Effectiveness of Online Program Engagement for 4-H Members during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Lauren B. Hood, Clemson University,

Christopher J. Eck, Oklahoma State University,

K. Dale Layfield, Clemson University,

Joseph L. Donaldson, North Carolina State University,

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Since 1902, 4-H Youth Development programs have been implemented by Cooperative Extension Agents or Educators for teaching, influencing, and leading youth to new life skills that can shape and influence their futures through hands-on learning methods. Fast forward to 2020 when 4-H programs shifted to virtual methods during the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of this study and the overarching research question was to identify the perceptions of participants and their parent/guardian related to the virtual 4-H programming opportunities available to youth in South Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic. This qualitative inquiry was undergirded by the need for achievement theory. Focus group interviews of South Carolina 4-H participants revealed two overarching themes, including communication (before and during COVID-19) and impacts on involvement and retention. Overall, the majority of families interviewed for this study were pleased with their 4-H agent and volunteer’s impact and levels of communication during and post-COVID-19. State 4-H leaders are not only recommended, but highly encouraged, to establish best practices for virtual 4-H programming.


Cooperative Extension Services across the United States serve their respective states by offering unbiased, research-based education to audiences young and old (Monks et al., 2017). Cooperative Extension serves as the essential connection between the land-grant university and the public, requiring extension professionals to localize programs and adapt to the needs of their constituents (Cooper & Graham, 2001). “In the last decade, Cooperative Extension has rapidly diversified its portfolio in many ways to respond to the needs of people in our rapidly changing society, including adapting to online learning environments and ‘the cloud’” (Gould et al., 2014, para. 7). One of the most important needs to date was navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before COVID-19-related closures, 4-H groups and clubs were led by volunteers or 4-H professionals and met in various locations, at varying times to engage, study and practice, or for fellowship and celebration (Burnett et al., 2000). With the COVID-19 pandemic shut down of schools, educators and parents were not prepared to quickly provide hands-on learning activities to complete at home (Loose & Ryan, 2020). Cooperative Extension services nationwide quickly and efficiently created virtual solutions and alternatives to offset the lack of in-person programming (Arnold & Rennekamp, 2020). Cooperative Extension has been challenged to deliver relevant programs with measurable end-results to its audiences (Gould et al., 2014), but how can this be accomplished during a pandemic?  The pandemic created unique challenges and obstacles for all 4-H professionals and volunteers. These dedicated adults were required to be intrinsically and extrinsically motivated (Calvert & Fabregas Janeiro, 2020) to overcome said challenges and obstacles. Grégoire (2004) noted dedicated 4-H professionals and volunteers can quickly adjust to changing needs. These quick-thinking professionals and volunteers were put to the test during the pandemic. Non-parental adults, or adults who serve in volunteer leader capacities described by McNeill (2010), helped provide 4-H programming opportunities to youth via virtual platforms and take-home kits once local Extension offices closed due to the pandemic.

These programming opportunities were meant to aid at-home learning with hands-on activities that, in most cases, were aligned with school standards and to promote positive youth development (PYD); Extension professionals had to learn how to integrate new technologies (e.g., “Zoom”) to engage their stakeholders and provide purposeful educational opportunities (Eck et al., 2022). COVID-19 impacted PYD, including trauma, isolation, the loss of relationships, daily routines, and social outlets to name a few (Arnold & Rennekamp, 2020). With the knowledge of these impacts, Extension professionals strived to remain “consistent with [the] mission of positive youth development, [as] the 4-H program is uniquely positioned to address and mitigate COVID-19 impacts on youths by focusing on building youth assets and providing supportive contexts” (Arnold & Rennekamp, 2020, para. 10). 

It has been recommended that additional research is essential “to gather feedback from parents and members on their perceptions of their own states’ programming efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic” (Hood, 2021, p. 15). Therefore, this study aimed to uncover the perceptions of those participating, specifically, 4-H youth and parents/guardians, in virtual 4-H programming opportunities in South Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study also yields recommended best practices for future virtual programming. In Gordon and Curlee’s (2011) book, The Virtual Project Management Office: Best Practices, Proven Methods, the authors state, “all organizations must have processes and procedures based on best practices to enhance their chances of success” (p. 109). Several of the best practices recommended revolve around communication with and without Internet access.

Theoretical/Conceptual Framework

McClelland’s (1987) need for achievement theory undergirded this study. This theory of motivation (McClelland, 1987) is associated with learning concepts, where needs are learned through coping environments (Pardee, 1990). The theory outlines three motivating factors; the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, and the need for power (Gill et al., 2010). The need for achievement is associated with personality characteristics such as strong goal setting, taking calculated risks, appreciating feedback, and preferring to work alone (McClelland, 1987). On the other hand, the need for affiliation corresponds with someone who wants to be part of the larger group, is often considered a follower, prefers collaboration, and avoids risk (McClelland, 1987). Finally, someone who likes to win, wants to control situations, enjoys competition, and thrives on recognition aligns with the need for power (McClelland, 1987). These motivating factors associated with McClelland’s (1987) work stem from the theory of needs established by Maslow in the 1940s.

According to McClelland (1987), the three motivating factors exist inherently regardless of gender, age, or culture, but the dominating factor is often one’s life experiences. The need for achievement theory has been implemented in 4-H studies addressing the participation and retention of members (Baney & Jones, 2013; Gill et al., 2010). Based on previous use of the theory, it aligns with this study to explore 4-H member participation and engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


This study explored if virtual programming during the COVID-19 pandemic provided vital engagement opportunities for 4-H youth. Realizing that Extension professionals received just-in-time training to learn new technologies to overcome communication challenges (Eck et al., 2022), their efforts to provide those engagement opportunities for 4-H members were investigated.


This exploratory qualitative research study (Price, et. al, 2018) implemented a case study design using focus groups to further evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on 4-H youth in South Carolina. This qualitative inquiry was developed based on previous survey research recommending a deeper dive into the perceptions of 4-H youth and families during the COVID-19 pandemic (Hood, 2021). Therefore, the research team constructed a flexible qualitative interview protocol, consisting of a series of seven overarching questions and talking points to discuss with participants to provide deep, rich information related to participant perceptions of the virtual 4-H programing in South Carolina. Focus groups were held during July 2021 online via Zoom.

The interview protocol was evaluated for face and content validity (Salkind, 2012) by three faculty members in agricultural and extension education across two universities who have all completed coursework and previous research in qualitative inquiry. An email invitation was sent to families of youth who participated in virtual 4-H programming during the COVID-19 pandemic in South Carolina and provided a follow-up email address. The sampling frame consisted of 1,669 individuals (adults and youth). Four families, which included four adults and seven children, (n = 11) across South Carolina responded to the invitation and were willing to participate in a Zoom focus group interview. These four families represented three of the four regions in South Carolina and had youth enrolled across the three 4-H age brackets (i.e., Cloverbud, Junior, and Senior). Zoom was used to conduct the focus groups, while also allowing for the interviews to be recorded and interview transcriptions to be developed through the platform. Each family was provided a family number to allow proper tracking and triangulation across sources, while also providing anonymity.

After the focus group interviews, the lead researcher reviewed the interview transcripts against the audio/video recording to verify accuracy. The research team then analyzed the data using the constant comparative method (Glasser & Strauss, 1967). The research team used the video recording of each focus group, interview transcripts, and interviewer notes to allow codes, themes, and categories to emerge describing the family’s reality (Creswell & Poth, 2018; Glesne, 2016). In addition to multiple descriptions of data, the research team corroborated to develop the emerging themes, following the recommendations of Creswell and Poth (2018) to improve the accuracy of data analysis through coding checks, establishing reliability of the coding process. Specifically, the constant comparative method was implemented, which allows the data, including the participants voice, to speak for itself (Glasser & Strauss, 1967). Three rounds of coding were implemented starting with open-source coding (Creswell & Poth, 2018). The codes from the first round were then analyzed using axial coding, where the relationships of codes were used to establish categories (Creswell & Poth, 2018; Glasser & Strauss, 1967). The final round implemented selective coding, allowing the overarching themes to emerge as core themes and variables linking back to the conceptual framework established by Gill et al. (2010) which connected to the factors established within McClelland’s (1987) motivational needs theory.

Within a qualitative inquiry it is imperative that the research team aim to address the four criteria provided by Privitera (2017) to ensure trustworthiness (i.e., credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability). Using interview transcripts, audio/video recordings, and interviewer field notes allowed the true opinions of the 4-H families to be reflected in the study, which addresses credibility (Privitera, 2017). Although this qualitative inquiry was limited to four families, all families participating in virtual 4-H programming during the COVID-19 pandemic in South Carolina had the opportunity to participate and the families who did participate represented different parts of the state, different 4-H age classifications of the youth (i.e., Cloverbud, Junior, and Senior), and participation in the different virtual programs offered, allowing this data to have transferability across the state. Implementing the focus group style interview with a flexible interview protocol and the varying characteristics of participants allows for consistent data collection (Privitera, 2017). Allowing the perspectives of the families to be represented in the findings and not the researchers bias speaks to the confirmability of this study (Privitera, 2017), which was addressed through the established interview protocol, three round coding process, member checks, and interpretation of data sources.

Reflexivity Statement

Palaganas et al. (2017) suggested that researchers acknowledge their inherent bias related to their study and disclose their identity to offer reflexivity. The research team for this study consisted of a graduate student in agricultural education, who was also an active 4-H youth development educator, along with three faculty members in agricultural and extension education at Clemson University and North Carolina State University. The graduate student had worked in Extension for eight years and was completing a degree in agricultural education at Clemson University. The three faculty members have more than 40 years of experience combined in agricultural and extension education. Overall, the research team recognized their bias toward Extension because of their professional roles and felt they addressed the biases through the established procedures and trustworthiness of the study.


The focus group interviews were analyzed allowing categories to emerge related to the youth and parents’ perceptions of the virtual 4-H programming offered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The emerging codes and themes resulted in two overarching categories, including communication and 4-H agent/volunteer leader impact.

