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The Hoot, Fall 2023

Letter from Department Head

The university and our department have both welcomed record breaking freshman classes, continuing our positive enrollment trajectory from last year. It has been a pleasure for me to welcome these students to campus.

It was my great pleasure to thank our most recent endowment benefactor, Tom Klein at the CALS tailgate this semester. Tom truly epitomizes the spirit of the Vandal Ag Ed family. We thank him for his generosity.

Changes in faculty are indicative of the support we enjoy from the college. It will be my pleasure to welcome three new faculty members to our department soon. Don Edgar will be joining us from New Mexico State University in January. Don’s background will complement both the current faculty strengths and the needs of our growing student population. He will teach courses in both the AELC department and for the agricultural systems management degree program in the Department of Soil and Water Systems.

Don’s background in agricultural mechanics will be a tremendous asset to both departments. You may have his textbook, Agricultural Mechanics and Technology Systems in your classrooms.

In addition to Don, we will also be adding Keith Frost to our faculty in January. Keith comes to us from Texas A&M Commerce where he was an assistant professor of agricultural education. He is a native of Oregon and taught agriculture sciences in Oregon before pursuing his doctorate at Texas Tech. The addition of these two faculty means that our department will be well positioned to continue excellence in agriculture teacher preparation.

The agricultural communications faculty search process will be conducted this spring. We hope to attract someone to U of I to facilitate and engage our students in the agricultural science, communications and leadership degree program.

This newsletter, as well as the social media updates and presence, are the result of the hard work of our “Ag Comm Squad.” These students have been amazing in publicizing and highlighting the work of our department. I particularly enjoyed reading about Liz Shaw’s experiences at the Idaho Department of Agriculture this summer and how her internship exposed her to the “true scope” of agricultural communications. My compliments to the editors of the Hoot — they will be well positioned to enter the workforce and continue to be advocates for agriculture.

I am gratified and excited about the support the department has enjoyed recently — it is a testament to the advocacy from you, our alumni and friends. Thank you for your support of the department.

Go Vandals!

Kattlyn Wolf


Kattlyn Wolf, Ph.D.
Interim Department Head
Department of Agricultural Education, Leadership and Communications

Our Stories

Fast Facts

  • 66 agricultural education students
  • 46 agricultural science, communication and leadership students
  • 32 freshmen
  • 21 graduate students
  • 7,372 miles traveled for student experiences during the fall 2023 semester
An instructor in a classroom and students with cuts of beef on a table.

Alumni Spotlight — Sammi Jo Sims

Sammi Jo Sims is part of a great legacy in agricultural education in Washington. Her father, Rod Cool, is an esteemed teacher in Washington and passed this on to his family. Sims and her brother Tucker both served as Washington FFA State Officers. Since retiring from state office and finding her path in life, she continues the family legacy of agricultural education.

Sims graduated from the University of Idaho in May of 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education. After graduating, Sims took a job in Ellensburg, Washington as an agricultural educator and FFA advisor at Ellensburg High School. Within one year of teaching, she obtained her master's in agricultural education.

Sims teaches six classes every day with no assigned prep period. While strenuous, this allows her to continue growing her program. Sims says her favorite course to teach is ag biology, where she teaches her students about animals and plants by relating it to human biology. Her favorite unit, however, is the meat science unit. Through a series of grants, Sims has been able to purchase cutting tables, complete sets of knives, a band saw, mixers and grinders to add to her lab. Her students learn about different cuts of meat and how to process carcasses, as well as the complex internal structures of animals through kinesthetic modes of learning.

Between Sims and her teaching partner, all agricultural education courses offered at Ellensburg High School are cross listed for college credit, totaling about 30 college credits.

Despite her great success and family background, Sims didn’t always intend to be an agricultural educator. Her original plan was to enter into the animal science industry. After graduating high school, she attended Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) and received her associate degree in animal science.

After graduating from WWCC, Sims transferred to U of I where she decided to switch her major to agricultural education. While there, she persisted through the challenge and joy of having her first child right before student teaching.

