Dickinson State University (DSU) was given the North Dakota Association of Agricultural Educators (NDAAE) Distinguished Service Award, which was presented Wed., Aug. 9 at a banquet for the NDAAE’s annual conference.

The award is given every year to an organization, institution, business or individual for its contribution to agricultural education and support of the organization, whose mission is the recruitment and retention of agricultural educators. 

One key factor in the decision to choose DSU this year was the university’s agriculture education program, said Breanna Bregel, secretary of NDAAE.

“North Dakota State University is the only college in North Dakota for ag ed, and so now having that additional opportunity at DSU has really allowed expansion of it, and with the shortage of teachers in North Dakota and nationwide, it’s really helping get more teachers in high school programs across the state,” Bregel said. 

It’s easier to attract more agricultural teachers when you’re sparking an interest in agriculture – and that’s where DSU’s Chip Poland comes in. 

Poland, chair of agriculture and technical studies, is always recruiting for the ag program, beginning with DSU’s annual Kids Day on the Farm, for which over 1,500 elementary school kids tour the university’s indoor arena to get exposure to agriculture and where their food comes from - and hopefully to spark an interest in the subject. 

“I’m recruiting third graders, second graders, first graders, and if they can come here, and their first impression of DSU is positive, it’s way easier to talk to them in 6th, 7th and 8th grade. As they become sophomores and juniors, those conversations become even easier because they have a connection with us. I’m amazed at the kids that stop me in the grocery store because they remember me at Kids Day.”

DSU also hosts the District 8 Future Farmers of America Leadership Conference each fall, as well as the Roughrider Judging Contest, both of which were factors in DSU’s receipt of the award. 

“One of the advantages of us being committed to not only having a contest every year, but stabilizing the date allows them (NDAAE) to plan ahead. I think they appreciate the fact that we’re committed to delivering that year after year,” Poland said. 

In his interactions with the community, Poland tries to impart the importance of agriculture.

“I might buy an iPhone every other year, but I’m going to buy food every day. In terms of putting those in perspective, I can live a lot longer with a broken iPhone than I can go without food,” Poland said.

While that may seem obvious, once it’s out-of-sight, it’s out-of-mind. 

“The farther that people get away from being raised in and around where food is produced, the easier it is for them to lose an appreciation for how important food production is,” he said. 

And this is especially true in North Dakota.

“If you look at the economy of North Dakota in general, agriculture historically has been the number one industry in the state. Recently, it’s been overtaken by energy, but certainly it’s the second leading economic driver in the state of North Dakota,” Poland said. 

About the North Dakota Association of Agricultural Educators

NDAAE, an organization of more than 100 members, is composed of high school and post-secondary agricultural teachers and farm business management instructors. Its focus is on the recruitment and retention of agriculture educators in the state, and it also provides professional development and scholarships for continuing education.