local high school, but getting back into the classroom and reconnecting with AEC was especially appealing. It turns out, that phone call with Telg was the push she needed.

Today, Lawson can be found teaching AEC undergraduate students in Plant City, specializing in the communication and leadership development classes. She strives to teach her students in the same way she was taught.

“Dr. Telg’s biggest strength is that he teaches to the student and not just the curriculum,” she said. “He doesn’t teach all his students the same, but he treats them all fairly.”

Lawson hopes that she can serve as just as much of a mentor and resource for her students in Plant City as she had during her undergraduate career.

“Plant City is unique because I am able to work directly with local industry professionals and then tailor the curriculum to fit local needs,” Lawson said. “I know my students are gaining valuable skills that make them especially equipped to enter the workforce right her in their community.”

Those industry relationships also help her connect students with potential career opportunities upon graduation, just like Telg does for his students, Lawson included.

Kati is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in AEC, specializing in agricultural communication of course, under the continued leadership and support of her mentor and friend, Dr. Ricky Telg.

Guest Blog by Heather Ryan
Photos provided by Heather Ryan

“Our partisan divide exists only between the engaged and the apathetic.” This statement was powerfully spoken at a pivotal chapter of my early collegiate career. These words have since served as the pillar foundation for each of my experiences as an undergraduate student in the department of Agricultural Education & Communication (AEC) at the University of Florida (UF). Leadership, public service, and community development have been the central themes of my extracurricular pursuits that allow me to mobilize diverse people groups together not only on campus, but throughout the surrounding Gainesville community as a collective.  

Thanks to the support offered through the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, I have shared the privilege and joy of serving as 1 of 4 students in the year-long fellowship program downtown at City Hall. Our roles span across a widespread set of skills and disciplines including visual design, urban planning, and policy research. In particular, the scope of my current position is centered on community and civic engagement projects throughout the city. Beginning in August, our team completed the hiring process and were treated with a clear sense of professionalism as city employees from the start. We entered the corporate culture of local government at an opportune time when city officials began charting a redirection to posture Gainesville as the “New American City.” This progression unraveled further as we learned of integrated development programs through the Bloomberg Philanthropic Challenge and “What Works Cities” initiatives. Such grant incentives and support networks compelled our team to improve all aspects of the citizen – centered experience through mobility, technology, and the UF – Gainesville strategic partnership.

On the first day in the office, I started working on a project proposal known as the Gainesville Volunteer Portal. Despite volunteer listings available through community centers and campus offices, I still noticed the widening gap of knowledge between volunteer bases and service organization coordinators. Over the following six weeks, I consulted eight software vendors to evaluate the appropriate online platform that would best meet the need of non-profit organizations in sharing upcoming events and sign up forms updated in real time.  After interviewing administration over Alachua County Schools, I also learned how high school students could greatly benefit from a digital recording system to account for an accurate record of community service and residual economic impact.

Portal completion is projected toward late April as roughly 20 local non-profit organizations have demonstrated interest in the onboarding process and strengthening their volunteer base through this resource.  Furthermore, this platform aims to yield the highest success rate of Bright Futures scholarship recipients by encouraging all students to meet the minimum 150 service hour requirement. As a graduating senior, I feel entirely fortunate and grateful to contribute toward the advancement of my city in this way. I look forward to returning to Gainesville 25 years from now to see the furthered development of young leaders toward civic education and engagement. My time as a fellow with the Bob Graham Center for Public Service is far from over, but I am already excited to see the change future City of Gainesville Fellows will make.

For those interested in pursuing an opportunity immersed in civic engagement, applications for the 2018 -2019 cohort of City of Gainesville Fellows will open in March and can be found at

Story by AEC
Photos provided by Micah Scanga

"Hi." It was a simple word that caused an unexpected turn in the undergraduate career of sophomore Micah Scanga. His first two years at the University of Florida (UF) were not spent in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, and Scanga was struggling to connect to his studies. That is, until he wandered into the office of former academic program specialist Jodi (DeGraw) Modica, who turned around and greeted Scanga with a simple “Hi.”

