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Weninger Receives National Agricultural Educators Scholarship
Minnesota Ag Connection - 09/15/2020

Maddie Weninger, a senior from Howard Lake, Minn., studying agricultural education and Spanish at South Dakota State University, has been selected as a recipient of the 2020 National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) Upper Division Scholarship.

The NAAE Upper Division Scholarship is awarded to 20 students nationwide who are pursuing a degree in agricultural education. Recipients must be student members of NAAE and must complete their student teaching experience in the fall 2020 or spring 2021 semesters.

"The scholarship is designed to help cover the costs associated with student teaching," said Laura Hasselquist, assistant professor of teaching, learning and leadership at South Dakota State University. "In addition to normal tuition, student teachers incur extra costs associated with getting a teaching license such as background checks, Praxis exams, etc. Depending on where they are placed, some student teachers have to find local housing as well."

NAAE is a federation of state agricultural educators associations with over 9,000 members involved in school-based agricultural education at any level ranging from middle school to postsecondary education and from state to national agricultural education leadership roles. Members advocate for agricultural education, provide professional development for agricultural educators, and work to recruit and retain agricultural educators in the profession.

"NAAE is a great organization," said Hasselquist. "By becoming a member, students have access to professional development activities, conferences, teacher resources, professional liability insurance and scholarships. By becoming a member of NAAE, they also become student members of the South Dakota Association of Agricultural Educators."

Growing up with her father as an agricultural educator, Weninger was familiar with what NAAE was and grew to appreciate the organization even more over time.

"Years ago my brother was in an ATV accident," said Weninger. "NAAE has a relief fund for ag teachers and they were able to help with medical bills for my brother. That was the moment where I noticed that agricultural education is such a big family, which got me interested in pursuing it as a career."

Throughout high school, Weninger gained her passion for agriculture through FFA and agriculture classes. She then carried that passion into her role as a 2017-2018 state FFA officer with the Minnesota FFA Association. After serving as a state FFA officer, Weninger was selected as a 2019-2020 National Teach Ag Ambassador with NAAE where she served alongside 13 others as advocates for the profession.

"I love agricultural education because it is non-traditional teaching," said Weninger. "It connects with students that don't necessarily connect with education. It allows students to find things they thrive in, that isn't just basic math or English, and apply those concepts in a real-life setting."

Throughout her collegiate career, Weninger's passion for agriculture and education motivated her to get involved on campus where she is an active member of the Agricultural Education/FFA Alumni Club, Little International, Dairy Club and serves as a student ambassador for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.

Additionally, she has enjoyed serving as an SDSU Teach Ag Ambassador where she worked with Hasselquist and other agricultural education students to provide activities and resources to agricultural educators, assist with events and write thank you notes to South Dakota agriculture teachers.

"I am so thrilled for Maddie," said Hasselquist. "I had the privilege of meeting Maddie during my first semester as an SDSU faculty member, which happened to be her first semester, too. It has been wonderful to watch her develop into an outstanding teacher candidate. She truly cares about people and has a passion for agriculture, and I am excited for her students."

Her interest in pursuing a second major in Spanish stemmed from an experience she had in middle school when she worked for a company selling produce at the Minneapolis Farmer's Market.

"I remember going to the farm to pick up strawberries from some of the workers in the morning before the farmer's market and my bosses were speaking in Spanish to the other workers," said Weninger. "I thought that was the epitome of managing people -- speaking to them in a way that they want to be spoken to. The need to speak Spanish is never going to go away, and one of my big goals is to be able to teach agriculture to both English and Spanish speaking students."

As a recipient of the NAAE Upper Division Scholarship, Weninger will receive a $1,500 stipend to support her as a student teacher in the spring 2021 term.

"I feel super honored to receive this scholarship from an organization that helps so many people," said Weninger. "It is a big movement in the agriculture industry to help the younger generation and get them started, and I look forward to helping those younger than me enter the industry one day, too."

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