The ag students at Western Illinois University are to be congratulated because, for the third year in a row, WIU agriculture students have won the College Aggies Online (CAO) competition and $2,500 in scholarship funding for the University's Agriculture Club. IL Corn sends a “hat tip” to these students that are implementing award-winning programs to help bridge the gap between consumers and farmers.
The WIU club was also awarded two $250 prizes for creating the best event for each competition challenge, for a food drive, held during Homecoming, and the Undeniably Dairy Challenge, and a CAO Completion Emblem, which demonstrates its commitment to advocating for agriculture.
In addition to the club honors, WIU agriculture students Keely Egelhoff, a senior from Medora, IL, and junior Lindsey O'Hara, of Claypool, IN, received individual CAO Completion Emblems.
"I really enjoyed doing the individual competition," said Egelhoff. "It taught me a lot about social media and how to communicate with other people. I also hope more students will participate next year to help spread the word about agriculture."
O'Hara said the intention of WIU's participation in the competition is to create a forum for education and transparent information for consumers.
"This has been our goal for many years," she said. "I love that WIU is at the forefront of this by participating in College Aggies Online. Obviously, our three-year win confirms the excellent work of students that is taking place to bridge the gap between consumers and producers within agriculture."
The WIU club is made up of students in the Communicating Agricultural Issues class at Western, taught by School of Agriculture Instructor Jana Knupp.
"I was very proud of the students this semester," said Knupp. "While they are each very competitive individuals, who wanted to win the contest, above all they were very interested in having these conversations with their peers and educating them about agriculture. I feel this contest is an eye-opening experience to how many opportunities there are to help someone understand how their food is raised. I look forward to seeing how these students continue to share their story in the future."
Projects completed during this year's competition include:
• More than 800 cartons of chocolate milk were distributed through the WIU Homecoming 5K and the Fallen Soldiers 5K for promoting drinking chocolate milk after a cardio workout. All of the milk was donated by Prairie Farms.
• About 200 slices of Domino's pizza were distributed to students on campus, along with resources promoting dairy. During the event, 270 surveys were received to assess knowledge about the dairy industry and dairy consumption.
• More than 1,100 pounds of food was collected for the creation of the WIU Food Pantry and to bring awareness to food insecurity issues in the U.S.
• More than 1,200 pieces of candy, attached to common food myths, were distributed on campus. Also, 415 surveys about agriculture production were filled out, with the goal of educating students about where their food comes from.
• More than 200 people, who have never visited a farm, did so for the first time to learn about agriculture. This event included WIU sororities, local preschoolers and their parents and teachers and local eighth graders.
• Four grade school classrooms were visited and were educated about everything from poultry to pumpkins.
• A food label event was held in a WIU campus dining hall to assess students' knowledge about food labels through conversation. The event included receiving 135 surveys and educating students about truth in labeling.
• Students also addressed food waste by challenging students to try to lift the approximate amount of food waste contributed yearly by an individual, as well as provide information on ways to reduce food waste.
• Two guest speakers, Kirk Hanlin, former deputy director of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and DeLoss Jahnke of RFD Radio, spoke to the students about issues in agriculture and media relations, respectively.
WIU School of Agriculture Director Andrew Baker said the three-year string of wins in this competition is a "true reflection of who we are and what we do on a weekly basis."
"It also reflects our commitment to integrate more intra-curricular activities into our coursework for the advancement of our students," said Baker. "This competition is integrated into our 'Communicating Agricultural Issues' course, Agri 340, which is also our Writing In Discipline (WID) course."
Over the last three years, more than 200 WIU students have participated in this competitive event, which provides the real-life application of communicating agricultural topics with the general public.
"Our departmental slogan is 'Cultivating Agricultural Leaders,' and this competition just reinforces our dedication to our educational objective," said Baker. "We actively recruit exceptional students and purposely position them to be successful in their degree program. The community and the institution have been very welcoming to allow us the platforms to be successful in this competition and we are very grateful. Special thanks to Ms. Jana Knupp and her students for their efforts to organize, prepare, coordinate and conduct these educational events to secure this year's victory."
The CAO program is an initiative of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, which connects college students from across the country interested in the promotion of agriculture. For more information about the program, visit collegeaggies.animalagalliance.org.