“It’s weird and cliché,” said Scanga, “but it really took me back. This was one of the first times someone stopped what they were doing and seemed excited to teach me about their program. It was the first time I felt a personal connection and the more I learned, the more I liked.”

Scanga’s collegiate career was a positive developmental experience for him, but he realized, while what he learned in the classroom was important, the power of connection was something that grew with him even more. AEC provided Scanga with many personal connections that would last far beyond his commencement ceremony.

Scanga grew up just north of Tampa, Florida, one generation removed from agriculture. Both of his parents were involved in the agriculture and natural resources industries and Scanga had an interest in agriculture, but he started his undergraduate career at UF with a different major.

“For a student who spent most of his first two years with 2,000 kids in a lecture,” Scanga said. “There was a personal touch missing. I was struggling with connecting to the materials and professors.”

After a change in his course of study, Scanga settled into his new coursework. This may have been important, but he found something else that seemed to be very formative in his undergraduate experience: student organizations.

“I was very involved in my fraternity (Alpha Gamma Rho),” Scanga started. “Between that and Florida Blue Key, I realized that I was forming people skills and personal relationships that were developing me as a student and as a person.”

He attributes his development in communication and leadership skills to the connections he made in his student organizations. In graduate school, Scanga worked with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) Ambassadors and the CALS Dean’s office, which only enhanced those skills further.

As Scanga started to pursue his master’s degree in AEC, specializing in leadership development, a few new personal dots started to connect. He built close relationships with the faculty he worked with, befriended and collaborated with some of the other graduate students, and then met someone else. Today, he calls her his wife (and she is also one of our AEC alumni).

“We met in Dr. Osborne’s proposal development class,” Scanga said, chuckling at the irony. “But, we didn’t start dating until the last few months before graduation.”

This relationship remained with Scanga through his first job, and together, they took a chance and moved to the state of Washington together.

Today, Scanga works for Syngenta in a retail representative position. There, he represents his company to channel of retailers, distributers and growers, while working in an area surrounded by over 50 agricultural commodities flourishing.

“There has been one theme in my life,” said Scanga. “I am one lucky and blessed guy, and I have had a great community of people get me here.”


The First Date

Micah Scanga and Lauren Hrncirik were both graduate students in AEC. First meeting in Dr. Osborne’s proposal development class, the two started a relationship that led them to a move across the country and a wedding. Micah, however, did not believe he would even make it past the first date.
“We didn’t start dating until the last few months before graduation,” Micah said. “But that first date, I thought I tanked it.”
At the time, all he had was his Harley Davidson, but Micah had picked Lauren up on a Monday evening to take her to one of his favorite pizza places about a half hour away from campus.
“I talked up this pizza joint,” said Micah. “I mean, I really talked it up, and I was so excited to show her.”
However, when they arrived, Micah realized it was closed on Mondays.
“I felt so bad,” Micah said. “I drug her all the way out here on my Harley for this pizza I kept talking up and it wasn’t even open. It was terrible.”
Lauren, on the other hand, disagreed.
“I had a crush on Micah for like a year,” she said. “I was just excited that we were finally going out. I never thought it was a flop.”
Lauren saw the date as an adventure and she was just along for the ride.
“We ended up coming back to Gainesville and picking a place to eat randomly because it was open and wasn’t busy,” she said.
While Micah may have seen this as a catastrophe, it was the start of a new relationship. Today, "the Scangas" reside in the state of Washington and are happily married.
“We were both kind of looking for a new adventure,” Lauren said. “Washington is just where the next chapter took us.”

Guest Blog by Jessica Harsh
Photos provided by Sarah LaRose & AECGSA

AECGSA is the graduate student association within the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC). One of my favorite parts of AECGSA is the people who are associated with the group; it is truly like a family. The organization is advised by Drs. Laura Warner and CC Suarez, and there is also a mentorship program that pairs new students with an older student within your specialization.