Without her cohort, Sims said she wouldn't have made it through her final project that semester.

Through her six years of teaching and overcoming obstacles along the way she was nominated for the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) New Teacher of the Year award. After winning in her home state of Washington, she won again in Region 5, which consists of 18 different states. She won there and went on and qualified for consideration at the national level where she participated in a rigorous interview process. Sims' ability to share her passion for being an educator was a major contributor to her being named the ACTE New Teacher of the Year in 2022.

Sims continues to grow as an educator and receive recognition. She recently won the 2022-2023 Early Career Achievement Award from the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Sims continues to support the university in multiple ways, including serving as a cooperating teacher for a 2024 U of I student teacher, Alissa Whitaker.

A woman holding an award.
Sammi Jo Sims honored with the Association for Career & Technical Education New Teacher of the Year award.
A female in front of sand and water.

Alumni Spotlight — Hannah Doumit

Hannah Doumit has always been a part of the Vandal family so the decision to come to the University of Idaho was an easy one. While at U of I she made many connections in the agricultural industry, as well as friendships. Doumit’s time as a College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) Ambassador, as well as her time in Sigma Alpha-Beta Epsilon, a professional agricultural sorority, shaped her into a better leader and expanded her knowledge of agriculture.

Doumit graduated from U of I in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science, communications and leadership. Right out of college, Doumit started working for Lamb Weston as a production team leader in Quincy, Washington. Lamb Weston is a food processing company and is one of the largest producers of potato products in the United States.

“As a production team leader, I led a team of both processing and packaging employees and learned the process of making a French fry, from raw potato, through a packed and frozen French fry, ready to ship,” she said. “Learning did not end after college, as I knew nothing about potatoes when taking the job. I learned a lot and enjoyed the job, being on my feet and working with people. Having the ability to be a good leader came largely from the leadership and communication skills I gained in college; through the organizations, I was a part of, the leadership positions I held and my coursework, I feel like I was able to be successful in leading a team and learned a lot from my team as they taught me as well.”

Doumit eventually transitioned to employee engagement specialist at Lamb Weston.

“I enjoyed onboarding and welcoming people to our company and teaching them about what we do and how we do it,” she said. “I got recruited to Lamb Weston by a fellow Vandal and CALS alumni although she's a manager at Boardman West. Ashley Piippo has been a mentor and friend to me through all of my experiences with the company thus far and I'm very grateful for that. Vandals truly care about Vandals, even as alumni and I think that's a very special reflection of the community we have at U of I and in CALS.”

Earlier this year Doumit was offered a new position as maintenance planner. With Lamb Weston potato products being present in over 100 countries, there are many logistical considerations with equipment management. Doumit decided to leap into something new and is loving it. She uses her skills from U of I by communicating with maintenance workers, creating a schedule for maintenance and completing many other systems-based tasks.

Doumit continues to be a part of the Vandal family by being an active alumna, attending football games with her family, attending the groundbreaking of the Meat Science and Innovation Center and continuing to give back to the university in any way possible. Doumit is glad she took a leap out of her comfort zone and is excited to continue to learn and grow with the company.

Portrait of Joe Vandal and a woman.
Hannah Doumit continues to be a part of the Vandal family by being an active alumna.

GOALS Feature

Six AELC students recently returned home with a new outlook on integrating global agriculture in their future classrooms after attending the 2023 World Food Prize.

The Global Orientation to Agricultural Learning (GOALs) program exposes collegiate students at various land-grant universities to concepts in global agriculture and food security. The program also aims to prepare these students to be the next teachers and advocates for the industry.

The GOALs program began in 2021 and is facilitated by U of I faculty member Kasee Smith. This year’s cohort included six agricultural education students from U of I, six from Penn State and an additional six from the 1890s Land Grant System, which are historically black colleges and universities, for a total of 18 students. This year’s cohort comes from Tuskegee University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Kentucky State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, U of I and Penn State.

GOALs Cohort 3 traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to participate in the World Food Prize Foundation Borlaug Dialogues. The World Food Prize supports and recognizes individuals who combat food insecurity and promote global agriculture.

