A Global Perspective
CALS student brings international experiences to the classroom
Olivia Murphy-Sweet developed a love for travel and global citizenship as a child. Her father served in the Navy and the family lived in various locations in the United States and around the world.
Murphy-Sweet hopes to extend her knowledge on global citizenship to future generations as a high school agriculture teacher. She will graduate from the University of Idaho in May 2021 with master’s degrees in agriculture education and curriculum and instruction.
Discovering How to Learn
Although Murphy-Sweet’s parents grew up on farms in Idaho, she herself had little experience with agriculture before attending Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. She joined the FFA program and discovered that she learned better through hands-on opportunities.
“Moving around so much, I went to so many different schools, so my schooling was never consistent,” she said. “I figured out after taking FFA classes that my best way to learn something new is through hands-on instruction. Being able to conceptualize and do what I was learning in the classroom really helped me learn and focus.”
That realization drove Murphy-Sweet to enroll at Penn State University to earn a degree in agriculture education with a minor in international agriculture.
“After discovering that, I told myself that I want to be that person that helps that student that may be struggling in classes, that there are different ways to learn and I hope that I can apply that in my classroom,” she said.
Gaining International Experience
At Penn State, Murphy-Sweet worked on a research project that resulted in her travelling to Belize for six weeks to investigate how to integrate 4-H youth development in the community. That experience led her to seek out more international opportunities.
“I realized I could live internationally, alone, for long periods of time away from my family and friends because the work that I was doing was so rewarding,” she said.
She applied for the Peace Corps and, after earning her bachelor’s degree in 2016, traveled to a small village in Senegal for a two-year placement as a sustainable agriculture agent. In this role, she worked with farmers to test drought resistant seeds and taught them how to save the seeds for the next year.
During her down time, Murphy-Sweet chose to do secondary projects working with youth and young women. She worked with a neighboring village to establish a girl’s club and was able to fund 25 girls to continue their education through a Peace Corps scholarship program.
“Elementary school is free but in middle school parents have to pay,” she said. “A lot of parents would choose to send their sons to continue their education and keep the girls at home for safety concerns or lack of income. My counterpart and I were able to talk to parents about why it was important to keep their daughters in school and how it would benefit them and their children. In return for receiving this scholarship, the students had to participate in a club that was ran by myself and my counterpart. We learned how they felt about the roles that they played in their communities and who they wanted to be in the future.”
Murphy-Sweet spent an additional year in West Africa as a Peace Corps gender and development volunteer leader, training new and current volunteers on youth development, working with women, and working on the establishment of a Men as Partners program.
Developing Global Citizenship
As she wrapped up her time with the Peace Corps, Murphy-Sweet began investigating agriculture education master’s programs. She learned more about the research of Kasee Smith, an assistant professor in the U of I College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and received positive feedback about the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education from her advisor at Penn State. The opportunity to live in Idaho and be near her extended family was also a big selling point.
“I wanted to be more connected to my family since I’d been gone for so long and I hadn’t lived out here,” she said. “I wanted to see what international ag perspectives were here and what I could do to make a difference.”
Murphy-Sweet brought her global perspective into her master’s program by working with Idaho agriculture teachers to develop a global citizenship unit. The five-day unit teaches basic concepts focused on how to be socially responsible in your community, how to engage with others in or outside of your community and allows students to build their global content knowledge.
The unit was taught in five Idaho high schools and one Oregon high school. Students were given pre and post-tests to assess how their understanding of global citizenship changed and what they learned. Her thesis focuses on how international agriculture concepts could be implemented in Idaho agriculture education classrooms and what they need to be successful.
“Most of the students did grow in global citizenship,” she said. “They felt more responsible and more connected to the world around them which was great for me to see. That what I created actually created impact here in Idaho.”
Murphy-Sweet is hoping to find a teaching job in northern Idaho or eastern Washington with a strong connection to the community and drive to grow connections in the world around them.
“I want to make sure I look at the community that the school is in and have my program be very much based around the people that live there,” she said. “I would love to do my international ag spin on things, but I think people get a little wary because they feel that you’re saying they need to leave to teach these concepts. You don’t need to leave to teach international agriculture and how we play a role in it. If you do go travel, come back to your home community and teach people what you saw.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos by Joe Pallen, University Communications and Marketing
Published in May 2021