I quickly came to find out that my mentor and I were like two peas in a pod. She showed me the ropes and served as a great support person throughout my first couple semesters at the University of Florida (UF) and as an AEC graduate student. The mentorship program is invaluable and something that makes the group unique and more personal.

While the organization sets a tone that helps build camaraderie through mentoring and social events like payday Friday dinners, AECGSA also encourages scholarship and leadership. We attend professional development seminars once per month, in which we have learned about topics like designing a research poster or taking a deeper look into our personality types.

Last, but certainly not least, AECGSA finds a way to make sure that we are still connected to agriculture. After all, we are the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication. We take part in various farm tours of Florida agriculture to stay engaged with the concerns and celebrations that Florida farmers are having.

AECGSA finds a way to build a home and a family in a department where many students are not from Florida. We push each other to become better leaders, scholars and human beings. It has been a blast for me to serve as the president of this group for the past two semesters.

Guest Blog by Gabriel Spandau
Photos provided by Gabriel Spandau & Becky Raulerson

Gabriel Spandau is an AEC student majoring in communication and leadership development. In the fall of 2017, he lived in Orlando and worked as an intern at Epcot, one of the parks at Disney World.

My name is Gabriel Spandau and I am currently a student in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) completing an Internship at Disney World where I run a Greenhouse that is part of the Living with the Land boat ride. This internship has taught me more than I could have ever imagined about hydroponics, food production, and team work. I work alongside 16 other interns to help maintain all the greenhouses and aqua cell. Through working with all of the other interns who are college students and graduates, I have developed friendships that I am sure will last a lifetime.

Being part of AEC was one of the keys to my success in this internship. Before I started at UF, I really knew nothing about agriculture or the issues surrounding the general public's education on the subject. After taking "Issues in Agriculture" with Ms. Becky Raulerson I learned an incredible amount about the agriculture industry and the lack of knowledge the general public had about the industry. This class was actually what cemented my interest in agriculture and made me want to learn more about what I could do to help change the perception of agriculture for those who did not grow up surrounded by it.

One of the main reasons we are here at the Land working as interns is to give tours to Disney guests. I give about four to five tours a week that last a little over an hour. During these tours I take guests through all the greenhouses and the aqua cell explaining everything we do and why the Land is here. By doing this, I get to educate people about hydroponics, recycling, harvesting practices, and food production. This could not have been a more perfect experience for me. I am able to teach people about things that I am doing hands on everyday and I get to learn about the gaps of knowledge that many people have when it comes to agriculture. This provides me with the ability to narrow down the areas in agriculture where education is lacking the most.

The main point is that we need to learn more so we can teach people about the agricultural industry in any way we can to help remove the misconceptions that surround the industry. My internship at the Land and my AEC classes are helping to prepare me to do just that. I highly encourage anyone who is interested in agriculture or teaching to look into the internship at The Land and the AEC major  at the University of Florida. You would not believe how much can be learned in such a small amount of time.

After a devastating earthquake affected millions of people in the country of Haiti in 2010, Haitian-American sophomore Bertrhude Albert wanted to find a way to help. An English major with a desire to provide some relief to the people of Haiti, Albert suggested making a trip to Haiti to her friend, Priscilla Zelaya. The two influenced 17 other University of Florida (UF) students to join them, and during spring break of 2011, the 19 undergraduate students took about 400 pounds of clothes, shoes and food to the Haitian communities.

Toward the end of the week in Haiti, Albert and Zelaya sat down to speak with some of the community leaders. The two felt proud of the relief they provided to these communities. They felt that they had truly made a difference, and truth-be-told, they had. However, the difference they made wasn’t the positive impact for which they hoped. Speaking with the community leaders, the two learned they actually hurt the Haitian communities they so wanted to help.