While in Iowa, GOALs participants attended workshops and seminars that expanded their global footprint through conversations with scientists, dignitaries, and policymakers from around the globe.

This experience pushed them to think broader, make real-world connections and think critically about their impact on global agriculture.

When reflecting on her time in Iowa, U of I student Alison Cizek said, “Being at the World Food Prize impacted me as a future educator. There were people there from 76 countries and we got the opportunity to talk to many wonderful people in the field of agriculture. These connections are some that I will never forget, and I will take their advice and knowledge that they have given me into my future classroom.”

Students also had the opportunity to connect with the 2023 World Food Prize laureate. The World Food Prize Foundation recognizes the laureate for their commitment to food security and global agriculture. This year, Heidi Kühn was honored as laureate for her work in war-torn countries. Her foundation, Roots of Peace, works to rehabilitate war-torn areas into farmland and she has impacted over a million farmers.

After her experience, U of I student Saydee Henning said, “It changed my view on global agriculture as I was able to see the different aspects of agriculture across the globe. Everyone is working toward the same goal of feeding their people and it may look strange or different to us, but to them we look strange or different. The diversity of how agriculture is done globally is the reason we are able to thrive in our respective ways.”

In spring 2024 students from the GOALs program will apply the knowledge they have gained by traveling across the United States to teach about global agriculture and food security in high school classrooms. This will allow them to utilize the information they learned in Iowa and share it with a broader audience.

“I am going to use the information learned from the fall immersion as a way to help open the eyes of my students in the spring immersion,” Henning said. “Each time we were given information there were many ways it could be looked at. By giving each of the different ways students are able to diversity of thought.”

This is an excellent opportunity for anyone who is looking to broaden their outlook on global agriculture, and we are proud to offer such an influential experience to our students. We are also thankful for the USDA Higher Education Challenge Grant for making this possible.

Klein Endowment

Tom Klein (‘74, ’79) is committed to the success and betterment of the department that gave him so much. Recently, he graciously created an endowment for the University of Idaho Department of Agricultural Education, Leadership and Communications.

Klein majored in agricultural education at U of I, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He credits his ability to enter and remain in the classroom to his education from U of I and the influence of many amazing professors and coaches who provided the encouragement he needed both through his university years and into his teaching career. For Klein, developing the endowment was a way to give back to the program that built him.

Klein’s vision for the endowment is centered around the importance of growing the next generation of Vandal agricultural educators.

“I want young ag teachers to be successful and I hope that the endowment can provide whatever they need with technology, training, travel money, experience, something that will benefit their learning and make them successful,” he said.

Klein hopes that his endowment speaks to his strong belief in leading by gratitude and encouragement. He wants to inspire students and others to do the same.

“I am really grateful for the training that I got and the career that the Ag Ed department helped me create. I hope that the endowment is going to inspire other people to give back to the university,” Klein said.

Aside from teaching, Klein has also been heavily involved in rotary clubs, serving as President of the Elko Desert Sunrise Rotary Club and as the founder and President of the Rotary Club of Winnemucca, both in Nevada. His time in the rotary club has left him with a quote he is inspired to live by, “Is it the truth, is it fair, will it build friendships and will it be a benefit to my community.”

Klein retired after teaching for 24 years at Marsing High School in Idaho, as well as Elko High School and Spring Creek High School in Nevada. In this chapter of his life, Klein has enthusiastically taken on the sports of pickleball and golf. He is also taking in Idaho’s natural beauty with his wife living in Sandpoint. He says they are big fans of Vandal football and will continue supporting the university and the AELC program.

Course Connection

Experiential Learning and SAE Programs (AGED 258)

The AGED 258 course allows future agriculture educators to learn the Agricultural Education Tracker (AET) by helping students understand how they learn and teach information while providing tools to implement the AET into their future programs. This course addresses the role of experiential learning in agricultural education programs. There are many components of agricultural education that are built around the concepts of experiential learning. Understanding how to implement these principles can aid in setting up an understanding of how to best use these tools in the classroom. Each student is required to record 80 hours of agricultural experience throughout the semester, similar to a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) in high school programs.

