Profiles in Teaching
Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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Nicole Olynk Widmar, Agricultural Economics

"Teaching should extend far beyond the classroom walls. Different learning environments, learning styles and communication modes challenge students and teachers alike." - Nicole Olynk Widmar

Profiles in Teaching focuses each month on an individual whose work reflects Purdue Agriculture's commitment to learning.

About the Professor

Nicole Olynk Widmar, an Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics, knows exactly how much work it takes to bring a career dream to life—and this understanding factors into her reason for teaching.

"I wanted to teach so I could empower my students to achieve their dreams—beyond what they may have thought is possible," Widmar said. "I wanted to help others be successful according to their own definition of success."

Growing up, Widmar did not live on a farm, but she has dedicated most of her professional life to supporting farmers. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she contributes to Purdue Extension, advising farmers in making financial decisions.

Widmar took to her Animal Sciences studies at Alfred State College and Cornell University in New York with as much passion as any other agriculture student. And she didn't stop there. Widmar continued to focus on agriculture as she earned her master's and doctoral degrees at Michigan State University. It wasn't long before she fell in love with the entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to family business that exist in American agriculture.

Teaching Philosophy

Widmar teaches AGEC 31000: Farm Organization, a basic farm management course that shares subject matter with much of her Extension work.

"In Extension, we find the question," Widmar said. "We can work on how to answer that and what tools you need to address it in the classroom and through research."

The course focuses on maximizing after-tax returns for farmers and on-farm decision-making. Students learn how farms are best protected legally, organizationally and through farm decision-making criteria.

Widmar feels the greatest contribution she can make to her students' education is teaching them that learning is a lifelong process. She believes memorization of facts is secondary to the ability to digest new information, make connections to existing knowledge and incorporate new findings into decisions.

"I help students internalize not just the what, in terms of facts and figures, but the how, in terms of application," Widmar said.

Widmar makes sure her lectures are relevant to current situations in agriculture. This can be the hardest part of her teaching agenda because the industry changes and advances rapidly—but she says it is also the most exciting part.

"The best moments are when I bring knowledge from the students into the industry and vice versa," Widmar said. "It is rewarding to be working with an industry group on Wednesday evening and then share their insights with AGEC 310 on Thursday morning."

Course Structure

Widmar uses various approaches in her classroom to facilitate communication with students in ways most comfortable to them, but also challenges students to stretch themselves using new instructional methods. She incorporates face-to-face discussion, traditional lectures, presentations, and moderated online or in-class discussion forums into her class.

"Even in the most traditional class setting, I feel it's best if information exchange takes place with constant feedback; information delivered by peers can be as impactful, if not more so, than that delivered by the instructor," she said.

However, Widmar says a passionate teacher who truly cares about her subject area is the most essential fixture in any classroom.

"I feel that my excitement and enthusiasm for my subject area, as well as confidence and honesty in the classroom, contribute to my students' educational experience," Widmar said.

By Emma Hopkins and Jessica Harsh

Purdue Agriculture Teaching Profiles are written by students majoring in Agricultural Communication.

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