Dexter B. Wakefield, MS '98, PhD '01

Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award 2016 - Dexter B. Wakefield, MS '98, PhD '01

By Tom Campbell | Published Monday, February 22, 2016

This article is the first in a series highlighting the 2016 recipients of the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award. The award honors mid-career alumni who have a record of outstanding accomplishments, have made significant contributions to their profession or society, and have exhibited high potential for professional growth. Awards will be presented March 4 at 3:30 p.m. EDT in the North Ballroom of Purdue Memorial Union. A reception will precede the ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.

WakefieldDexter Wakefield (back row, center) served as national president of MANRRS, an organization dedicated to supporting minorities in agriculture, natural resources and related sciences at colleges and universities across the country. Photo provided

Dexter Wakefield is assistant professor of agricultural education and mechanics at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, and an adjunct professor of agriculture education at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Wakefield’s letter of nomination for the Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award came from a man with no connection to Purdue University’s College of Agriculture but is a former student of Wakefield’s at Southern Illinois University.

“As an adviser, Dr. Wakefield helped me develop a strong work ethic, a commitment to excellence, the importance of continuing professional development and the importance of taking on leadership roles,” said Alex D. Meredith, an agricultural adviser, recruiter and adjunct instructor for the College of Agriculture and Related Sciences at Delaware State University.

“As a colleague, Dr. Wakefield leads by example and empowers agricultural professionals to think critically, make informed decisions that mutually benefit and to lead by servitude. He is compassionate about agricultural education and the impact it will have on future generations as we deal with agricultural adversities and uncertainties. He understands the need for a strong agricultural workforce.”

Prior to accepting his current faculty position, Wakefield was the education research coordinator for the Center for Urban and Multicultural Education, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, and served as the director of diversity and inclusion for the National FFA Organization.

He was acknowledged by receiving the Honorary American FFA Degree and the Outstanding Teacher of the Year, Faculty of the Year and Outstanding Contribution to Agriculture Education awards. He has also served as national president of two agricultural organizations -- Alpha Tau Alpha (honorary agricultural education organization) and MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences).

Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? In what way? B. Allen Talbert and Mark Balshweid (professor, YDAE) and Antonio Tillis and Tracy Sharply-Whiting (professors, African American studies). Drs. Talbert and Balshweid are most responsible for my professional growth within agricultural education, while Drs. Tillis and Whiting are responsible for my personal growth and for expanding my worldly views on cultural responsiveness in education.

What part of your visit back to campus in March are you most looking forward to? I have been back to campus several times as a member of the College of Agriculture Dean’s Advisory Council, but I can never get enough of walking around campus visiting the buildings I once had classes in. I always drive by the tree where many of my friends use to congregate between classes near the Hello Walk.

Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? Purdue provided me with an opportunity my previous graduate program did not. Plus, it was nationally recognized. I was on the fringe of being kicked out of my “previous college” with a 3.85 GPA but a low GRE score. Purdue opened the doors for me based on my merit, background and campus interview and did not place too much emphasis on the “ability to take a standardized test.” I am forever grateful to Purdue for seeing potential in me.

Where was your favorite place on campus to study? The Liberal Arts and Education Building fifth floor (graduate student office).

What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? The many friends I met along the way. The glory years of Drew Brees in football and Camille Cooper, Katie Douglas and Carolyn Peck in women’s basketball. The atmosphere on campus was phenomenal in those days. When you are winning, the entire campus feels like a family. I also appreciate being supported by Associate Dean Karl Brandt in the College of Agriculture throughout my time there. He provided resources for the organization, in which I was a national officer, that helped us become one of the top programs in the country (MANRRS).

Were you a good student when you were at Purdue? Yes. I had no other choice. There were a lot of prayers sent up for me being so far away from home. Like the line from the movie, ‘An Officer and A Gentlemen’: “I got nowhere else to go” was my motto.

What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? What made it so difficult for you? There was a statistics course I took where the teacher pushed the class to the limit -- I wish I could remember her name). I was at my breaking point. I went to her office and told her I could not take anymore. I asked her if I could skip the final because I would still get a “C” in the course. (It would have been my only “C”.) She refused to let me give up. I was supervising three student teachers throughout Indiana, teaching two classes and taking three classes. No other graduate student was doing that. I never forgot that meeting. After she gave me this long lecture, I buckled down and earned an “A” in statistics. I never forgot that meeting and I have used her philosophy ever since with my students.

What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Who gave you the advice? To never give up and press forward though any storms that may rage in your life. There were a lot of individuals who had an impact on my success at Purdue. Each of them provided me with the strength I needed to succeed, whether positively or negatively influenced. I utilized this energy to learn from my experiences so I could teach others to “weather the storms” they may face in their future, especially within teacher education.

What is the best advice you have ever given? To whom did you give the advice? There are two definite dates listed on your tombstone. You are born, then you die. What will people remember about you? What will they fill in on that dash? I tell all of my students, “What will that dash on your tombstone say about you?” You must be willing to make a difference in the lives of others and leave an IMPACT on everyone! Dream and never give up on doing the right thing by lifting up others. 

Contact Wakefield at