Students also use the AET to track their own experiences through the semester. By modeling quality SAE programs and using the AET, this course develops record-keeping skills to assist in planning, decision-making and reporting. Alissa Whitaker, a senior from Moses Lake, Washington studying agricultural education, took this class her first year on campus. Whitaker said that her time in the class consisted of applications and assignments on the AET.

“I wasn’t very familiar with AET and its functions. Now, I’m very excited to use it in the classroom. It is easy to use, functional and a one-stop-shop,” she said.

While using AET, Whitaker learned how to clock time for professional development and how to help future students use AET.

Leadership Event Coordination (AGED 350)

The AGED 350 course is a great opportunity for students to learn by doing as they help facilitate an event for Idaho FFA members. Through this course, selected students explore the inner workings of the Idaho FFA State Convention, serving as event coordinators, managing staging and award presentations and serving as the main workforce to help bring the annual convention to life. Students attend class in Moscow weekly leading up to the event, then spend the week of state convention onsite at the College of Southern Idaho campus in Twin Falls.

Students use leadership, communication and team building skills to plan leadership and career development events (CDE/LDE), awards ceremonies, educational workshops and stakeholder activities held during the Idaho FFA State Convention. Students learn valuable event planning skills and work closely with Clara-Leigh Evans, the Idaho FFA executive director, to ensure the multi-day conference provides an appropriate backdrop for the showcase event of the Idaho FFA year. Class members also gain valuable life-skills as they collaborate with stakeholder groups including the Idaho FFA Association, Idaho FFA Alumni, Idaho FFA Foundation, Idaho Agriculture Teachers Association and the Idaho Division of Career and Technical Education.

Cassie Morey, a junior from Deary studying agricultural education, was a member of the class in spring 2023. Morey drew on her experience as a state officer (retired spring of 2022) but said that she learned more about the behind-the-scenes of the state convention in this class.

“AGED 350 created an experience that was equally challenging and rewarding for a future agricultural teacher. I learned so much about the application of state convention and how the process of putting it on works,” she said.

The success or failure of the convention relies on U of I students who are gaining practical skills while serving FFA members.

Student Internship Spotlight

You may think of agriculture communications as simply writing news articles and posting on social media, but sophomore Elizabeth Shaw learned the true scope of agriculture communications this past summer while serving as an intern for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture as a communication intern in Boise.

Shaw grew up in Caldwell where she was active in 4-H, FFA and the Idaho Jr. Herford Association

“Growing up as the 4th generation on the family ranch, agriculture has always been a vital part of my life for years,” said Shaw. “I traveled all over with my dad and my favorite part was interacting with producers and consumers and networking with everyone in between.”

After changing her major to agriculture science, communications and leadership from elementary education she sought the opportunity to work for ISDA. Throughout the summer she participated in a wide variety of growth opportunities.

“Each day was a new day, I never knew what it was going to look like,” she said.

From taking pictures for the new website, interviewing pesticide applicators and writing news articles, Shaw truly was able to dabble in every part of agriculture communications.

“This helped me develop my path in agriculture communications, the things I love doing and areas that I may need to improve on, but overall my summer was amazing and I would do it over again,” said Shaw.

Learn more.

A woman holding up a card.
Elizabeth Shaw learned the true scope of agriculture communications this past summer while serving as an intern.

Faculty Spotlight

The AELC department is excited to announce the addition of Don Edgar to the faculty team beginning in January 2024. Edgar will join the department as a professor and teach classes in agricultural education and agricultural systems management. A native of Texas, Edgar has been around agriculture his entire life. He grew up on his family farm in Central Texas but spent much of his youth on the family farming and ranching operation in western Texas.

After high school, Edgar completed his bachelor’s degree in agricultural education at Tarleton State University and began teaching at Coronado High School in El Paso, Texas. He spent 14 years in the classroom before transitioning into teacher education. Edgar completed his doctorate at Texas A&M University in 2007 and since has held faculty appointments at the University of Arkansas, the University of Georgia, and most recently at New Mexico State University.

