When Ashley Holden saw a message on the U.S. Ag Ed listserv about the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program, her interest was immediately piqued.
After perusing their website, she realized she had a unique perspective to share. “I saw a lot of history and math teachers, a few science teachers, a few CTE educators, but nothing really tied to agriculture,” she said.
She decided to apply. She describes the application process as taking some time, but not overwhelming, and in In April, Holden was selected for the 2018 award. She will spend January through June of next year in the Netherlands conducting research related to best practices in agricultural education.
“As teachers, we all want to do better,” she said. “In my own experience, we’re not doing a great job of prepping kids for the next step after high school.”
Holden, an animal science teacher at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, Massachusetts, felt she didn’t have a lot of resources to help students find careers or postsecondary educational opportunities in that field.
“When I was researching this opportunity, I was thinking about how well-prepared students from the Netherlands are, and how different their schools are,” she said.
While she’s in the Netherlands, Holden will learn what agricultural education is like by visiting classrooms, teacher preparation programs, policy makers, and agriculture producers. She’ll also have the opportunity to review academic research that has helped form the Dutch system for agricultural education.
More immediately, the opportunity has already encouraged Holden to start making her own students more aware of international opportunities for themselves. “I want students to expand their horizons,” she said, “to see other opportunities besides college and jobs.”
As for taking six months away from her teaching job at Smith, Holden said her administration was supportive. “I prepared my application and presented it to my principal, explained the opportunity and asked if it was something he could sign off on,” she said. “He was really excited, especially since the Fulbright name was attached.”
Fulbright covers the travel and living expenses for award recipients, and even allows for a family stipend if participants choose to take their spouse or family. Holden’s husband, a science teacher, plans to move to the Netherlands with her, and they even are thinking about starting a podcast to share their experiences in real time.
Although she’s still exploring exactly what the end result of her research will look like, Holden knows she wants to come away from the experience with a solid set of resources she can share with other agriculture teachers in the U.S.
In addition, a better understanding of how to prepare agriculture students for their next steps after high school, coupled with her status as an alumnus of the Fulbright program, may give her opportunities to help influence policy makers or other administrators in supporting students.