Category 1: Communication

The first category to emerge throughout was communication. Communication was then divided into two themes: pre-COVID-19 and during-COVID-19 to represent the participants’ perceptions. Family #1 [mom] mentioned they were impressed with the level of communication and the amount of programming offered. They said that it seemed like there were more newsletters sent out and that there was more information within those newsletters compared to before COVID-19. Family #1’s mom wrapped up the conversation with, “you guys have done an off the charts, valiant job with communication when it’s just been such a difficult year.” Family #2 [the parents] detailed how there has been little to no communication on the county level. “Well, it’s been zero communication from the county level, and we have a child serving as a county club officer,” said Family #2’s mom. She also said, “we just feel very really sad because there are so many possibilities under 4-H that are so incredible, so I feel like not only did we lose, and not just because of the pandemic, we didn’t feel like we were part of it anymore.” The few details they had about 4-H activities offered during COVID-19-related closures they found on their own through the state social media pages or the state 4-H website.

Family #2 reported no communication from both their local agent and their local club’s volunteer leader. The family also commented that they had just recruited a new family to join their local group, so it was especially frustrating that this new family joined and received zero information. This was not an issue prior to COVID-19. Family #3 [mom] complimented the marketing strategies and graphics used for marketing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon seeing a ‘random Facebook ad’ for South Carolina 4-H@Home, Family #3’s mom signed up to begin receiving the daily emails. Family #3’s mom said that her sorority sister was a part of 4-H growing up, so she had heard of 4-H before. She also stated, “all of the advertising led me to contact our local county 4-H agent to get my son signed up.” Prior to COVID-19-related closures, Family #3 was not aware of local 4-H programming. Family #4 commented that their 4-H agent does a “good job” of communicating. Family #4’s youth were very active in county and statewide projects and held leadership positions locally. Family #4’s local 4-H agent was known for publicly advertising 4-H programming through various methods pre- and during-COVID-19. The facial expressions and non-verbal cues demonstrated in the Zoom recordings and documented in the interviewer notes furthered the emotions documented in the comments above. For example, Family #2 was obviously frustrated by the lack of communication, you could clearly see they had higher expectations from previous experiences with 4-H and really wanted the experience to continue to be a positive one for their family and others they recruited.

Category 2: 4-H Agent/Volunteer Leader Impact

The second category from the focus group was 4-H agent/volunteer leader impact. All four families had something to say regarding the leadership within the county where they participated. 4-H agent/volunteer leader impact can further be divided into positive and negative impact themes. Family #1 described the positive impact of their local 4-H agent: “our local agent is so gifted in matching the child with what will both be interesting to them and what will grow them and push them just a little bit at just the right time.” Family #1’s mom went on to compliment the other local agents the family works with, as well as the state staff. Family #2’s parents described the negative impact of their local 4-H agent/volunteer leader regarding an issue with the local organization before COVID-19 closures, but it seemed to be “explained away enough” and that they would let it slide after eventual communication. Family #2’s parents also mentioned that they were not “on the same standing as others” because they were not originally from their county, like their local leadership. Family #2 described their local 4-H agent as normally being a good agent, but “they [agent] just did not really step up during the pandemic.”

The disappointment and frustrations continued to build from Family #2, but the other families did not let the negative perceptions of one’s experience impact their overall perception of the impact of their 4-H agent/volunteer leader. Family #3’s mom said due to their participation in 4-H@Home, they were able to connect with their local agent. She said it was the best thing they could have done because the local agent is “wonderful.” Family #3’s local agent was complimented on their skills to work with younger children and that they are so welcoming. Family #3’s mom stated “[our agent] always provides a plethora of information for any activity and it helps so much since we are a brand new 4-H family.” Family #4’s 4-H member conveyed they like working with their local agent and that they do a “good job.” Family #4’s 4-H member also does a lot of projects that aligned with the expertise of the local 4-H agents and the excitement of the common interest was obvious in the videos and noted in the interviewer notes.

Conclusions, Implications, and Recommendations

Based on the focus group participants’ interviews, their 4-H agents should be commended for the programming made available during the Covid-19 pandemic, underscoring the fact that Extension professionals and volunteers were able to successfully pivot 4-H programming from predominately in-person to predominately virtual (Arnold & Rennekamp, 2020). “Virtual Programming did not eliminate the need for a local connection – it only highlighted the importance of a local connection who was a broker of education among: (a) networked programs, (b) local audiences, and (c) the land-grant institution” (J. L. Donaldson, personal communication, July 6, 2021).

McClelland’s (1987) need for achievement theory was useful for understanding 4-H retention among participating families. This theory warrants additional research, as we do not know the extent to which the needs of youth and families may have changed due to the pandemic and the associated fear and loss. The pandemic created substantial trauma, isolation, and loss of relationships (Arnold & Rennekamp, 2020). 4-H youth development programs may need to respond with discrete programs to promote mental and emotional health.

Family #1’s virtual experience and the local 4-H agent’s efforts met all three of McClelland’s (1987) needs: (1) achievement, (2) affiliation, and (3) power. Family #1’s mom reflected on how her older children became stronger leaders in 4-H through the local ambassador program and helped their younger siblings participate through 4-H kits. She [mom] said, “I really appreciated the Journey to Mars kit because my [age] year old was able to use it as a leadership opportunity on her resume for our local STEAM club.” Unfortunately, due to Family #2’s experience, none of McClelland’s Needs were met. The family recalled no communication from the local agent or volunteer, which was especially troubling to them since their two children were local club officers. Family #3’s experience allowed for two of McClelland’s (1987) needs to be met: achievement and affiliation. Because the 4-H member interviewed was very young and brand new to the program, they did not serve in any leadership roles. Family #3’s agent made opportunities available for youth to experience all of McClelland’s (1987) needs, despite this participating member’s young age. Family #4’s positive experience allowed for all three of McClelland’s needs to be met. Also, because of the opportunities Family #4’s local agent provided; McClelland’s (1987) needs were easily met.

Regarding communications, families appreciated the more frequent and detailed communication from county programs, as well as the improved marketing efforts. Despite this success, some areas for improvement were noteworthy. One family recalled not knowing if 4-H still existed in their county or in South Carolina due to the lack of communication. Communication is one of the most important skills within Cooperative Extension, especially 4-H. Ultimately, this related to the need for affiliation and the need for achievement (Gill et al., 2010; McClelland, 1987) for success, as it is essential for 4-H youth to feel connected to the youth organization (i.e., 4-H), the organization leader, and their friends, while perceiving the availability of engagement opportunities. Unfortunately, a lack of communication and limited opportunities (with the agent and programming) to engage hindered some families’ perceptions related to their members’ ability to be affiliated and obtain a sense of achievement.

Another category from this study was 4-H agent and volunteer impact. Families interviewed were asked about their relationship with the local 4-H agent or volunteer they worked with the most. Families #1, #3 and #4 described a positive relationship and praised their agent. Family #2 stated they have been working with a local volunteer and their 4-H agent and ever since COVID-19 pandemic closures, the impacts have been negative. From this focus group, it was clear that 4-H agents and volunteers can make or break the decision to join or re-enroll in a county program. If the need for affiliation is not met (McClelland, 1987), the retention of 4-H can be negatively impacted, ultimately affecting program quality (Gill et al., 2010). This became evident with the focus group interviews as families were either planning to remain or leave 4-H based on their perception of impact of the agent/volunteer leader.

While it is easy to implicate county 4-H agents for a lack of communications and a lack of programming during COVID-19-related closures, it is imperative to understand the challenges faced by Extension 4-H professionals and volunteers. Israel et al. (2020) described how COVID-19 affected Extension agents with having to manage work-life balance with multiple interruptions that could have affected programming efforts and communication with clientele. Extension agents and volunteers could have been dealing with the virus themselves or caring for an infected family member; caring for an elderly parent, family member, or neighbor; and/or may have needed resources to conduct regular work while quarantined at home. The pandemic took a toll on people in many different ways, but perhaps this was exacerbated with Extension Professionals in South Carolina as they were trying to learn a new platform (i.e., Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets) that they were not entirely comfortable with while simultaneously engaging with their clientele (Eck et al., 2022).

It should be noted that this study was limited to four families who participated in virtual programing during the pandemic is South Carolina and agreed to attend the focus group interviews for this study. Extension programming, especially youth programming, varied state by state and educator by educator, therefore the findings of this study were restricted to the views of the participating families’ experiences. Although limitations existed within the study, the findings, conclusions, and recommendations provided an opportunity for transferable results and best practices for those with similar needs and/or responsibilities within Extension programming. It was the responsibility of the research team to carry out the study based on the intended purpose, but it is up to the reader and potential applier of the results to make a judgement on the transferability of the study (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).  

State 4-H leaders are not only recommended, but highly encouraged, to create a best practices list for virtual 4-H programming. Designed by the researchers’ reactions to the data and their personal experiences, Table 1 outlines best practices to guide agents and volunteers in communicating with their clientele. Several of the best practices listed in Table 1 revolve around technology and Internet deficits experienced by many youth and their families (Evans et al., 2021). Gordon and Curlee (2011) remind us that good communication is essential in organizations and it is not productive for people to become quiet. They also state, “often, people ignore issues they shouldn’t” (Gordon and Curlee, 2011, p. 137) which can cause a snowball effect of issues building and success within the organization jeopardized. “Organizations can no longer rely on one-way communication methods to interact with stakeholders” (Holthausen et al., 2021, para. 31). Therefore, 4-H programs should be advertised via multiple methods such as online, hardcopy, television, or radio media. A list of best practices may be especially valuable for newly hired 4-H professionals who may or may not have the opportunity to be part of on-boarding procedures.

Table 1

Best Practices for 4-H agents, educators, specialists, and volunteers in Virtual Programming

Best Practice
Establish multiple methods of communication with county participants.
Create a contact list of people on the local, regional, and state level who can provide more information on virtual programming.
Advertise programs via online, hardcopy (mail/newspapers), television, or radio media.
Establish if 4-H participants will need to print materials used in virtual program.
Complete midway and end of the activity/program check-ins with the participants.
Offer to schedule (in-person or at-a-distance/Zoom) visits with participants to stay updated on them throughout the program year.