Edgar’s record of scholarship and teaching at the university level are profound. His efforts include more than 50 peer-reviewed publications and nearly $5 million in grant funding. His record of accomplishments includes not only awards for his outstanding research, but also numerous teaching awards given by both student and faculty groups.

When asked what he looked forward to in his new role at U of I, Edgar said, “I am excited to work with great students and teachers in Idaho. This is a dream opportunity to work alongside great faculty, a production-centered College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and a state rooted in agriculture.”

Portrait of a man.
Don Edgar will join the department as a professor and teach classes in agricultural education and agricultural systems management in January.
Three portraits.

Student Experiences

Gavin Voelckers

Gavin Voelckers, a graduate student from Stanwood, Washington, was well immersed in the agriculture industry from his involvement in his family farm as well as being an active member of FFA. In 2016, he graduated from Washington State University with a bachelor’s in agricultural education and joined the Peace Corps, serving in Guinea, West Africa for two years.

During his time in Guinea, he was able to work both formally and informally with subsistence farmers, orchardists and community gardening cooperatives. This gave Voelckers experience working with international agriculture, which will help him become a better educator in the future.

After his time with the Peace Corps, Voelckers wanted to return to the classroom both as a teacher and a student. In the summer of 2022, a position opened in the AELC department and AELC faculty recruited Voelckers to that position and the department.

“It was a good push to get back into the classroom,” Voelckers said. “It has been eye-opening to see teacher education which makes me hungrier to be teaching secondary.”

Voelckers now works part-time as a teaching assistant in the department while obtaining his master’s in agricultural education. In this role Voelckers helps teach class, grade assignments and assist with CFFA activities as a co-advisor. With the faculty changes this fall, Voelckers has taken on an important role in the department and provides assistance in many ways.

Voelcker's favorite part of his time as a grad student is witnessing the undergraduate students learn instructional methods and lesson design as well as seeing the passion they have to be in the classroom. He recalls a specific time when he walked into AGED 180 and saw just how passionate the students were to be learning about agriculture, which made him have a passion to get back into the classroom.

Voelckers’ experiences contribute to his future plans of finishing his master's program in May 2024 pursuing a job as a secondary agricultural educator.

Melissa Renfrow

Melissa Renfrow was born and raised in Emmett where she was active in BPA and FFA. She went on to the University of Idaho where she earned a bachelor's in agricultural economics with minors in communication and journalism.

After graduating, Renfrow began her career utilizing her economics degree while working in finance. She worked for Rabo Bank for four years and Zions Bank for six years. In these positions, Renfrow worked extensively in agricultural finance, assisting producers in finding the capital to help them on the farm or ranch. She gained critical experience networking with producers as they navigated the ins and outs of agricultural lending.

Renfrow credits these positions with jobs with allowing her to gain skills in collaborating among partners in the agricultural industry to bridge the gap between producer and agricultural companies.

While her professional life was rewarding, and her personal life now included being a mom to three kids, Renfrow found she had a passion to do more and sought the opportunity to make a career change.

While considering how she could contribute to something bigger, Renfrow realized she had a passion for being in the classroom and working with students in some form. She began exploring her options and had conversations with faculty in both the U of I College of Education, Health and Human Services and AELC department. In the end, she decided to pursue a master’s in agricultural education along with her secondary teaching license.

Her timing was fortuitous, as the department had an available graduate assistantship opportunity with the U of I’s Idaho Sustainable Agriculture Initiative for Dairy grant (ISAID). The project includes a large-scale effort to examine practices that can aid sustainable and profitable dairy production in the state. The project includes work from 19 faculty members and 22 graduate students, which allows Renfrow to employ her collaboration skills. Renfrow's job consists of bridging the gap between researchers, grad students and farmers in order to meet programmatic goals.

Renfrow works with researchers on the education component of the grant, facilitating interdisciplinary communication and professional development. This assistantship helps Renfrow pay for school as well as helps her learn to be a better educator in the future.

