From a young age Nick Nelson was always around FFA and agricultural teachers. It helped his father taught ag at Sutherlin High, but the Oregon native said his real attraction to the ag education profession came from the bond he witnessed among ag teachers.
“The ag teachers in the Umpqua District were a very tight group that helped each other,” Nelson said. “I found that support group within agriculture education was unlike any other organization I have ever been around.”
Nelson, who grew up on a sheep and cattle ranch, also credits his time in FFA for his interest in pursuing a career in ag education. Venturing in a Red Angus cattle FFA project with his father and becoming a State FFA Officer helped to seal the deal.
“I was elected to be a State FFA officer in Oregon in 1996 and thoroughly enjoyed working with students on our leadership tour and that created a very big interest in teaching agriculture for me,” Nelson said.
With that strong, supportive background, it’s seems only natural that Nelson is not only an agricultural educator, but also the President of the National Association of Agricultural Educators.
An animal science instructor at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Nelson is the first teacher from Oregon and first from a postsecondary institution to serve as president of the NAAE.
NAAE was formed not long after the National FFA Organization. As FFA serves students in agriculture, Nelson said NAAE serves the ag teachers across the county in many of the same ways. Originally established as the Agriculture Education Organization in 1948 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the NAAE is approaching their 70th National Convention.
Today, the grass roots organization is home to more than 7,800 members and 12,000 agriculture teachers across the U.S.
“An important part of our strategic plan is partnering with other educational organizations to ensure the supply of qualified agricultural educators as well as to support agricultural educators in their professions,” Nelson said.
So how does NAAE ensure that supply?
“What has been a huge source of recruiting ag teachers in the past few years is a program called the National Teach Ag Campaign—it was developed by the Ag Ed Council and is managed through the NAAE Organization,” Nelson said. “This program has created marketing activities to create interest with young people in Agriculture Education.”
According to the National Teach Ag Report, there were 770 open teaching positions in 2016, and 98 schools were forced to eliminate their agriculture programs due to budget cuts, low enrollments, or the inability to find a qualified instructor.
The National Teach Ag Campaign has also developed retention tools and programs to help support and keep teachers in the career by mentorship training and work-life balance
“My major goal is to do all I can to help the Teach Ag Campaign further their work in recruiting and retaining Ag Educators,” Nelson said. “I feel that Ag Educators are on the front line between the Producers and the Consumers, which we see an increasing disconnect.”
With NAAE dedicated to developing professional pride and competency and recognizing members for conducting outstanding programs, Nelson hopes that the spirit of unity will help new recruits see and embrace a career in ag education.
“NAAE is an Agriculture Educations Advocacy and Marketing platform and in this organization its members are more of a family than coworkers which creates the sharing of ideas but also support and friendship for its members in the most trying times whether it be in the school or a family crisis,” Nelson said.