Future research should be explored using more families for interviews to gain a better understanding of 4-H leader impact. It is also recommended that in-person focus groups are held, with the option of virtual meetings via video conference. Based on the interviews conducted, it was evident the parents dominated the conversations as if the parents were vicariously giving accounts for the children. Based on this knowledge, it is recommended that the interviews be split into a conversation with parents only, and a separate conversation with just youth. Additionally, the questions and topics discussed within future research should be expanded to include use of the life skills learned in 4-H among 4-H members.

Overall, three of the four families interviewed for this study were pleased with their 4-H agent and volunteer’s impact and levels of communication during and post-COVID-19. There is room for improvement in both categories. 4-H agents and volunteers should continuously work on ways to improve their communication and teaching styles. These same caring adult leaders should not only think of youth, but also themselves when striving to “make the best better.”


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Perceived Readiness of First Year Agriculture Teachers to Teach Low Socioeconomic Students

Rachelle Staehr, York High School,

Nathan Conner, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

Bryan Reiling, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

Taylor Ruth, University of Tennessee,

Jacob Goldfuss, Summerland Public School,

PDF Available


Approximately10.5% of children in Nebraska live in poverty. Poverty in a child’s life impacts both physical and cognitive development. This qualitative case study explored agricultural education teachers perceived confidence when teaching students who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Eight high school agriculture teachers were interviewed, and the following themes emerged from the data: (a) teacher emotions, (b) observations, and (c) accommodations. The teachers felt prepared to teach students that are impacted by poverty. It is recommended that teacher preparation programs select courses that specifically address working with students that are living in poverty. Additionally, exposure to students from low SES backgrounds early in their teacher preparation program will help them to learn how to build positive relationships with students and how to accommodate this population.


Children were the highest likely group of individuals to be living in poverty (Dornan, 2017). Talk Poverty (2020) identified that 10.5% of children in Nebraska public schools live in poverty. This correlates directly with Dornan’s (2017) identification of children being the highest likely group to live in poverty, as Talk Poverty (2021) ranked children at a higher rate of poverty than any other surveyed group. This growing issue was evident within Nebraska public schools and educators need to be prepared for it.

Throughout preservice teachers’ educational experiences, professors have utilized a variety of different methods to educate their students on this phenomenon. Cho et al. (2015) explored the option of educating teachers to be anthropologists in future encounters of student poverty, while Baggerly (2006) focused on the power of service-learning experiences. With a growing need for teacher confidence in the identification and accommodation of students of low socioeconomic status (SES), teacher educators must ensure they have prepared their students to effectively accommodate classroom instruction for students living in poverty.

Child poverty has reared its head as multidimensional poverty within American schools as students lack basic resources due to availability, location, and family structures (Dornan, 2017). Roelen (2017) discussed differences between children of monetary poverty and children of multidimensional poverty. Monetary poverty is described as strictly a measurement of household income and expenses and was also defined as indirect poverty because it is did not directly impact the resources of a family (Roelen, 2017). Roelen (2017) explained this concept by pointing out that not all financial funds accumulated by the household were used properly for the basic needs of all individuals within the household. Improper use of funds or lack of availability of basic needs within a community can create multidimensional poverty (Roelen, 2017). Multidimensional poverty was defined as the lack of and depletion of basic needs and resources (Roelen, 2017). This term was also referred to as direct poverty (Roelen, 2017). Each type of poverty is unique but not necessarily linked to each other depending on the economic status of the country inhabited (Roelen, 2017). 

Gupta (2017) gave readers a glimpse of a family’s life within poverty by providing a view of the assumptions and realities of their lives. America’s social work system has been known to sometimes forget to account for poverty when visiting families (Gupta, 2017). Gupta (2017) illustrated a situation in which individuals living in poverty were surrounded with assumptions of drug use and had parenting rights removed with little to no evidence. Thiede and Brooks (2018) outlined the correlation between immigration, family history, and poverty. This quantitative analysis identified that individuals of first and second generations who had two foreign born parents had a higher likelihood than other foreign individuals of living in poverty in America (Thiede & Brooks, 2018). This unfortunate relationship has been reality for many children in public schools and should be recognized by American school systems.

The direct relationship of poverty and its impacts on a child’s cognitive development was illustrated by Dolean et al., (2019) in a study done on the relation of socioeconomic status (SES) and development of reading and linguistic skills. SES was the likely root cause for many children’s inability to academically excel in the classroom (Dolean et al., 2019). Research identified frequent school absences, phonetic awareness, and bilingual homes to be largely impactful on the slow development of basic academic skills (Dolean et al., 2019). SES was directly linked to poor linguistic, phonetics, reading, letter knowledge, and nonverbal IQ (Dolean et al., 2019). Li et al. (2020) hypothesized that poverty and mental health have been negatively correlated. Li et al. (2020) survey asked school aged children about their access to common educational resources relative to their current mental health state. Anxiety and depression were common themes that manifested among students with lower SES, and poverty levels were associated with increased mental health issues in children (Li et al., 2020).

Over the past few years, school systems have subscribed to the ideas of Ruby Payne and her framework for understanding poverty (Osei-Kofi, 2005). These ideas were presented to communicate social norms and commonalities amongst those living in poverty (Osei-Kofi, 2005). Although these theories outlined positive things teachers can do for students, Osei-Kofi’s (2005) review identified its flaws of the framework in today’s world. Being a teacher himself, Osei-Kofi had a direct point of view on the impacts of Payne’s framework on his own school. He observed that the framework created biases around certain groups of people and the framework’s influence on the No Child Left Behind Act gave teachers almost impossible standards to reach (Osei-Kofi, 2005). The No Child Left Behind Act created a system in which standardized tests blamed teachers for any student failure (Osei-Kofi, 2005). Although much of Payne’s research was valid, she made assumptions that stretch teacher’s limits and impose unfair assumptions on students (Osei-Kofi, 2005). One example from Osei-Kofi’s (2005) review indicated  that Payne outlined children in poverty as inadequate and in need of repair from a teacher. The responsibility of the student’s so-called repair was placed solely on the teacher (Osei-Kofi, 2005).

An article by Payne and Ortiz (2007) outlined multiple factors such as socioeconomic status of a household and the talent of teachers as huge impacts on the success of students in the classroom. Many of those students who have struggled with standardized tests may also be victims of multidimensional poverty (Payne & Ortiz, 2007). Educators cannot solve child poverty; they do not have the responsibility of child poverty, but they have been  doing everything they can to help children living in poverty (Payne & Ortiz, 2007).

The exploration of child poverty, cognitive development, and educator limits lead us toward identification of applicable solutions for how America’s educational system can help children in poverty. Jackson (2014) explored the emotions of educators and students surrounding children living in poverty and found that there was a shocking overall acceptance of poverty by our society. Educators have a duty to promote proper emotional response to social injustices (Jackson, 2014). There was no shortage of sympathy amongst students and teachers, but empathy will be  needed to impact society (Jackson, 2014). Empathy is the initial step in the emotional process and is needed to enact change within society (Jackson, 2014).

Sato and Lensmire (2009) pointed out that teachers should be culturally responsive. While teachers may already do this, it needs to be an intentional effort to really assist students in poverty. For example, teachers need to recognize that not all students, based on factors such as SES, have the same prior knowledge or commonalities that were often assumed within the classroom (Sato & Lensmire, 2009). Students of poverty may not have these shared experiences (Sato & Lensmire, 2009). An empathetic and involving teacher is one who is also culturally aware throughout their curriculum (Sato & Lensmire, 2009).

The Poverty Simulation was a program utilized in the education of college students entering social work and health care fields (Vandsburger et al., 2010). This case study utilized three common scales used in diversity education: (1) the Critical Thinking Scale, (2) Understanding of Others Scale, and the (3) Active Learning Scale are used to measure the effectiveness of this simulation (Vandsburger et al., 2010). The simulation consisted of daily tasks and navigation through life for a given amount of time as an individual of poverty (Vandsburger et al., 2010). While 82.2% of individuals who participated in this simulation experienced further contemplation of poverty’s effects, only 58.4% of participants were moved to take social action (Vandsburger et al., 2010). Results of this study showed that the simulation was impactful in the education of college individuals, but true empathy was not always reached (Vandsburger et al., 2010).

Community connections and service learning are powerful educational tools that were explored by Baggerly (2006) in the setting of the education of preservice teachers. Service learning was outlined as a symbiotic relationship between urban communities and universities within them (Baggerly, 2006). A lot of students attending universities have minimal experience with poverty themselves, so properly designed service-learning projects can provide them exposure to the impacts of poverty (Baggerly, 2006). This experience was valuable for preservice teachers because it helped them understand the background of future students in poverty (Baggerly, 2006). Major goals of service learning should be for students to experience different cultures and to encourage students to take social action (Baggerly, 2006). These impactful projects can create knowledge that preservice teachers can draw from in their teaching careers (Baggerly, 2006). This experience was recognized as impactful in educating students about the realities of poverty (Baggerly, 2006).


The purpose of this case study was to explore the perceived preparedness of first year agricultural teachers from the University of Nebraska to educate an increasing population of children of low socioeconomic status (SES) in Nebraska public schools. The preparedness of first year agriculture  teachers to educate students of poverty was defined as their feelings toward the accommodations they are able to make. The overarching research question was, do first year agricultural teachers who graduated from University of Nebraska feel prepared to educate students who are impacted by childhood poverty?


Qualitative research was conducted because it allows researchers to create a vivid interpretation of the world around them (Creswell & Poth, 2018). This qualitative study was working on the assumption that there was a growing need for first year agricultural teachers to be holistically educated on child poverty to increase their confidence in the identification and accommodation techniques for these students. A case study methodology was used in this study. As defined by Creswell and Poth (2018), a case study is the study of an actual, real life, case within a real context. A case study also takes place within a system that is bounded by a place and time (Crestwell & Poth, 2018). The bounded system recognized in this study, and hence the participation criteria for this study, was first year agricultural teachers from University of Nebraska who were employed by Nebraska public schools.

