Yesterday in the upper-division writing and presenting course that I teach, I was able to share the story of how Dr. F.C. Parrish, Jr. impacted my life. My students had just finished their first round of presentations to the class. In this presentation, they shared about how their major was the perfect fit for them and their future career. As I read my students outlines, thesis statements, and their first written presentations, I realized that they weren't writing their thesis statement first. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to demonstrate how the thesis statement can drive an entire presentation. What follows is similar to what I shared with my students, though not the same, as is this is the first time it has been written in its entirety and not in an outline format.
I was sitting the back of the darkened lab classroom, just waiting for class to be over, when my instructor uttered words that any student longing for anonymity dreads to hear: Jessica Rohrig, will you please see my after class?
My mind started racing in anticipation. Why did he want to meet with me? As I talked with him after class, he informed me [and my friend, who'd also been called up] that he wanted to meet with us individually and to make an appointment with his secretary. Now, my heart was racing. WHY would he want to meet with me? I wasn't cheating or doing anything dishonest.
As I sat with him in his office, he commented on how well I was doing in the class. So far, I had received A's on all of my quizzes. I studied at least twice a week for this class, Introduction to Meat Science, Animal Science 270. I hadn't meant to take the class; I was originally enrolled in Agronomy 206 (Meteorology) and knew that after the first day, that class wasn't for me. I took this class because my friend, Kelli, was adding it and encouraged me to. Now, about 3 weeks into the class, I really liked. I enjoyed the professor; he made learning fun; I enjoyed the subject - though, I needed to study.
So, yes, I was doing well.
Then, came the question and a statement that has stuck with me for thirteen years:
Jessica, why are you an Ag Ed major? You're so smart, you should be doing research and go to grad school.
I don't know that I had an immediate answer. I was surprised by his frankness. Ag Ed seemed to be the perfect fit for me. ...and Grad School? My goal after college was just to get married...Grad School? Really?
As I contemplated his answer, I wrote him an email detailing why Ag Ed was the right major for me. In doing so, I became more convinced that this was my calling. Twelve years later, I can see even more clearly that the impact of one, passionate, caring instructor can permeate a young mind so wholly that the effects are felt long after the course ends.
As a sixteen-year-old, my major chose me. Driving into school one day, it hit me: agricultural education is my major! Why? I had "narrowed" my purpose in life to be this: to exert a positive influence in the lives of others by helping them realize their potential. As a young woman active in many school activities, the opportunity to not only teach, but to work with young people in FFA career development events provided the perfect opportunity.
I shared with F.C. that choosing a field other than Ag Ed simply wouldn't provide me that opportunity. I had no desire to work in a lab all day. My passion was obviously people - not science. A degree in Ag Ed would provide me with an opportunity to work directly with others, even if I didn't choose to teach high school.
...which I didn't. However, my education prepared me perfectly for my position as an Advisor for the TRiO Educational Talent Search program. I understood how to organize lessons and workshops into a curriculum that could build off of the skills gained at each grade level. I understood how to manage a classroom - which is harder when you never meet in an actual classroom! I understood how to design educational experiences that utilized critical reflection to promote learning from the doing. Furthermore, I was able to directly influence hundreds - maybe even thousands - of young people during my time as their advisor. Some of them believed that attaining a college education was actually possible for them - for the first time. Others received the reinforcement needed. And, a few...just got some time out of class and candy.
I still receive emails today from my former students excited to share the news that they are going to college - even if it's been a year or two or three since they graduated. I wouldn't trade that for a labcoat, anyday.
However, there came a point in my professional journey where I realized that I had a gift for administration and leadership. To attain a position administering or leading, though, I needed a Master's degree. When I told F.C. that I was (finally) going to pursue graduate school, he was elated - and more than happy to write a recommendation for me.
My Master's of Science in Agricultural Education provided me with the perfect foundation to teach college students. I love teaching my students. Yes, it is still new enough that it surprises me when they write down what I say - and I do get a little nervous before each of my lectures (though I'm not sure they can tell). What surprised me about grad school, though, was that I really enjoyed research. I really enjoyed my master's project...enough to think that pursuing a PhD wouldn't be all that bad. Someday.
I will conclude with the 'rest of the story.' I got an A in Animal Science 270. I loved that class. During winter break, F.C. recommended my friend Kelli and I for a job translating his overhead slides into powerpoint slides. She accepted before me...but, then took an internship with Farm Bureau - so, I ended up translating F.C.'s slides into powerpoints.
My junior year, I was offered an 'undergrad research assistantship' and had to choose a professor to work with; I chose F.C. I spent that year updating his lab manual for publication and serving as a TA for the class. While the experience was valuable, I really enjoyed my time chatting with F.C. about life. I remember so much about his office - the piles every.where., the amazing Cyclone marble table that I begged him for every time we met, the 'Peachy Paterno' ice cream box that he used as a demo in 270.
My senior year - and even the first six months after college, he still employed me to help me out with different odd jobs. I took another class at F.C.'s urging - ANS 476C "Intro to Meat Judging." After my success with Animal Science classes, I also took ANS 305, 'Livestock Judging.' Only God knew that the man I would marry would be interested in a woman who liked animal agricultural better than plant agricultural. (An actual question Dan asked me on our first date.)
Once I landed my Talent Search job, F.C. would call me up every month or so for a lunch date. Then, I moved to Nevada, about 3 blocks from F.C. and Fern. We went out for breakfast; I stopped by on my walks and we'd chat. Fern helped us with some of the planning for my wedding. The week of, she and F.C. were visiting Missouri, so they let my parents stay at their house - so that they were living in a home and not a hotel during that week.
About three weeks ago, F.C. passed away after a bout with cancer. That day, I didn't lose a professor, an employer, or a mentor; I lost my friend. While my heart aches at the loss, even more so, it is filled with an indescribable sense of joy and gratitude. I know that F.C. is in heaven; that I will see him again.
I am most grateful for F.C.'s impact upon my life. I am so grateful that he not only recognized my potential, but that he invested in it - and he called me out. I am so grateful that he planted that seed. After he passed, I realized something very unique about humanity. God has given us each gifts, and a calling that we are to fulfill, yet we often can't recognize it. This is why he made us for community - for each other: so that we can recognize others' gifts and call them to that same realization.
As I asked my students, I will ask you: What seeds are you planting?