Stefanie Ralph excels at agricultural education

November 8, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Stefanie Ralph, a University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) alumnus, has been named the 2012 Smyrna School District Teacher of the Year. Ralph graduated in 2007 with a bachelor of science degree in agricultural education and technology with a concentration in natural resources, and with a minor in landscape horticulture.

Of the award, Ralph said, “Being chosen as the District Teacher of the Year is unquestionable the most extraordinary honor of my career, and I wish to express my gratitude.  I think, at some point, every teacher begins to question if they’re doing a good job, especially since it often goes unrecognized. Being selected restores my confidence as a teacher, and it’s encouraging to know that my colleagues believe that I’m doing a good job.”

Ralph teaches 7th grade Agriscience at Smyrna Middle School, and she said that she believes that the school is filled with great teachers.  “The entire faculty at Smyrna is highly qualified and all go above and beyond the call of duty,” said Ralph.

Ralph said that she finds teaching middle school challenging but rewarding at the same time. Reflecting how most students in that age range are still trying to find themselves, Ralph said that the students are “constantly trying on different personas. They need to know they are cared for and are needed. It is rewarding to obtain a trusting, meaningful rapport with students as they enthusiastically grow and mature from the first day they walk into my class.”

Having been involved in 4-H and FFA for 13 years, Ralph said that it has been a lifelong goal of hers to educate and promote awareness about the importance of agriculture to students who may be unaware about the critical role it plays in their day-to-day lives. “I believe that education is the foundation of success and through my course, students develop various life skills to become active, contributing citizens to today’s society,” said Ralph. “I became a teacher to not only make a difference in a child’s life, but to prepare students for the future, as they are the future.”

While she attended CANR, Ralph said that her education helped her learn about various aspects of the agriculture industry, from taking classes on animal science and plant and soil science to agribusiness and natural resource management, among others. “By taking these various courses, I was able to expand my knowledge base in the agriculture industry; thus preparing me to teach various courses as an agriculture educator,” said Ralph.

Ralph also noted that she particularly enjoyed her study abroad trip to New Zealand, where she learned about pastoral livestock production, and that she enjoyed professors such as Patricia Barber, a retired faculty member from the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, David Frey, associate professor and assistant Chair in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Ed Kee, retired University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Specialist and University alumnus.

The person who she originally learned about agriculture from, however, was her grandmother. “As a young girl, I remember helping my grandmother in her garden, digging in the dirt, having fun, not realizing at that time she was teaching me to appreciate our environment. She was planting the seeds for me to grow and aspire in a way to continue my journey to learn more about my passion for plants and agriculture.”

For any current students who are hoping to one day become teachers themselves, Ralph offered some words of wisdom stressing the importance of preparation and passion in teaching. “The advice I would give to a future teacher is to show your passion in your lessons and planning; show the students that you are there for them to learn and you will stop at nothing for them to succeed.”

Article by Adam Thomas


UD graduate Seyler studies ethnobotany in Hawaii

September 14, 2012 under CANR News

Culturally and botanically, University of Delaware graduate Barnabas Seyler is living in paradise as he conducts his doctoral research in ethnobotany at the University of Hawaii.

Ethnobotany, the blending of ethnology–the study of culture–and botany–the study of plants–suits Seyler perfectly as he loves learning about diverse people, histories and cultures as well as plants. He said that this multidisciplinary approach is important because, “much of the major conservation and botanical challenges we face today are quite complicated, and they, in many cases, must be solved in cooperation/collaboration with people in quite different cultures.”

As an undergraduate at UD, Seyler learned about a wide variety of subjects as he received a bachelor of science from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), double majoring in landscape horticulture and plant science, with a minor in plant biology, and a bachelor of arts degree from the College of Arts and Sciences where he majored in East Asian studies with a minor in philosophy. For his graduate degree, Seyler attended the Longwood Graduate Program in public horticulture where he earned his master of science degree.

Seyler said that he enjoyed the small teacher to student ratio at CANR and “loved that the teachers knew me by name and knew my interests and encouraged me along the way.” He also said that he enjoyed getting to know David Frey, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, who served as the advisor to the Horticulture Club, of which Seyler was President for 3 years. “Dr. Frey was also always there to offer advice and encourage me along the way,” said Seyler.

Seyler also noted that his academic advisor Sherry Kitto, professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, was “quite encouraging to me when things got difficult and was always full of wisdom and practical advice.”

Of the Longwood Graduate Program, Seyler said that, “The professional connections and contacts I was able to make, the professional development opportunities, and the incredible travel and research trips were quite significant in leading me to where I am today. My advisor, Dr. Robert Lyons, who is the director of the Longwood Graduate Program, was also a great resource. He allowed me to continue taking Chinese language classes throughout my master’s program, and he was a great encouragement.”

During his master’s program, Seyler traveled to China where he conducted his thesis research, before ending up in Hawaii.

For someone who loves rich, diverse culture and plant life as much as Seyler, he couldn’t have found a better place. “I can’t deny that the weather and tropical flora are quite enjoyable. Although I am actually a temperate-flora guy, I am really enjoying the ability to become better versed in tropical plants,” said Seyler. On the cultural side, Seyler said that what he really enjoys about Hawaii is that it “has an incredibly rich diversity of cultures, languages, and people. Hawaiian Pidgin, the local creole language, is quite interesting since it blends English with the beautiful Hawaiian language, with its deep meaning and cultural significance. As one who loves learning languages and interacting with different cultures, I feel like I am in Heaven!”

At the University of Hawaii, Seyler is conducting his research with a professor in China at Sichuan University. The two of them will work on a population assessment of the orchids in Sichuan Province. Though the project is still in its preliminary stages, Seyler does say that there is a need to assess the current status of orchids throughout China, as many populations have been declining as a result of over harvesting.

In addition to his studies, Seyler is also a teaching assistant for a plant ecology class. He said that he enjoys the class because it is relatively new and thus has a lot of flexibility and potential for the future and that he enjoys being able to work with the professor who he said is “an excellent teacher and well-liked by the students.”

Seyler is also in a unique position as he is both a student at the University of Hawaii and a participant in the East-West Center’s education program. According to its website, the East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia and the Pacific through cooperative study, research and dialogue.

Seyler explained that he “received an East-West Center Association Alumni Scholarship, so I participate in the EWC Graduate Degree Program. I get to live in the EWC dormitory with students from all over the Asia Pacific region and beyond.”

He estimates that there are more than 60 countries represented and said that they “participate in educational programs, seminars, and community-building activities together, while also building friendships and relationships that will continue into our careers and future lives.”

For anyone interested in applying to graduate school, Seyler offered some words of wisdom saying, “In my experience, there are three things that graduate schools, and employers, are looking for in applicants–beyond simply the GPA, letters of recommendation, and essays.”

Those three things are “study abroad, volunteer, and internship experiences. If at all possible, I would encourage students to try to get as many of these opportunities as possible.”

Article by Adam Thomas