This study utilized purposeful sampling to select the individuals who provided experiences and information that were consistent to this bounded system. An initial recruitment email was sent to 28 agricultural teachers who met the participation criteria. There were only eight first year agriculture teachers from University of Nebraska that agreed to participate in the study. Creswell and Poth (2018) posited that five participants are adequate for a case study, however, we used eight participants to help achieve data saturation.

Participant/School Description

Teacher one came from a school in northeastern Nebraska and was the only agricultural teacher at this school. Student diversity included about a 69% population of white individuals and around a 22% population of American Indian individuals (Nebraska Department of Education, 2021). Teacher two was one of two agricultural teachers at a large high school in eastern Nebraska. This diverse school had a population of about 68% Hispanic students with 13% white as the next highest race within the population (Nebraska Department of Education, 2021). Teacher three came from a one teacher agricultural education program at a school in southeastern Nebraska with a high majority white student population (Nebraska Department of Education, 2021). The fourth, fifth and sixth teachers interviewed were also in one teacher programs at schools in the central (T4), northern (T5), and southern (T6) parts of Nebraska with high majority white student populations (Nebraska Department of Education, 2021). The seventh and eighth teachers came from small, one teacher program schools, while being located in western (T7) and central (T8) Nebraska schools. Both T7 and T8 were located at schools with a high majority white student population as well (Nebraska Department of Education, 2021).

Data Collection and Analysis

This qualitative case study used semi-structured interviews to collect data during September 2021. The semi-structured interviews took place over Zoom and lasted approximately 20 minutes. The interview questions allowed for open-ended answers that encouraged storytelling and real-life examples. The interviews were recorded and transcribed through Zoom. Data was analyzed for the emergence of themes. The transcripts were read three times and reoccurring words, phrases, and ideas were categorized together and used to identify the themes that emerged. Creswell and Poth (2018) stated, “themes are broad units of information that consist of several codes aggregated to form a common idea.” (p. 186). Codes were organized into themes using tables to help conceptualize the overarching concepts.


Trustworthiness measures were used to determine the truth, value, credibility, and reliability of the research study (Dooley, 2007; Erlandson, et al., 1993; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Triangulation was achieved in this study by use of multiple researchers (Dooley, 2007; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Peer debriefing was used and allowed a researcher that was not associated with the study to review the data and give insight on how the data was analyzed(Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Dooley, 2007).

Subjectivity Statement

As an agricultural education teacher at a public school and the lead researcher on this article, I have encountered a higher rate of students living in poverty or of low SES than I expected. This study was completed during my third-year teaching and I found myself still having to adapt to many new and shocking situations. For example, many of my students lack funds available to supply their own jeans and boots for welding classes and other students have told me about nights they spend in their cars. The reason why I wanted to select my sample specifically from agricultural teachers because in my personal experience, many disadvantaged students are ‘dumped’ in agricultural courses to explore careers. Even though school counselors have good intentions, students in poverty can easily fall behind in these hands-on classes. These students may have a difficult time purchasing or providing the extra supplies that are typically needed. As a teacher, I would like to be better prepared to help these students and to identify tools to help support them as an empathetic, positive role model in their lives.


The following themes emerged from the data: (a) teacher emotions, (b) observations of poverty, and (c) accommodations. Within these themes, various codes were identified to help sort and categorize data and commonalities throughout the interviews.

Theme #1: Teacher Emotions

The theme of teacher emotions was defined by the internal feelings’ teachers have as they navigate difficult decisions when working to accommodate students of poverty. During interviews, many emotions were discussed. Teachers identified common emotions of empathy, concern, and compassion. Empathy was expressed by T1, T2, T4, T5, and T8 when acknowledging that many students were in poverty situations through no fault of their own. T1 indicated that students were usually helpless in their own availability of resources. T2 explained that many students living in poverty missed out on opportunities teachers try to provide, this leaves teachers feeling heartbroken. T2 continued to explain their feelings on this issue by saying, “I know they’re going to have these struggles in life because they are already behind the eight-ball compared to many other peers, and for no reason than being born into the circumstances.” T2 and T4 also expressed an interest in breaking the cycle of poverty experienced by many of their students.

When the concerns of participants were addressed, the collective consensus of T1, T3, T6, and T7 was that all teachers feel the stress and difficulty of helping these students. T3 illustrated their own worry over the physical conditions these students live in each day and how the physical conditions impacted their abilities within the classroom. T3 and T7 both expressed a feeling of helplessness in many of the situations they encountered. Emotions of grace and compassion were also identified with T2 and T8. Prioritizing what was best for students and having a forgiving attitude was emphasized by T2. T8 described a deep respect for students who juggled the complications of a life in poverty yet maintain a positive influence within school.

Theme #2: Observations of Poverty

Observations of poverty was defined by the identifying factors of poverty teachers have witnessed within their first couple of months teaching. These observations were broken down into the following sub themes: physical observations, impacts of poverty, and lack of resources.

Physical Observations

Location of observations made by educators who participated in these interviews ranged from the general community to inside the school building. T1 reported their own physical observations of poverty by simply driving around town and seeing where students were living. Behaviors observed inside the schools by T1, T2, T5, T6, T7, and T8 included students missing school due to babysitting responsibilities, wearing old clothes every day, lack of hygiene, taking home school lunch to share with family, difficulties focusing, and a lack of engagement whenever money was mentioned in class. T6 stated, “As I discussed details for a fieldtrip, I watched a student physically slump in their chair when I requested students bring money for lunches.”

Impacts of Poverty

Many teacher observations were made individually through strong personal relationships built with students in poverty. Through relationships, students can reveal details about their lives that identify themselves as children of poverty. These conversations created observable information for teachers. T4 and T5 discussed being shocked at the sheer lack of confidence many students express during conversations with students of poverty. T2 described one situation by saying, “I’ve got one student, I know, that works until 11 o’clock every night to help her family pay the bills, so they have a lot of missing assignments.” T3 and T7 also could identify students in similar situations. T2’s students also expressed interests in being the first generation in their families to attend college or trade school. T1 theorized that many students living in poverty were highly motivated by simply wanting to break their own cycle. T4 expressed their observations of high levels of hard work and determination from students living in poverty. T3, T4, and T8 identified lack of sleep and emotional stress as two consequences of poverty. T3, T4, and T8 reported students helplessly falling asleep in class after working a long night shift. T3 also reported having students act distant and emotional due to the stresses of their everyday life. These two impacts had a severe negative toll on the student’s abilities to learn and participate in class. Through personal conversations with students T3 and T8 concluded students who were consistently overly tired in class usually spent time working to pay bills. Students could easily be overscheduled, and some employers may not recognize the demands on their time. T3 said, “Our school actually reached out and said, hey, just be aware that these are high school students and we know that they’re working a lot. First and foremost, they need to be students.” T3 and T4 pointed out that poverty may not allow children to experience as many opportunities.

Lack of Resources

All teachers interviewed identified examples of actual lack of resources from students in poverty. During the shutdown of many schools, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students were expected to learn from home using technology and the internet. However, T1, T2, and T4 identified the lack of reliable internet and technology was problematic for many students in poverty. T4 indicated that students living in poverty had issues sourcing these necessary resources and sharing them with siblings in the same situations. This lack of resources could include a lack of equipment within a household, lack of bandwidth, or lack of reliable internet. All teachers interviewed also indicated that transportation and financial support impact students’ school experiences. Although public education is free, extracurricular activities that compliment classroom learning are not. T2, T4 and T8 explained different situations in which students could not afford opportunities that FFA provides. However, these teachers made their own accommodations for these students.

Theme #3: Accommodations

The theme of teacher accommodations was defined as any adaptations or changes teachers made to help students of poverty. The different accommodations teachers made all fell into the following sub themes: (a) advocacy, (b) relationships, and (c) monetary support.


Some great points brought up through discussion with T3 included strong intentions to advocate for students. T3 stated: “I will do whatever I can to make sure that you’re (students are) supplemented with whatever you (students) need.” T1 stated that agricultural educators, have a unique advantage compared to other teachers because of their preparation to mentor a student to explore certain careers and trades. Agricultural educators teach classes directly tied to real life careers. Students who have taken agricultural classes were taught basic skills needed for entry level positions out of high school within agricultural careers or the trades. T1 also expressed focusing class content on trades that all students could explore. All teachers interviewed believed it was their job to advocate for their own students.


Relationships, built through classroom experiences, were a huge asset when working with students. Through strong student relationships, T1, T2, T3, T4 and T6 provided examples of simple accommodations provided. Based on student suggestions, accommodations made by T1, T2, and T6 included virtualizing assignments for accessibility, providing class work time, and allowing retakes. These simple steps provided a more stress-free environment for students. T3, T4, T7, and T8 also accommodated students by providing all materials needed for class and creating an open line of communication where teachers can easily check in on students.

Monetary Support

T1 and T4 mentioned that FFA provided help to support students who cannot afford opportunities that exist within the organization. T5, T6, and T7 also discussed how they discretely provided extra cash to students who cannot afford lunches on trips and hold fundraisers for all students to provide free opportunities within FFA. These young teachers were already expressing the importance of finding a way to include all students in all activities to create a strong organization and environment.

Conclusions, Discussion, and Recommendations

Educators of today are almost certain to encounter a significant percentage of students living in poverty. America’s public school system has not clearly set the expectations of educator’s role in these student’s lives. Child poverty is a phenomenon that increasingly plagues our world and is currently being addressed through policy changes. These policy changes in our nation as well as others have the intent of bringing children out of poverty through economic focuses (Dornan, 2017). Nations are working to assist the growing population of children in poverty.

