“Many teachers talk about how they love seeing the ‘Ah Ha’ moment or watching the lightbulb come on in a student’s mind, and how it is so gratifying. I am lucky enough to witness that on a daily basis with my students.”

Desi Severance teaches Agricultural Education at Southeast Region Career & Technology Center in Wyndmere, North Dakota. Her upbringing on a Minnesota farm, and high school participation and leadership roles in her local Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter pointed her toward a future in agriculture. After she took a Facilities Maintenance course during her time at University of Minnesota Crookston, a friend suggested she pivot to Agricultural Education. There, Severance found her passion for teaching. She graduated with her current job lined up, and has worked on adding to her experience and techniques ever since, earning a Masters degree in Agricultural Education at North Dakota State University in 2017. She has received numerous awards and honors during her tenure as a teacher. Severance has been named the 2013 Outstanding New Career & Tech Teacher in Agriculture Education by the North Dakota Association of Career and Technical Educators and the 2021 Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher by the North Dakota Association of Agricultural Educators. She received the 2012 “Teachers Turn the Key” Award from the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and four different honorary FFA degrees.

Her department’s agriculture mechanics facility gives students hands-on experience with welding, carpentry, electric work, plumbing, small engines and surveying. Projects increase in difficulty over the years to help students advance their skills and become more comfortable with the various machines. All students start with a thorough safety unit, and by the time they’re juniors and seniors, the curriculum includes TIG welding and CNC plasma cutters for personally designed projects. Severance’s shop space is on the cozy side, but she’s found that it further teaches students patience and collaboration, leading to a rewarding lab experience.

A key feature of Severance’s program is the Supervised Agricultural Experience, where students take skills they learned in the classroom into the real world over the summer. Some students take their mechanics techniques to the local auto shop, some to local ranches and farms, and some are even hired on to take care of the school chicken coop, greenhouse and fruit orchard. Agriculture is the backbone of Wyndmere’s tight knit community, so Severance takes the time to visit each student participating in a summer SAE to check on their progress and make further connections with local business owners, farms and ranchers–many of whom give suggestions for curriculum, projects, service ideas and workplaces for students. In the 2021-2022 academic year, 53 students had placement projects and worked a total of 9,016 hours. Their combined earnings were $83,398, and resulted not just in real money, but in a reinvestment of their skills back into the community.

Severance’s students are active in the FFA program. Since their chapter was launched, students have earned numerous awards and degrees, including winning a state competition and a 6th place national finish.

Severance was previously a finalist for the 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. She also is the first ever winner from North Dakota.

“It is my firm belief that EVERYTHING in agricultural education is relevant to any career pathway that students may embark on. The reason being (and this is something I quote often to my students) is that we are consumers. We may not all become farmers or ranchers or mechanics but we DO all eat every day and should understand where our food comes from.”