Story by Bailey Bohannan, Staff writer
Sigma Alpha’s national philanthropy is Ag in the Classroom, but this year the Murray State chapter participated in the Ag in the Classroom Challenge hosted by Monsanto.
Each semester the agriculture sorority teaches a classroom of children in the surrounding areas a lesson about agriculture. This semester, Monsanto hosted an Ag in the Classroom Challenge where chapters of Sigma Alpha could choose from a list of topics to teach about and compete for a monetary award. The Murray State Sigma Alpha chapter accepted the challenge of teaching the Benton Elementary fifth-grade class about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
This is the first time Sigma Alpha has participated in the Ag in the Classroom challenge hosted by Monsanto. Shelby Fuhr, junior from Columbia, Illinois, said although she does not know if it will be hosted again next year, Ag in the Classroom will keep happening and if the challenge continues, they will not back down.
“It’s really [Monsanto’s] goal to put agriculture in a positive light and educate people about what GMOs are and what their company is doing to make a positive impact on agriculture,” Fuhr said.
Fuhr helped plan and orchestrate the event this semester, and she said the chapter had many topics to choose from to teach the students about. They chose GMOs because they wanted the chance to educate the students about the topic in a way they could easily understand.
Melissa Schenck, senior from Boston, Kentucky, and a member of Sigma Alpha, was in charge of making the lesson plan with another member of the chapter.
“Monsanto gave us a variety of topics to choose from; what are GMOs and why do farmers use them, is a big farm necessarily a bad farm, crop protection, pollinators and a couple others,” Schenck said. “We chose GMOs because it’s kind of the basis for modern day agriculture.”
At first, Sigma Alpha planned to teach one class of fifth-graders; however, Benton Elementary allowed Sigma Alpha to host a workshop with the entire fifth-grade class. In total, the sorority had 12 girls teaching five different classes for an hour, Schenck said.
“The challenge kind of took on a life of its own and got bigger than we had expected it to be,” Schenck said. “Now, we’re hoping that we can do something like this more often.”
Working with an entire class of fifth-graders and keeping their attention can be challenging, Schenck said. She said she saw excitement from both the students and her sisters as they talked about agriculture and GMOs.
“When we left their classrooms these students were really excited to tell their parents what they learned,” Schenck said. “It was a great experience for our sisters because they were kind of reminded of their passion for agriculture.”
Although her major is not agricultural education, Schenck said her personal passion for agriculture was rekindled because she loves teaching people about agriculture.
Schenck said a lot of the girls helping out at this event are agricultural education majors, and this type of hands-on experience refocused those girls and reconfirmed their decision to choose that major.
Allie Steiner, sophomore from Cincinnati, is an agricultural major in Sigma Alpha. She said even though she is planning on teaching agriculture at the high school level, she enjoyed teaching the fifth-graders of Benton Elementary very much.
“I think that I quickly realized that kids that young just want to have fun and that’s what I focused on,” Steiner said.
Getting involved with the community and educating the youth is very important to Sigma Alpha, Fuhr said.
“We care so much about our organization and a lot of people don’t know what our purpose is and they don’t know what we do. So for us to be put in that positive light, I think would just do leaps and bounds for us in helping us better our image and getting our name out there,” she said.