Teachers interviewed in this study were able to convey how they have felt while accommodating students of poverty. Emotional stress of teachers is a real issue and relating it to their education of students of poverty may be an indicator of their preparation to deal with this issue. Feelings of helplessness was a key concept identified through these interviews that could indicate deficiency in the preservice teacher’s education. When looking at the emotions reported by teachers interviewed, concern was likely stemming from the level of care they have for students. Most teachers interviewed appeared to genuinely care about their student’s wellbeing and little to no emphasis was placed on the teachers’ own feelings about their own abilities. Empathy was a concept utilized by all teachers interviewed. As Jackson (2009) mentioned, empathy is critically important in creating a learning environment that accompanies all students. The fact that all teachers interviewed were aware of and practicing empathy was a clear indication that they know what they need to do to help their students in poverty. However, teachers need to be taught how to take care of their own mental health needs. Agricultural teacher preparation programs should incorporate stress management techniques into their programing and develop units or workshops on how to take care of your mental health. A focus on taking of your mental health should be embedded into the entire agricultural teacher education program. Preservice agriculture teachers need to see positive examples of self-care and they also need structured opportunities throughout their program to practice self-care.

Although these young teachers were only a couple of months into their teaching career, they have been able to report a wide array of observations that can be used to identify students in poverty. Signs of poor health, both mental and physical, were used as identified by the teachers, which aligns with Li et al. (2020) assertion that students living in poverty struggle with maintaining their mental and physical health. All teachers interviewed had some sort of observation or story to report in which they identified poverty. These young teachers were able to see poverty in front of them; therefore, something in their education has prepared them for this issue. All of the teachers that participated in this study completed a 20-hour service learning project that required them to work with after school programs in a city. The service learning projects during their agricultural teacher education preparation program exposed the teachers to students of various social economic statuses. The incorporation of a service-learning project at after school programs is recommend for agricultural education teacher preparation programs to help expose the future teachers to a diverse group of students.

The accommodations explained by the teachers interviewed were both effective and creative in their nature. Financial, emotional, and health focused support was given by all teachers interviewed through simple accommodations they made in their classrooms and organizations. Teachers interviewed explained how they listen to student’s needs and communicate with them to create great relationships and effectively help students. This use of relationships to benefit students was a major sign of competency amongst these teachers. Similarly, this could be attributed to the service learning project that exposed the preservice agriculture teachers to students from diverse backgrounds.

Many children living in poverty not only lack financial resources, but also emotional resources, role models, and a general support system (Cuthrell et al., 2007). All of the teachers interviewed identified experiences they had in which positive relationships with students helped them provide individualized support to students in need. Positive relationships not only help students emotionally but will likely lead to higher academic achievement. It is recommended that agriculture teacher preparation programs emphasize the power of positive student teacher relationship and give the preservice teachers multiple opportunities to work with high school students so they can practice building relationships.

The young teachers interviewed demonstrated that they felt adequately prepared to deal with the realities of educating students of poverty. Although some indications of helplessness were communicated through interviews and many creative and adapting accommodations were discussed by each teacher. There were great solutions that already exist amongst this group of young agricultural teachers. Agricultural education is unique because it is so closely related to careers and hands-on opportunities. Because counselors push students of poverty towards career focused opportunities, many are enrolled in agricultural classes. These interviews revealed the young agricultural teachers were aware of this poverty issue, and they are up to the challenge of bettering student lives. We recommend that teacher preparation programs select courses that specifically address working with students living in poverty. Additionally, exposure to students from low SES backgrounds early in their teacher preparation program will help them to learn how to build positive relationships with students and how to accommodate them. The development of a sustained mentorship relationship between a preservice agriculture teacher and a low socioeconomic high school student is recommended. This mentor/mentee relation should be sustained over a long period of time so that the high school student and the preservice agriculture teacher can both experience growth and development. Ideally, the mentor/mentee relationship would start when the preservice teacher is in the first year of their program and the high school student is a freshman. If possible, the mentor/mentee relationship could last between two to four years depending on the duration of the agricultural teacher preparation program.

Future research that should follow up this study to include identifying what specific education methods for poverty education are the most impactful. A phenomenological case study should be conducted to better understand the feelings, perspectives, and needs of low socio-economic agriculture students.  An analysis of current poverty educational methods used may give teacher educators a better idea on how to create the most impactful experience for their students.


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Agricultural Entrepreneur Involvement of Eight Botswana Women: A Qualitative Study

Carrie Stephens, Professor, The University of Tennessee,

Haley Kelso, Graduate Assistant, The University of Tennessee,

Sharon Jean-Philippe, Professor, The University of Tennessee,

Jennifer Richards, Associate Professor, The University of Tennessee,

Natalie Bumgarner, Associate Professor, The University of Tennessee,

Liz Eckelkamp, Associate Professor, The University of Tennessee,

Shelli Rampold, Assistant Professor, The University of Tennessee,

Neal Eash, Professor, The University of Tennessee,

Brent Lamons, Assistant Professor of Practice, The University of Tennessee,

PDF Available


The dynamics of agriculture in Botswana have been deeply rooted in traditional cultural values and have been shaped by the close connection between men and agriculture. Specifically, the dominance hierarchies that existed are those related to realities and relationships between those of humans and animals and their interconnectedness. The purpose of this study was to explore the leadership journeys of eight women in Botswana who have been involved in production agriculture. The central research questions asked were: (1) What lived experiences helped you obtain your agricultural position; and (2) What leadership characteristics do you identify as essential in your success? The participants for this study consisted of eight women in agriculture from Gaborone and Mabalane, Botswana. The methods employed to collect data in this study included three to four hour in-depth, audio-taped interviews. The researchers then discussed each individual’s coding schematic and emerged seven themes: (1) journey in agriculture; (2) networking and mentoring learning initiatives; (3) leadership and management; (4) family structure; (5) Botswana culture and agriculture; (6) awareness and shift of agriculture in Botswana; and (7) perspectives on values and motivations. Women who seek leadership opportunities, specifically those in the agricultural industry, would benefit from understanding how the participants of this study first became inspired and how they were encouraged to seek out advancement in their chosen career path. These shared experiences can communicate a framework for women who are inspired to lead in the agricultural industry – particularly in international settings.


The past few decades saw the emergence of many female leaders in agricultural professions (Brawner et. al, 2020; Kleihauer et al, 2012; Stephens et al., 2018). These leaders have overcome numerous obstacles, yet their tenacity and persistence yielded success within their industry. However, the published literature was nearly devoid of case studies outlining the barriers that they overcame, and the leadership skills needed to obviate the roadblocks (Carroll et al., 2021; Cline et al, 2019; Frankel et al, 2023; Kleihaur et. al, 2013). Our heuristic approach evaluated successful Batswana female entrepreneurs through lengthy face-to-face interviews and observations in their workplaces. Documentation of their successes and leadership skillsets could provide groundwork for assisting females in leadership development in an emerging African nation.

In Botswana, the dominance hierarchies that existed were those related to realities and relationships between those of humans and animals. (Hovorka, 2012). Historically, Batswana women were perceived socially as housewives and expected to bear children, and those who could not bear children held a lesser societal status (Ntseane, 2004). This value system also existed in the agricultural sector. While women were historically seen as rural caretakers, Botswana men were offered the luxury of raising cattle — as more or less a sole occupation —because they were seen as suitable to raise the prominent commodity associated with wealth —cattle (Horvorka, 2012). Recently, new urban and commercial agriculture spaces have emerged, empowering women as poultry producers, albeit in varying ways and with varying outcomes, relative to their initial positionalities and relative to men and cattle respectively. Therefore, “gender and species status, roles, places and use values in Botswana are inherently dynamic and offer avenues for symbolic and material re-positioning” (Hovorka, 2012, p. 879).

The empowerment of women in Botswana has led to increased interest and presence of women in the agricultural labor force in Botswana, specifically in urban agriculture (Crush et al., 2011). From 1990 to 2019, the percentage of women involved in Botswana’s labor force increased from 49.8% to 68.5% (The World Bank, 2020). Despite these labor force changes, women in Botswana were considered poor, as a higher proportion of female-headed households were considered poor or very poor (Government of Botswana, 2020).

While the Botswana Government has expressed commitment to gender equality, they are still experiencing difficulty implementing appropriate initiatives (Botlhale, 2020). Further, institutional-level initiatives have been found insufficient in changing deeply rooted ideologies pertaining to the roles of women (Botlhale, 2020). As such, initiatives at the village level may hold promise for enhancing women’s empowerment in Botswana (Must & Horvorka, 2019). The results of this study can assist policy moves that can further raise status of women in Botswana.

Currently, the overall governmental economic initiatives in Botswana revolve around diamonds, but more efforts are being made to increase access to technical education and initiatives in tourism and agriculture (Reuters Staff, 2018). However, the overall decision-making in Botswana has been influenced by males, which has hindered the ability of women to advance or have significant influence on national decisions (Government of Botswana, 2020). Therefore, this study was undertaken to provide insight into a workforce that displays diversity, productivity, and quality by describing women’s experiences on each of their journeys, and how they are aspiring to reach their leadership goals within the agricultural industry in Botswana.

Theoretical Framework

Situational and authentic leadership theories guided this study. Situational leadership was derived from the idea by Hersey and Blanchard (1972). The model is constructed to focus on the maturity of the individual who is being supervised. Maturity is defined as “the capacity to set high but attainable goals, willingness and ability to take responsibility, and education and/or experience of an individual or a group” (p. 161). The model is divided into quadrants and represents an individual’s personality and how the individual progresses as he/she matures. The first quadrant, high task/low relationship, represents an individual that is more concerned with the tasks to be accomplished, and is not concerned with the personal feelings of their cohorts. An individual that is concerned with the task of a project but also takes into consideration the feelings of their cohorts represents the second quadrant, high task and relationship. An individual who is concerned with their cohort’s personal feelings rather than completing the task represents the third quadrant, low task and high relationship. An individual who is not concerned with the task of the project or the personal feelings of their cohorts represents the last quadrant, low task and relationship. Supervisors need to adjust their leadership style as the individual matures. In the context of this study, situational leadership is an applicable lens because every participant derived their leadership experience from a unique situation. Situational leadership theory can thus provide further insight into how participants’ unique backgrounds and positions explain their actions and interactions as leaders.