“See that man over there,” one community leader told them. “He makes shoes. No one will be buying from him for a few weeks because of all the shoes you brought us.” The same was true for other merchants who made clothes, or farmers who relied on their sales to live. Albert and Zelaya still wanted to help the people of Haiti, however they realized their aid should not come in the form of donated goods, but rather in education. Thus, Projects for Haiti (later P4H Global) was born.

As a sophomore and junior in college, respectively, Albert and Zelaya wanted to focus their work on making a difference, the right way.  In July of 2011, Projects for Haiti officially became a business, and by December of that year they were a certified nonprofit, with a new focus on bringing adequate education to Haiti.

The duo focused first on their own education, finishing their bachelor’s degrees and going on to complete their master’s degrees at the University of Florida.

“During our master’s programs,” Albert said, “Priscilla and I met Dr. Grady Roberts at a panel he was speaking at. He helped recruit us into a Ph.D. program within the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC).”

As minority women who created their own business, Albert and Zelaya knew obtaining a terminal degree in their chosen field of study would only be beneficial. It wouldn’t be until they were immersed in the program in AEC that they would realize just how beneficial. Both Albert and Zelaya pursued, and later obtained, doctorate degrees in AEC, specializing in Extension Education.

“Those 2 ½ years (during our Ph.D.) were formative for us,” Albert said. “AEC expanded our minds academically. We were learning things like evaluation which have been absolutely critical to the strength of our organization.”

Before their doctoral program, the pair would conduct educational programs in Haiti with no use of evaluation. Now, they use their skills to constantly improve their programs to make a larger impact in the Haitian communities. 

Albert said their AEC education also helped them wrap their heads around positive community development. They learned how to help populations in need instead of hurting them. They learned how to not only give a voice to those populations, but "to provide communities that aren’t being heard with a microphone to express their concerns and needs." 

In December 2016, Albert and Zelaya graduated from the University of Florida for the third time. At this point, Projects for Haiti had grown so much through service trips from community members and students who wanted to make a difference that the twosome was able to work full-time for the business they created. It continued to grow at such an exponential rate that by January 1, 2017, the name changed from Projects for Haiti to P4H Global, with the intent to bring similar education programs to communities that may need it across the world.

P4H Global is continuing to deliver programs to educators in Haiti to address the 80 percent of Haitian educators that are not trained or qualified. Currently, it is the largest teacher training nonprofit in Haiti. 

For Albert, this business represents a duality of feelings. She has watched it, and co-built it, from an idea to a successful program that is creating a global impact in education.

“Priscilla and I frequently tell each other ‘I can’t imagine doing anything else,’” Albert said. “It is surreal and I feel incredibly blessed, but there is also this other side of me that constantly says, ‘There is more.’” 

P4H Global has reached over 2,600 teachers in Haiti by taking church and community groups, as well as UF students to deliver educational programs, but they are pushing the organization to grow.= 

“There is this ambition to see even more,” Albert said. “Our first trip, bringing clothes and shoes into Haiti, was not sustainable. I hope that if we continue to educate teachers in Haiti that I will one day see poverty eradicated in my country.

During her collegiate career, Saneh Ste. Claire sought out new opportunities to push herself to new heights. A “sneakers-and-ponytail” kind of girl, she could often be spotted on the University of Florida campus, running to teach her group fitness class, practicing her morale routine for Dance Marathon, or decked out in her khakis and white polo leading tours for prospective students as a Florida Cicerone. This is all in between her classes, of course.

Senior year of her undergraduate career, the St. Augustine native had an exciting, yet unexpected, addition. Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) student Saneh Ste. Claire was crowned as the 2016 University of Florida Homecoming Queen. This significant accomplishment was only a piece in Ste. Claire’s Gator experience.

The Backstory

“I came to AEC in more of a non-traditional way,” said Ste. Claire. “I actually didn’t end up in the department until my junior year, after switching three times.”

