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.