Authentic leaders are those “who are deeply aware of how they think and behave and are perceived by other as being aware of their own and others’ values/morals perspectives knowledge and strengths; aware of the context in which they operate; and who are confident, hopeful, optimistic, resilient, and of high moral character” (Avolio & Gardner, 2005, p. 321). The key components of an authentic leader are positive psychological capital, positive moral perspective, leader self-awareness, leader self-regulation, leadership process/behaviors (positive modeling, support self-determination, personal and social identification), follow self-awareness, follower self-regulation, follower development, organizational context, and performance (Avolio & Gardner, 2005). Researchers believed the women had evolved into authentic leaders through their life experiences; thus, the reason for utilizing the authentic leadership framework.

Purpose and Central Research Questions

The purpose of this study was to explore the leadership journeys of eight women in Botswana who are involved in production agriculture. The central research questions asked were: (1) What lived experiences helped you obtain your agricultural position; and (2) What leadership characteristics do you identify as essential in your success?

Methods and Procedures

To fully comprehend the experiences participants shared, the current study was performed using the qualitative mode of inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The qualitative approach is justified in that it seeks to understand the phenomenon (Flick, 2014) of women’s experiences of their leadership journeys. A phenomenological approach was utilized to gain entry into the conceptual world of the women in order to understand how and what meaning they construct from their childhood, adulthood, personal, work, and leadership experiences (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). This approach is appropriate because the researchers explored a phenomenon and what the Botswana women experienced in agriculture.

The participants for this study consisted of eight women in agriculture from Gaborone and Mabalane, Botswana, two contrasting population settings. Mabalane is a small village (population~1,000); Gaborone is the capital city (population ~250,000). The reason only eight women were selected was due to researchers limited duration in country and we wanted ample face-to-face interaction with each participant. These women were individually identified from an international non-profit (Dream Academy) and consultation with the Botswana University of Agricultural and Natural Resources faculty who worked in community outreach. These women were considered leaders amongst their peers in their selected agriculture venue and had received recognition for their innovation in commercial agriculture sector. The women were middle-aged, urban and rural backgrounds, and they were all engaged in production agriculture. In an effort to protect the identity of the women, there will be limited background information given about the participants and participant numbers were assigned (Woman 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8).

The methods employed to collect data in this study included: (a) interviews, (b) field observations, and (c) documents and pictures. Gathering information in this manner provided the researchers with a bank of data from which themes could be created, interpretations made, and a “rich, full picture of a research situation” painted (Wright 2003, p. 8). Interviews were three hour in-depth, audio-taped interviews, in which the primary researchers asked open-ended, non-leading questions (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The central research questions focused on having each woman explain her journey (past and present) to her current leadership role. Based on each interview, follow-up questions were asked but based on the flow of the interview, some follow-up questions were unique to each individual. The interviews focused on revealing the influences and experiences that helped to develop each woman into the leader she is today. This open-ended approach enabled the researchers to gain an understanding related to each woman’s unique lived experiences (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Observations were conducted before, during, and after the interview sessions by individuals involved with the research project and included taking detailed notes on body language, word descriptions and analysis, and behavior related to the interview and discussions opportunities (eating supper with participant, guided tours, etc.). Additionally, the researchers were participant observers for one to five days in each woman’s environment; the number of days spent with each participant was dependent upon that participant’s personal schedule. A participant observer interacts with the participants in the environment, so they can experience the environment like the participant (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Lastly, documents (articles, accolades, etc.) that were collected by researchers were related to each woman’s lived experiences. These included pictures of the participants accomplishments, family photos, work experiences, and so forth.

Data were analyzed and coded by five researchers independently. The interview transcriptions were open-coded to discover the main concepts and categories (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The researchers analyzed the in-depth interviews, along with the researchers’ field notes, which captured the thoughts related to the women agriculturists and their environment. These field notes were used in the data analyses to assist the researchers in recalling what had occurred during the field experience. Furthermore, data were examined using several methods including: identifying significant statements and elements of meaning; creating textural and structural descriptions; and recognizing descriptions which revealed commonalities among the participants’ experiences (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The researchers then discussed each individual’s coding schematic and agreed upon seven themes: (1) journey in agriculture; (2) networking and mentoring learning initiatives; (3) leadership and management, (4) family structure; (5) Botswana culture and agriculture; (6) awareness and shift of agriculture in Botswana; and (7) perspectives values and motivations. The journey in agriculture was further divided into two sub-themes: (a) significant family experience and how they were raised; and (b) initial agricultural entrepreneurship. The networking and mentoring learning initiatives included two sub-themes: (a) social media; and (b) mentors. Leadership and management was further divided into three sub-themes: (a) leadership style; (b) employee relations; and (c) values and trust. Botswana culture and agriculture had two sub-themes: (a) personal challenges with being a female in the industry and (b) successes. Awareness and shift of agriculture in Botswana was divided into three sub-themes: (a) culture; (b) how Botswana views women in agriculture; and (c) how women in Botswana view agriculture.

In an effort to reduce the impact of bias on the data collected, several validation strategies were employed to document the accuracy of this phenomenological research study. Credibility was established through prolonged engagement in the field and the triangulation of data sources, methods, and investigators (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). From the researchers’ observations, thick descriptions of the women’s life experiences and environments were constructed to help readers determine the transferability of the research. Dependability of the study was established through peer-review by another researcher trained in qualitative analysis who had not conducted the interviews. Additionally, member checks from participants related to data, analyses, interpretations, and conclusions were conducted to confirm credibility of the study (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).

Subjectivity Statement

Prior to launching the study, the eight female researchers reflected on qualities possessed which may have impacted the relationship with women in the study. The researchers hold a strong passion for agriculture and women in the agricultural field, which may result in a more focused analysis on each woman’s journey to their current leadership position. The researchers consist of three full professors, two associate professors, two assistant professors, and one graduate student who are all involved in the agriculture field. Each female involved in the research of this study analyzed the data and have moderate feminist beliefs. To keep a neutral viewpoint and impartial position, the researchers reflected on their biases of the research topic, assumptions of the outcomes of the study, and each occasion of contact with the women agriculturists. In addition, the researchers structured main and probing questions in a way that did not lead the women in their responses.


Theme One: Journey in Agriculture

The women interviewed were immersed in agriculture learning experiences through their family, which later shaped views and perceptions of the world in which they live and launching them as leaders in their chosen industry. The following results are divided into two sub-themes: (1) significant family experience and upbringing, and (2) initial agriculture entrepreneurship.

Women 1, 2, 7 and 8 explained it was normal for children in their culture to be involved in farming, whether it was milking cows, rearing pigs, or growing a garden. For example, Woman 7 expressed that her love for horticulture came from her mother, because they always had a garden, would plant any fruits or vegetables they could get, and lived by the saying, “anything that you plant, grows.” While it is normal for those currently involved in agriculture to have been raised in a farm setting, three of the eight women interviewed had not been directly exposed to the agricultural industry through their childhood. Instead, their passion for agriculture evolved in adulthood. Woman 3 explained:

I am 28 years old. I grew up in the city, so farming was sort of a luxury to me. I used to live in a flat growing up, so we mostly just seen (sic) vegetables and meat in stores. Then on some holidays my Mom would take us to our grandparents’ house, and then we would go to the farm, which was a surreal experience for me because of growing up in the city.

Not only did some of these women grow up in the city which hindered their exposure to agriculture, but Woman 8 revealed:

I am the first born of four kids, raised by a single mother. I grew up, my whole life in Gaborone, so normally and culturally the farm was always put on the father. Since we had a single mother, we found that we did not get to have a lot of that experience. Because I had a grandfather who had a farm, we would go there and then just come back home because it was right outside of Gaborone. So, I never really got to experience that farm life because I more or less grew up as a city girl. I was fine with it, but when I had my own kids, they did not know anything about animals, and my husband and I discussed that we did not want to live the farm life because of our educational backgrounds.

Although some of these women did not experience agriculture throughout their upbringing, each had an internal passion to pursue a career in agriculture. Four out of the eight women interviewed explained they started their careers not actively involved in the agricultural industry, but began in the agriculture industry due to outside influences who emphasized the importance of agriculture. Woman 5 explained:

I did not see a reason of going to school to do what is already in me, so I did not go to school to do agriculture because we do agriculture ourselves. That is our everyday life. I am beginning to develop a big interest, and in fact the reason why I was invited here is because I asked help (sic) to start a farm. I want a farm and I want to do small stock, like goats, sheep and possibly chickens. It has been in me and I do not know why, but it has been in me and I want to do it. I am determined to do it and to keep small stock, and that is my interest. The plowing part of it is vegetables.

However, some women interviewed initially pursued careers in agriculture. Women 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 have become successful agriculturists in their specific fields, including poultry, crops and even a petting farm. For example, Woman 8 revealed she wanted to have her own orchard because her grandmother was involved in the agricultural industry and enjoyed it. However, she soon realized her passion for impacting youth through building a petting farm and expressed she “loved what she saw” when she dug deeper into the petting zoo agricultural field.

Theme Two: Networking and Mentoring Learning Initiatives

There are developing networking and mentoring initiatives in Botswana. The eight women interviewed described their networking initiatives mainly existed through WhatsApp and social media sites. However, forming support groups is often difficult due to competitive environments. Woman 3 elaborates:

I have it on social media. The only problem with that is, I am going to group us all into this problem as Botswana we do not like sharing, so we have a problem with that. We have a problem with getting an association together because one farmer may have more chickens than all of us, so if we had to get supply, he would get the supply first. Another problem is getting together, not necessarily stealing ideas, but we are all feeding our chicks the same thing..

Mentoring others in the field of agriculture is slightly new in Botswana. The interpretation from the women interviewed was agriculturists mainly did their own thing. Woman 1:

This (mentoring) is something that is quite new to us because we have been very fragmented as a community in terms of the farming thing. But just recently realized that there are farmers that I did not know were out there that are coming on board and sharing ideas, it is really great. But we did not have that at all. And I think that’s been one of the downfalls of Botswana agriculture, was that   there was not this cohesive group of people, everybody was doing their own thing.