Originally, Ste. Claire started as an anthropology major. Her junior year, she decided to change (for the final time) so she would graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education and Communication and two minors. Her first minor was within AEC: leadership. Never losing her passion for anthropology, she ended up using that as her second minor.

“I’m still grateful for my anthropology minor,” said Ste. Claire. “But, transferring into the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) was so natural.”

Ste. Claire immediately found a connection in the department and with CALS.

“I felt so at home. I had never felt so connected with faculty before. Even with my classmates, we had a tight knit community. It was something really special to me.”

Aside from the relationships Ste. Claire was building, she found that she related to a lot of the topics covered in her curriculum, even though she didn’t have an agricultural background.

“I switched my major three times and ended up in agriculture, but it tackled all these topics I really cared about, from holistic health to sustainability to leadership. It was a strange fit for me but it was a type of home.”

Ste. Claire’s “home” also houses the leadership minor, which she says helped her articulate herself to obtain the platform that helped get her crown.

The Pageant

To be considered for the UF Homecoming Court, those interested must first participate in a pageant. The pageant includes an opening group dance number, a Gator attire segment, live questions and an evening gown segment.

“I never thought I would be in a pageant,” said Ste. Claire. “I sort of did it on a whim because my friends were doing it and it was a big UF tradition.”

Ste. Claire would consider herself far from a pageant girl, enough that she had to borrow a dress and enlisted a friend to help with her hair and makeup. When she showed up for the pageant, she was still in her every day, normal attire.

“I texted a bunch of my friends to ask how to prepare for it,” she said. “One of my friends told me she would take care of it all. I showed up in a ponytail, not even close to ready. But, everyone else seemed to have been preparing for hours.”

Ste. Claire’s approach may seem a little unorthodox for a competition, but it wasn’t just a contest for her.

“It was more of a celebration than a competition. If you love UF and love what it stands for, then the pageant is a great way to increase your involvement.”

It was something fun for Ste. Claire – a way to showcase everything she loved about her school.

“The opening dance was my favorite part,” she said. “I was wearing a big skirt and Converse and I remember laughing so hard. We were terrible. I was in the front row, probably because I’m shorter, but I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time. It was great.”

After the first cut of participants, Ste. Claire was one of the last candidates to take her turn with the live questions, due to alphabetical order.

“I remember getting a question about my UF legacy,” she said. “I remember saying that we are all leaders and we have all been really involved, but I want to be remembered as a really good friend. That’s the legacy I want.”

Following the question round, Ste. Claire was chosen to represent her school on Homecoming Court. She would later be crowned Queen during the Gator Growl.

The Next Chapter

For Ste. Claire, being crowned as queen was a huge moment in her life, but just being chosen for Homecoming Court was momentous for her. That being said, it also wasn’t the end point.

“As soon as you’re crowned, you are swept into interviews and photos,” she said. “But, when I finally got home that night, I remember taking my crown off and actually looking at it for the first time, thinking, ‘Wow. How did I get here?”

Ste. Claire credits her involvements with Dance Marathon, group fitness, Cicerones and her leadership minor for helping to cultivate her into someone to represent the university in this capacity.

Her university involvement didn’t end with graduation. Ste. Claire wasn’t finished with AEC, either. This fall, she began classes as a graduate student in the department, pursuing her Master of Science degree with a specialization in Leadership Development.

“I accepted my offer the day I received it,” said Ste. Claire. “Why would I leave when I was on such a good path? I was just getting settled in AEC, and I know I’m not done here.”

AEC professor emeritus works with Egyptian agricultural schools to improve agricultural work force, improve national economy

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) professor emeritus Dr. Kirby Barrick has partnered with Egyptian agricultural schools to improve existing agricultural programs, develop an improved agricultural work force, and ultimately, create a strong national economy. 

Barrick worked on three, unique projects designed to achieve this goal. These projects partnered with Egyptian agricultural universities and agricultural technical schools (comparable to vocational high schools) to develop curriculum, enhance teaching, provide student internships and assemble advisory councils.