Renfrow’s experience in many facets of agriculture will shape her into a wonderful educator. She plans on finishing her program by May 2025 and plans to begin teaching in secondary education.

Summer Calley

School was never really Summer Calley’s thing. Originally from Middleton, she decided to attend cosmetology school after graduating high school. In 2020 she realized she wanted to do something more.

Her husband is in the military, and she had a strong desire to find a program that fit her interests and worked well with her constant travels. She learned of the agricultural science, communication and leadership degree at U of I and knew that the distance education option was the perfect fit.

Her decision helped Calley find her passion for an educational path and she found great success in the program. She credits much of this success to the availability of completing the program completely at a distance.

During Calley's time as a distance student, she completed an internship opportunity with Canyon County Parks Cultural and Natural Resources where she served as a field ecologist instructor for a science camp. She taught children about ecology, environmental science, safety history and recreation. Calley credits her ASCL degree with helping her be able to advocate for agriculture and effectively communicate and educate campers on ecological systems.

Calley will graduate in May 2024 and plans on continuing her education to obtain a master's degree in restoration ecology and habitat management.

Calley’s plans are to combine the skills from both of her degrees to properly communicate and educate others on the importance of restoration ecology and the interconnection between ecology and agriculture. Calley's long-term goal is to work with rangeland conservation or in sustainable agriculture. She credits the ASCL degree for allowing her to find her passion in advocating for agriculture.

Teacher Tips

Idaho’s 2023 Teacher of the Year, Trent Van Leuven, has a history of being extremely busy. From the point he started teaching agriculture education, he has been on the run.

"At one point I was teaching at three different schools, finding the time to respond to emails, phone calls and texts just to update individuals on what was happening was challenging. I knew I had to find a better way to communicate," he said.

Van Leuven found a free program called MailChimp, a cost-effective email newsletter with many great features.

"I can send it to not only my students but school staff, alumni, parents, supporters and donors," he said.

This allows Van Leuven to keep everyone on the same page. He can add links to various things such as travel releases, order forms, etc. He can also add pictures and HTML countdowns which he has found to keep the readers of the newsletter entertained. MailChimp also allows the user to push the newsletter directly to Facebook, which makes posting the newsletter on social media seamless.

"After using the program for a while, you have a pretty good template that you can use week after week or month after month, with the ability to keep what needs to stay and replace the rest," he said.

Not only is MailChimp free and user-friendly, but you also can track who opens it and clicks on the links.

CFFA Information

Many students in the Department of Agricultural Education, Leadership and Communications are looking not only for a place where they can gain career readiness but also a place to give back to an organization that gave them so much. Collegiate FFA (CFFA) does just this.

The University of Idaho’s CFFA chapter is advised by Kasee Smith and Gavin Voelckers. Officers include Makenna Dewitt, Amy Heikkila and Rachel Lyman.

“CFFA has shown me what my future is going to look like as an educator by giving me hands-on experiences like facilitating Career Development Events at the National FFA Convention, ag system management through teach ag championship and talking to exhibitors at the Latah County Fair,” Lyman said. “All of the skills I have learned during my time in CFFA will shape me into a better educator in the future.”

This year CFFA brought back the Teach Ag Championship, a series of events designed to help members gain practical out-of-classroom agricultural education skills. Competitors have completed activities including a goose chase at the Latah County Fair, drive like an Ag teacher, photography workshop and CDE wars. At the end of this competition students will win the title of Teach Ag Champion.

This competition allows members to participate in many events they may not have participated in during high school FFA. The goose chase at the Latah County fair made students talk to fair exhibitors and learn their stories on showing livestock and how that has affected their lives. During CDE wars students were able to participate in many CDE’s, which allowed them to learn about different facets of agriculture.

A group with orange vests.
U of I's Collegiate FFA
A group holding up a newsletter.
Newsletter editors: Josiah Knapp, Hannah Stolfus, Madi Passmore and Mackenzie Serrano


University of Idaho

Physical Address:
Agricultural & Extension Education Building, Room 102
1134 West 6th Street

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2040
Moscow, ID 83844-2040

Phone: 208-885-6358



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