Woman 1 also described that agriculture is on the rise due to agricultural specialists and the mentoring they provide. “There is a chain of agricultural shops here in the country that have some agricultural specialists, which is something we have not had, and they have started a group and there is loads of information coming through on that. “So agriculture is really on the rise here.” However, if you are new to the agricultural industry some women may find it difficult to be accepted into the agricultural circles. Woman 2 explained:

In each and every district, there is an agricultural office. So on our side, there is an agricultural office, but we are supposed to have an association. We will often times find that within an association, those people that have been there before, they make it difficult for other people to join. They often say, ‘Oh I do not know how you are supposed to join’, but it is often the head of the association who is saying that. They say this because they do not want other outside people to join because they want to sell within their own farms and not against contenders (Woman 2).

All eight women believed mentoring was important and needed, especially for young people. However, most agreed mentoring may cause competition within the industry. Woman 8 explained, “mentoring is good, we are just not sure if it will create competition that we are just not looking for.”

Theme Three: Leadership and Management

All eight of these women have seized a leadership role within the agricultural industry. Each woman has a unique leadership style they have developed throughout their journey, and from their experiences as leaders, they also have gained a better understanding of their values. The following results are divided into three sub-themes: (a) leadership style, (b) employee relations, and (c) values and trust.

When asked to describe their leadership style, the women’s responses were diverse. For example, Women 4 stated:

I would say that I am born leader. Yes, I was born a leader. I’ve always been showing          that, even at home. As a first born, you are a leader. You are just a born leader because                         you are leading a family. I ended up developing the leadership skills not at school, but at home because I had to lead my family and lead my siblings. I am just a born leader, and        apart from that, I think the Lord has also just given me that leadership role. Even at     church, the Lord has given me that leadership role.

Whereas, Women 1 expressed she believes in trained leadership.

I feel like I train them and then I give them space, but I show them the value of the customer. Teaching them how to talk with them and interact with them, especially being patient with the children. We have a Facebook page where we receive a lot of comments and questions, so I motivate them to interact with the customers and realize that when they get comments about the staff being amazing, they are not talking about me they are talking about you…Train them, give them space, and tell them that I trust them. If they have challenges, I let them know that I am here.

However, their answers were similar in terms of outlook on leadership and their positional power in the agricultural industry. Woman 2:

I would say my approach is effective. I would call myself a good leader becausebefore, I was working under other people, so I started to tell myself that I wanted to do something different. So, the people that I am above, I am going to make sure I listen to them, and that is what made the difference… I always say to them “I want you to be yourself when you do your job.” I only advise if I feel that is not going to work, but what I normally do is that I lay everything out on the table and then from there, I say “do it the way that you can do it.” After that, I just add what needs to be added

These eight women also have to be effective leaders of those with whom they work and interact, such as their employees or customers. For example, Woman 5 further explained how she cannot serve as a true leader to others until she defines her own leadership abilities:

I lead not because I am at the top; leadership is not about being at the top. You can lead from there, but you can also lead from the bottom. You can lead this and any organization even if you are not the secretary or the president, but you lead from the bottom up. You make sure you are leading others properly because you are leading from the bottom. You do not have to have a title to be a leader. Also, if you cannot lead your own life, then you cannot lead other people. You have to start with your own life and lead your life. Once you start leading in your own life, that is when you can lead other people and help other people.

Most of the women exhibited strong relationships with their employees, as they depend on employee support and work ethic in order to have a successful business. Woman 1 further explained she did not attend college and study agriculture, but her staff has been helpful about positively growing the business. However, some of the women explained difficulties in recruiting and retaining reliable and effective staff members. For example, Woman 3 expressed “we are not your friend nor your parent, you are here to work…It is often difficult to train and keep some of the employees.”

Not only did these eight women have the passion to strive to be successful at what they do, but they valued and put trust into their employees. Some of these women have a weakness when it comes to putting their full trust into their staff while staying loyal to their values, such as Woman 2 who stated she can be too forgiving and lenient at times because she is afraid to get rid of staff who have an unfortunate homelife. Woman 1, however, has customer values in mind when she explained how she strived to keep her business open 365 days a year to make it more appealing and beneficial. Woman 8 revealed being able to depend on and trust your staff, ultimately impacts the customers and the outcome of the business.

I think that one of the things, especially when you own a business, that you will always not be there. I have to trust that things will go, and we have to communicate. If we have young people, staff need to go on their level, talk their language and be with them. We are also very hands-on. It is also special to receive ideas from my staff as well, and I make sure I show my appreciation.

Theme Four: Batswana Family Structure

Woman 3 stated:Agriculture for these eight women involves family and/or is a family operation. “I was excited because I got time to spend with my mother, a lot of time, and it is just very peaceful when you are in an agricultural environment opposed to the hustle and bustle of the city. So that is where I found my new love and passion. I have moved to the farm and I am raising my son there” . In addition, the women spoke highly of their children’s love for agriculture. “I have four kids, three girls and one boy. My boy is someone who is active. We have got chickens at home right now and he is feeding them, and tomorrow he is going to the land to help my mother (Woman 6). Woman 8 expressed that she has two children and “They are really hands-on and they love it [agriculture]…They are always out here helping and getting to know things, and it is really like a family business.”

Some of the women were married and the others were not. However, of the married women, spousal support was crucial to their success in agriculture. Woman 2 stated:

I will say, he is supportive because he knows I do not like driving. When my kids were still in school, and they were in school while I was working, he use(d) to drive me to the farm. Even now sometimes, he will drive me out to the chicken house and even though he does not get out, he still drives me because he knows I do not like to drive.

Woman 1 even commented how she could not operate her agricultural business without her spouse. “I was just saying we could not operate without him. There is a lot of mechanical stuff that does go on, and obviously he is a mechanic at trade and is extremely hands-on. He has his own business, but he is very hands-on with what is going on here.” Woman 8 classified herself as a lucky girl due to her spouse’s support and commitment to her agricultural initiatives.

Theme Five: Botswana Culture and Agriculture

Women agriculturists in Botswana recognized the culture in which they were raised was different than the current cultural climate. These changes have greatly impacted them personally and professionally as challenges and successes have surfaced. The following results were divided into two sub-themes: (a) personal challenges and (2) successes by being a female in the industry.

Most of the women interviewed described Botswana as a difficult country in which to reside because of how they are viewed and treated as agriculturists. Although these women were striving to make a change for other women and youth seeking to be successful agriculturists within the industry, Botswana was making it difficult for them. Woman 3 explained how each part of the industry was viewed differently in Botswana depending on their gender and capability. Woman 3:

Well in the poultry industry, they have made it deserving for women and for the other industries, we can penetrate them but they are mainly for men, like the cows, pork and goats, and yes women can get into them, but we are always put on the backburner. “No women cannot do that.” ‘It’s too much work.’ ‘It’s tough and dangerous.’ ‘You can go try chickens.’ Well they say that it is easier. It is less labor intensive.

Woman 4 also revealed her thoughts on how Botswana was influencing women and the agricultural industry. Woman 4:

Yes, it is men driven. However, women are still going to trade shows and exhibitions where we get to meet with different people from different areas and at different angles. We are also trying to show to other women and youth that they should also come up to these events, and show them how it can help them …The problem is that the government and the associations are not supporting these grants, even though that is where it all starts.

These women have overcome most of the challenges that being a female agriculturist in Botswana presents, and they often achieve great success as women leaders within the agricultural industry. Woman 1 illuminated how food outlets and large customers have helped her business and has brought her successful cash flow. Woman 1 now has the ability to produce and distribute more agricultural products. In addition, Woman 4 expressed advancing her agriculture practice:

There was this occasion that had come up from the government about granting land for tomatoes, so I sort of was juggling and fate just helped me decide to grow tomatoes for about 10 months. Because it was really hard work, I learned that if you can plant a tomato you can do anything. I am actually thinking of doing dairy, but for beginners I want to do chickens, eggs and then broilers.

Theme Six: Awareness and Shift of Agriculture in Botswana

The eight women interviewed have been influenced and impacted by the agricultural industry. The following results are divided into the sub-themes culture, how Botswana views women in agriculture, and how women in Botswana view agriculture.

Botswana’s culture and the women involved in agriculture also have a significant impact on the industry and how the country utilizes its agricultural services. There are some difficulties women in Botswana have faced regarding financial support for their operations, specifically with government funding. Woman 3 further highlighted the problems she has faced trying to request funds from the government to bolster her facility in the agricultural industry.

Yes, it is men driven. However, women are still going to trade shows and exhibitions where we get to meet with different people from different areas and at different angles. We are also trying to show to other women and youth that they should also come up to these events, and show them how it can help them.

She explains bank loans are considered excessively competitive as the government searches for certain criteria the women must meet, and because it is a competition for funds, women can only apply every four years around election season when they have completed the voting process.

There seems to be an alignment of similarities between how Botswana views women in agriculture and how women in Botswana view agriculture, such as overcoming gender stereotypes and cultural differences. However, the women interviewed for this study reported progress in starting to receive the recognition they deserve. Amongst the women interviewed, most of them agreed that it can be difficult working in the industry as gender specifications seem to be a priority in production agriculture, but women were beginning to overcome these assumptions. Woman 7 explained her thoughts on men versus women in the industry.

Back in the olden days, to me men had always been at the forefront as pertaining to farming. What has changed now is the fact that we now live in a world where men are dominating especially in the work environment, finances, and opportunities to obtain resources. Now that farming has become commercial and a lot of money is being made, a lot more men are becoming more interested because they are in better positions. They are in better positions when it comes to getting financing and buying resources needed, it’s definitely changing. Unlike before when it was the women who were not going into the field in order to take care of the children, women are now starting to milk the cows and the goats, go harvest wheat and more.

In Botswana, women were beginning to initiate leadership roles in the agricultural industry as they inspired those around them through impacting the younger generations. Woman 8 revealed her positive outlook on how women in Botswana view agriculture, and how they are starting to overcome obstacles that once held women back in the industry.

I want to believe there is a positive outlook on it, mainly because it is something that is part of our culture. In our cultural background, we have roles for men and women. You will find that with the rise of single mothers, the balancing is done in everything they do. Women are now fulfilling both roles. In Botswana, anybody can do anything. For example, I know a single girl who is a cattle farmer. You can find the opportunities here for women are open.