“Much of Egypt consists of subsistence farming—growing one’s own food,” said Barrick. “Our goal with each of these projects was to develop highly skilled agricultural workers so that Egypt could grow and export crops to European and Middle Eastern markets and have money for inputs, including seed and fertilizer.”

Barrick explains that because Egypt is several time zones away from the United States, the country does not compete in the same markets as the U.S. Instead, Egypt primarily competes for trade with Europe and the Middle East. 

One of the three projects Barrick partnered with, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Agriculture Exports for Rural Income (AERI), worked with five “faculties” (commonly known as “colleges” in the U.S.) of agriculture in Upper Egypt. These faculties of agriculture reigned from Cairo UniversityFayoum University, Assiut University, Minia University and South Valley University.

Barrick used the train-the-trainer approach in workshops to educate faculty in the areas of agricultural curriculum development, instructional design, teaching enhancement, peer assessment and active learning. Once faculty were trained, faculty members from the original workshops were carefully selected to train additional faculty, while also being provided with the required instructional materials.

 “During this training, we conducted skill gap analyses to determine what skills students had versus what skills industry wanted them to have,” said Barrick. “We also worked with the faculty to help them develop student internships and advisory councils composed of industry members and university faculty.”

The additional two projects Barrick partnered with, USAID Value-Chain Training and SHOURA Foundation for Development, specifically worked with Egyptian agricultural technical schools. Value-Chain Training provided training in the areas of curriculum development and teaching enhancement, building advisory councils and supplying the schools with necessary teaching equipment, while SHOURA Foundation for Development worked heavily with developing student internships.

“When visiting these Egyptian agricultural technical schools, it was not uncommon for many classrooms to not have lights, chalk or even textbooks,” Barrick said. “One instructor was teaching her heart out, but had no textbooks whatsoever in her classroom. She had been teaching an entire year’s worth of curriculum using a 60-page booklet.”

Barrick’s projects worked to provide these schools with textbooks and proper teaching equipment, including overhead projectors and computers, while also demonstrating how to effectively use software such as PowerPoint for teaching enhancement. Specifically, a project was organized with University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) Ambassadors and faculty that sent $75,000 worth of textbooks to South Valley University, one of the five universities Barrick has partnered with.

Barrick used the same train-the-trainer approach used at the universities to train teachers at agricultural technical schools in the areas of active learning strategies, horticulture, agriculture mechanization, food science, agribusiness and animal science.

Student internships, provided in part by SHOURA’s Supervised Internship Program (SIP), were also developed with help from Barrick to provide students with practical training for agricultural jobs in the horticultural and livestock value chains. Internships provided students training in the areas of input supply, production, new irrigation systems, post-harvest handling, transportation, processing, marketing and exporting.

“As a result of our projects with agricultural technical programs, we have also developed advisory councils that got businesses and parents involved, developing a sense of community,” said Barrick. “We also developed student events in marketing, speaking and floral arrangement and founded the Future Farmers of Egypt.”

Barrick’s three projects in Egypt have proved to be highly impactful, reaching five universities, 130 technical schools, ~4000 instructors and 70,000+ students. In addition, the projects have resulted in eight refereed journal articles, 11 poster presentations and 36 invited presentations and workshops.

“The real goal in doing international development projects of this kind is to ensure that the people we are helping are better off after we visit them,” said Barrick. “If we see that they are better off, we know that our time there was well spent.”

Barrick has led two study abroad programs to Egypt and is planning a third program in 2018.  

AEC professor Dr. Ricky Telg uses video production course to showcase university research and communicate science to the public.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) professor Dr. Ricky Telg’s video production course, AEC4036/5037: Advanced Agricultural Communication Production, plays a vital role in showcasing University of Florida (UF) research and communicating science to the public.

