Education major brings agriculture to elementary school students
Millikin University junior Gretchen Gould is working to bring agriculture back into elementary school classrooms with the help from her professors and inspiration from her internship experiences. Gretchen is an elementary education major in Millikin's School of Education and is also pursuing an endorsement in special education.
After the farm camps that Gretchen was running through an internship with her local farm bureau were canceled due to COVID-19, she found alternative methods to deliver agricultural education to students. She created videos intended to teach them about how to integrate agriculture into different subjects like science and art.
"I really had a passion for it, so I visited a bunch of local farms to talk about various ways we could implement agriculture into our educational programs," Gould said.
This past summer, she was invited to host a STEM camp for students, which allowed her to combine her passions for both teaching and agriculture.
"The STEM camps focused on science and agriculture, specifically how agriculture influences everything in our world, down to what we eat and how we produce food," she explained, discussing how students can enjoy studying agriculture and benefit from learning about nutrition and diverse career opportunities.
After noticing that several local elementary schools had opted out from including agriculture in their classrooms, Gretchen set out to bring agriculture back in a way that was engaging and connected with students. "Ag gives students an opportunity to express their interests in all types of topics, whether it is food, animals, science or even chemical engineering," she said.
Through the hands-on opportunities available in Millikin's Professional Studies program and encouragement from her professors, such as Dr. Chris Cunnings, Gretchen was able to develop an entire unit to teach hydroponics to a third-grade class. "I love how the School of Education allows us to be creative with our own lessons and gives us the opportunity to teach things we are passionate about," Gretchen stated.
Specifically, Gretchen expressed how she will be able to apply the lessons and skills she's gained at Millikin directly to her career after graduation. "Along with the opportunity to explore our interests, Millikin gives us an opportunity to produce something that will actually be useful in our future classrooms," she said.
After graduating, Gretchen plans to continue teaching elementary agriculture education, while also hoping to work with children in special education, which is a passion she discovered through Millikin. "A lot of my professors encouraged me to pursue an endorsement in special education, which is an opportunity I never thought I would go for," Gretchen said, further describing how the positive and supportive influences of her professors have shaped her education.
"The professors really want to know you personally and they want to help you get as many opportunities as possible. The close connection between students and teachers is something that a larger university may not be able to offer," she said.
Outside of Gretchen's passion for teaching, she is also a member of Millikin University's softball team, who were the 2021 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) regular season and tournament champions and qualifiers for the 2021 NCAA Division III Softball Tournament. She said that what she's learned about working effectively on a team will be important in her future career in education.
"Millikin is a small community with a lot of big opportunities," she said.