Helping young people to take the lead
By Mallory Tarr
"Work" is changed to "opportunity". "Boss" is changed to "life coach". Whatever needs to be done is "the current project".
Photo provided by Stephanie Warner
Putting a new angle on an agricultural education career, Stephanie Warner (center) works with current Indiana FFA state officers David Mohler (left) and Shawn Gearhart, helping them plan and execute programs with high school students throughout Indiana.
This is the language of leadership, and Stephanie Warner, a 2004 Purdue University agricultural education graduate, is not only living these principles, she is helping other leaders make changes throughout the state. Warner puts a twist on the average agriculture teaching job. Instead of working in a classroom, she is the leadership development coordinator for Indiana FFA, a high school youth organization that concentrates on agriculture and leadership.
Statewide, Warner works with about 8,000 students. "I felt the desire to stay within the state and work with some really top-notch young people," Warner said.
It's a lot of work, but you might never know that from the smile she wears while training the seven-member FFA state officer team, developing speech training and presentation skills in the recent high school graduates. Her love for Indiana youth and agriculture was cultivated at Purdue. Opportunities to interact with FFA members, such as assisting with district competition judging, are part of the agricultural education curriculum.
Purdue was a key player in helping her stay involved with youth and FFA, Warner said. It also helped that she was a four-year FFA member at Whitko High School in South Whitley, Ind., and a past FFA state officer.
"She knows what she is passionate about and what her values and beliefs are and they show through in what she does," said Joey Dunn, a Purdue freshman majoring in agricultural education from Franklin, Ind., who worked with Warner in 2004-2005 as an Indiana FFA state officer. "She is very professional and business-oriented. She knows what needs to be done and how to get it done. She knows how to help people without her hand being seen in it."
The projects Warner molds her officers to lead include successful completion of six conferences each year, several banquet speeches for each officer and a variety of other programs.
While she considers skills critical, Warner said she isn't satisfied when team members focus on skills alone. So she sits down with her officers every morning to evaluate where they are and where they are going. She also oversees team progress on facilitation skills, media campaigns and special events, such as the state convention and district leadership contests.
"Putting others before yourself and having the confidence that you have something to contribute [is what makes an effective leader]," Warner said. "You have to have a passion and commitment to a cause bigger than yourself and try to be a good role model."
Dunn credits Warner with helping him to grow professionally and to reach personal goals during his year as an FFA officer. "She guided us in the right direction and held us accountable," Dunn said. "She made me grow up really quick. She made us set goals. Just she and I would meet for half an hour and later we would meet again and check my progress."
When Warner isn't investing in the officers, she meets with agricultural business leaders, stays in touch with agricultural educators throughout Indiana and works on specialty projects, such as an international exchange program with students from Brazil. "She always had the information for everyone around the state," Dunn said. "If she didn't, she knew where to go to get it."
Warner said her goals include improving agricultural education at the state level by convincing teachers to shift to a curriculum that effectively integrates agriculture and science.
While her goals may seem lofty, Warner is no stranger to leadership. In college, she was president and vice president of Purdue Student Government. She also was active in many other organizations. "The big thing all those experiences taught me is to be active, stay motivated and be committed," she said.
Warner said only a handful of jobs in Indiana are like hers, and she feels blessed to be in her current position.
A strong belief in the abilities of young people and willingness to actively seek out a position on the state level is a must for any student interested in embarking on a similar career, she said. While her journey is just beginning, Warner isn't intimidated by the language of leadership or the thought of being responsible for Indiana FFA. She said she sees herself in a growth field where her education-based career exceeded the bounds of a classroom and focused on the heart of leadership.