“The course became what it is now when the University of Florida’s Explore Research magazine expressed a need for a video wall showcasing university research at the Florida Museum of Natural History,” Telg said. “I had been working on a department project with my colleague (former agronomy professor) Maria Gallo, whose neighbor was the museum’s current education coordinator, Betty Dunkel. Maria put me in contact with Betty and from there, our work with the museum got its start.”

A generous portion of Telg’s video production course involves students working closely with University of Florida researchers to produce videos for the Explore Research video wall at the museum, a permanent exhibit that showcases two- to- four-minute informational videos featuring university research on topics ranging from agriculture, engineering, medicine, veterinary medicine and liberal arts and sciences.

“The students in this course not only learn advanced videography skills—they learn the complexities of communicating science to the public,” Telg said. “Many scientists do not communicate in an easy-to-understand manner. Part of the learning experience for students in this course is working with scientists and coaching them to transfer information to a broader audience beyond scientists themselves. We don’t just teach skills, we teach students to communicate science, and that is not always easy.”

AEC undergraduate student Andrew Horvath says the course has helped him to better tell scientists' stories.

"This course has enabled me to better communicate with experts in specific fields and has taught me the best methods of sharing their story," Horvath said.

The production process used to create videos for Telg’s course is a lengthy one. It involves a pre-production period of students researching the video topic, conducting a pre-interview with the researcher to coach the scientist to talk about their topic on an eighth-grade level and scouting out b-roll (or visuals) to be used in the video. Production takes place roughly a week later, with the researcher being interviewed and filmed by the student, followed by a strenuous post-production process of editing raw video footage and packaging the content into a video suitable for use on the museum video wall and public broadcasting.

As of Spring 2016, the course has produced 190 videos for the museum. The videos, in addition to being displayed at the museum’s Explore Research exhibit, are also featured on Gainesville’s WUFT television station, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) website and Teacher Tube, with over 200,000 hits on Teacher Tube alone.

More recently, the course has also started producing videos for the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Office of the Dean for Research.

“In addition to producing videos with the museum, we were approached last year by IFAS Dean for Research, Dr. Jackie Burns, to produce videos for IFAS Research Discoveries,” Telg said. “We produced 13 videos for them last spring and will do the same this semester as well.”

The course has gained widespread attention from the university and beyond. A new component to this year’s course involves the students re-packaging one of the IFAS Research Discoveries videos to be featured on AgDay, a nationally syndicated daily agricultural news television program presented in magazine format.

In total, each student enrolled in the course will produce three videos per semester—a video for the museum, a video for IFAS Research Discoveries and a re-packaged video in news story format for AgDay.

“The students walk away from this course with a portfolio of professional videography work to share with prospective employers,” Telg said. “Many of our students have been offered internships or full-time positions around campus and beyond after completing this course.”

Students who have completed this course are now working in videography positions with the museum, the UF Office of Research, the UF Diabetes Institute and the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education. Several of these positions began as internships and quickly led to full-time jobs for the students.

“This class is what set me on a path to pursue a career in digital communications and gave me all of the necessary skills to do so,” said AEC undergraduate student and UF Diabetes Institute communications coordinator Gordon Yoder.

Horvath says the course has also helped him in his current role with the UF Office of Research.

"Through this course I have been given several opportunities for internships as well as my current role as a videographer for the UF Office of Research, where I use many of the skills and techniques that I learned through AEC4036/5037,” Horvath said.

The course is largely supported by the museum and the IFAS Office of the Dean for Research which allows Telg to provide students with the latest high-definition video cameras, production equipment and software used in the industry.

“We are extremely thankful for the partnerships we have developed with the museum and the IFAS Office of the Dean for Research,” Telg said. “This course is a result of these continued partnerships because they see our videos as first-class products.”

To learn more about Explore Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, please visit the following website:

To watch the IFAS Research Discoveries videos, visit

AEC faculty member Dr. Hannah Carter plays crucial role in professional application of department curriculum with role as leadership program director

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) associate professor Dr. Hannah Carter plays a crucial role in the professional application of AEC’s education, communication, leadership and extension curriculum while serving as director of Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources (Wedgworth or WLIANR). 

Wedgworth, an agricultural-based leadership program led by Carter, develops and refines leadership capacities in professionals within Florida’s agriculture and natural resource industry. The program is sponsored by the Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences (IFAS) with an academic home in AEC.

“Wedgworth combines everything that we teach within our curriculum in AEC—agricultural education, communication, leadership development and extension—but is specifically tailored to career professionals, training them to become better leaders and communicators,” Carter said. 

The program, which got its start in 1992, now boasts a total of 10 member classes and nearly 250 program alumni. Each member class hosts 30 individuals completing a two-year program that includes seminars throughout the United States and culminates with an international seminar, held in a different global destination for each class.

Wedgworth is comprised of members from all facets of Florida’s agriculture industry. The current class, Class X, includes attorneys, marketing coordinators, farm managers, extension agents, business analysts and citrus nurserymen representing companies including BASF, Farm Credit of Florida, Syngenta, Rabo AgriFinance, Driscoll’s and Lykes Bros., Inc.

“Class X has been a diverse, great group,” Carter said. "They’re very humble and appreciative to be a part of this great experience. They realize the importance of Wedgworth and know that we expect them to continue to do great things upon the completion of this program. They’re eager to learn, not afraid to take on challenges and have formed a cohesive, high-functioning team.” 

Most recently, Class X completed their third seminar of the program in Miami, Florida. The seminar included a tour of the Port of Miami, Miami Cancer Institute, TKM-Bengard Farms, Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative and South Florida Water Management District Storm Water Treatment Area 1 East.

Class X member Kevin Wright, agricultural engineer for Generation Farms in Lake Park, GA says Wedgworth has not only benefited him professionally, but has also helped personally, allowing him to self-reflect.

At a recent Wedgworth team-building event held at Lake Wauburg, Wright participated in a storytelling workshop where he was asked to self-reflect, answering the question, “How do you want to be remembered?” 

“I came into this program with the impression of how Wedgworth would benefit me in my professional career,” Wright said. “As I answered the questions given to me during the storytelling workshop, my answers centered around my family. This made me reflect and ask myself what am I doing to ensure I am remembered to my family the way I hope to be.”

Wedgworth hopes to keep these types of professional development and leadership events going with not only current member classes, but also with program alumni.

“Now that we have around 250 program alumni, our next area of focus is keeping them active and engaged in the industry,” Carter said. “We want to continue providing professional development and leadership seminars for them to be able to grow as professionals.”

Wedgworth held its first alumni seminar in Cuba in May 2016. The group visited several agricultural operations including a state-owned citrus company, UBPC de la Empresa Citricos Ceiba, and an urban farm. The group also had an opportunity to meet with Cuban Minister of Agriculture Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero.

“Choosing Cuba as our Wedgworth seminar destination was a no-brainer,” Carter said. “The proximity to the United States, with only 90 miles from Cuba to Florida, and the similarities in growing conditions of Cuban agriculture to Florida agriculture led us to want to know more about the country. As soon as Cuba opened for travel, we knew we wanted to go.”

Carter said that any expectations that she had for her trip to Cuba were exceeded and that she was impressed with the innovativeness and positivity of the Cuban people.

“My favorite part of the trip was experiencing the innovativeness and positivity of the Cuban people,” Carter said.

This clever and resourceful nature of the Cuban people was exhibited during the Wedgworth group’s tour of a tobacco farm. The tobacco farmers marketed hand-rolled cigars in bundles of 10 to visitors as soon as each tour bus arrived at the farm. Buses arrived every few minutes, with many of the visitors interested in purchasing these infamous Cuban cigars.

“They have little resources to work with, but they’re very creative and make the most of what they have.”

To learn more about Wedgworth, please visit

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