Theme Seven: Perspectives on Values and Motivations

Most of the women interviewed overcame obstacles from the industry, government, and other businesses to achieve their leadership positions. They had done so by staying faithful to who they were in terms of values and beliefs. Each participant expressed how difficult it can be to face the agricultural industry as a woman. They also shared how relying on their faith and following through with practices they value had the power to keep them motivated to spread knowledge and positivity to those who can make the industry successful in the future.

The values and motivations the of women interviewed also align with their faith perspectives. Most of these women valued trust amongst those with whom they work, their customers, and both the economy and agricultural industry in Botswana. Woman 4 explained how she is preparing for a successful future for not only her business, but as well as herself as she prepares to retire. Woman 4:

Because I was raising these broilers, I want to help with food security and the economy of the county. I am helping by supplying to others, and by being able to do this business management, I have become very proud of myself. And I am starting to build my business back up, for now just to get by, but also for when I retire.

In order to have a successful future in the industry, these women also have motivational desires that will help them grow personally and professionally. Not only do their families and businesses motivate them to do better, but they have achieved individual goals that have pushed them to take on new challenges that have eventually made them successful. Woman 5 explained how you must be the motivator in all aspects of your life in order to build up yourself and those around you. Woman 5:

As a leader, you are the strength of people and because you are their strength… you cannot crash. When you have crashed or when your strength has crashed, where now do others look? Who do they look up to? What is left? Knowing that people are looking up to you, it gives you that energy.

Another great example is Woman 3, who is hoping and working toward taking over for mother when she steps down. She said, “Well, hoping that my mother steps down and that I can take it… When she steps down and when she cannot do it, I will ready to take over.” 


The findings and conclusions from this study were supported by interviews, observations, artifacts collected by the research team while in Botswana. The women developed a niche within their agricultural commodity group and this drove each woman, once established within her field, to be passionate and authentic leaders (Avolio & Gardner, 2004). Also, the eight women highlighted unique views of leadership which include being a positive contributor to the industry; searching for inspiration; encouragement to others; passion about the industry; leading by example; and providing motivation to others. These findings were supported by previous research related to women in agriculture (Brawner et. al, 2020; Kleihauer et al, 2012; Stephens et al., 2018).  Furthermore, these women have cultivated personal leadership tactics through lived experiences and time spent in the agricultural industry, similar to the previous research by Brawner et al., 2020.

The women represented a broad range of production agricultural industries (e.g., animal husbandry and horticultural practices) in Botswana. These findings emphasize participants shared lived experiences of leadership, personal and professional challenges, awareness and shifts in Botswana agriculture, and perspectives on faith and values. Other additional values that influence one’s lived situational experiences were environmental conditions and events and influences of learning experiences contribute to career decision making (Hersey & Blanchard, 1976). Moreover, the situational leadership experience and environment in which a woman is raised can influence and shape her career journey, as well as impact leadership aspirations, similar to previous research studies (Brawner et. al, 2020; Kleihauer et al, 2012; Kleihauer et al., 2013; Stephens et al., 2018).

Women who seek leadership opportunities, specifically those in the agricultural industry, would benefit from understanding how the participants of this study first became inspired and how they were encouraged to seek out advancement in their chosen career path. These shared experiences can communicate a framework for woman who are inspired to lead in the agricultural industry – particularly in international settings. Understanding one’s own journey provides the opportunity for reflection on self-value, and recognition of how to work with and lead others. Furthermore, acknowledgement of women in agriculture as leaders can provide a pipeline to expose and foster other women’s pursuit of agricultural careers.

The eight women in this study strived to accumulate and utilize their unique and desired traits and were faced with the difficult decisions of balancing family roles and fighting for success in the industry. As expressed by Woman 8, “You will find that with the rise of single mothers, the balancing is done in everything they do. Women are now fulfilling both roles.” These eight women had not only faced challenges within their leadership roles, but dealt with interpersonal struggles within the industry. They strived to engage with community partners to form shared networks, inspire other women, and organize knowledge acquisition.

Study participants expressed concern with the opportunities for improved knowledge and resources acquired for present and future women agriculturists. Woman 4 detailed, “Nowadays, I think women should just go out there and try new things because we are capable and we can do it.” Their faith, values, and culture, propel them to encourage, engage, and energize others to develop and enhance their leadership potential in agriculture across Botswana. Last, new leadership initiatives must understand the cultural context of gender roles within agriculture and its intersection with faith and family values. It is obvious from these interviews that (1) leadership training for female headed enterprises is needed; (2) government programs should ensure that women leaders are equally qualified; and (3) that more agricultural extension programs should be developed that support women in agriculture.

Recommendations for Future Research

Future research questions to explore include (1) What are high school initiatives in Botswana related to recruiting females into non-traditional career fields? And (2) What are current youth programming initiatives for mentoring young females in agricultural fields in Botswana? and (3) What mentoring strategies are being effectively utilized to recruit and retain women in agriculture industry fields in Botswana?


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Recruiting Minority Students into Secondary School Agriculture Education Programs: Barriers, Challenges, and Alternatives

K. S. U. Jayaratne, Travis Park, & Jason Davis
The United States population is becoming increasingly diverse, and agricultural education should represent that diversity. Researchers conducted a Delphi study of 12 exemplary agriculture programs with diverse student populations in North Carolina. After three rounds, consensus was reached about 11 strategies useful in recruiting minority students, including most prominently, (1) making personal connections with potential students, (2) students recruiting their minority friends, (3) minority students recruiting other minority students, (4) showcasing exceptional minorities who have succeeded in the agriculture field, and (5) being yourself and care for your students. The study also identified 12 alternatives helpful in retaining the minority students into another agriculture course or FFA, most prominently, (1) buying-in from friends, (2) talking to minority students already in the program, (3) building teacher and student relationship, (4) creating interest in agriculture subjects, and (5) getting minority students connected and involved.

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Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: A Phenomenological Inquiry to Understand Ugandan Farmers’ Experiences Using Fertilizers

Chandler Mulvaney, Kathleen D. Kelsey, Nicholas E. Fuhrman, & Ronald Lemo
This article examines factors influencing Ugandan subsistence farmers’ adoption or rejection of mineral fertilizers using the theory of planned behavior as a theoretical lens (Ajzen, 2011). We conducted semi-structured interviews with 30 Ugandan farmers in-situ. Participants were criterion selected based on their rate of adoption of fertilizers and membership in farmer groups. We analyzed the interviews following phenomenological research design. Four themes emerged, they were (a) we are better together, working in farmer groups improves outcomes, (b) behavioral change begins within the family and farmer groups, (c) farmers need greater access to agricultural production knowledge and inputs, and (d) changes in farmers’ knowledge leads to intentional behavior changes. The themes were summarized to generate the phenomenological essence of climbing Jacob’s ladder. The factors that influenced fertilizer adoption included being a member of a formally recognized and registered farmer group…

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A Qualitative Analysis of the Challenges and Threats facing Cooperative Extension at the County Level

Lendel Narine, Amy Harder, & Priscilla Zelaya
The Cooperative Extension Service faced many challenges and threats over its history. Persistent internal challenges affecting Extension are communication with stakeholders, high employee turnover, and a marketing deficit. Common external threats included reduced funding, increases in non-traditional audiences, and inadequate facilities. Guided by a needs assessment framework, this study sought to identify the challenges and threats facing the [State] Cooperative Extension Service at the county level. Using a basic qualitative research design, the final reports from the 2016 county program reviews were used as the primary source of data. Results were consistent with the literature and showed persistent challenges facing Extension were staff limitations, marketing and communication ineffectiveness, limited program coverage, inadequate volunteer recruitment, and lack of funding…

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Motivational Factors that Influenced Learner Participation in Supervised Agricultural Experience Programs

Eric D. Rubenstein & Andrew C. Thoron
Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) programs are an integral component of school-based agricultural education. However, student participation in SAE has continually decreased since the mid-1980s. Therefore, it was necessary to better understand factors that motivate students to participate in SAE programs. This led to the purpose of this qualitative study, which was to examine motivational factors that influence student participation in SAE. The researchers used the constant comparative analysis method to identify specific motivational factors that influenced SAE participation. The researchers found that participants were motivated by their family’s culture and traditions. Moreover, the student’s participation in the National FFA Organization (FFA), interaction with other FFA members, and recognition through SAE awards structure through FFA motivated students to engage in SAE. Further, the participants in this study were motivated by their personal satisfaction, interest, desire, and goals. The researchers also concluded that the agriculture teacher plays an important role in motivating students through conducting SAE supervision, building lasting relationships with students, and requiring student participation in SAE. Therefore, the researchers recommended that agriculture teachers continue to require every student to conduct an SAE and utilize all available resources to engage students in SAE.

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Resiliency and Leadership of Tobacco Producers in Greene County, TN: A Qualitative Study

Melody Rose, Carrie Stephens, Ralph Brockett, Christopher Stripling, & Baylee Jarrell
The purpose of this study was to identify the perceptions of current Greene County burley tobacco producers in a declining global tobacco industry. The central research question was “How have you maintained your leadership and resilience in burley tobacco production in Greene County?” Ten Greene County producers participated in this study through an interview conducted utilizing a series of 33 questions aimed at determining specific themes regarding resiliency in their communities, as well as the individual producers’ adaptive leadership styles. Data collected from interviews were synthesized to correlate perceptions of current tobacco production in Greene County from the inception of the tobacco program to present-day regarding cultural norms and economic impact, while simultaneously providing…

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4-H Wildlife Habitat Education Program: A Qualitative Study in Career Exploration

Ronnie L. Cowan, Carrie A. Stephens, Christopher Stripling, Craig Harper, Baylee Jarrell, & Shelby Brawner
Previous studies have documented the Wildlife Habitat Education Program (WHEP) builds life skills of 4-H participants. Furthermore, youth education and development of life skills are enhanced through 4-H educational efforts that provide hands-on learning projects and concepts that ultimately assist in career development (Bandura,Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 2001; Bourdeau, 2004. The purpose of this study is to describe WHEP participants’ perceptions of careers in wildlife management after the completion of the annual program. The centralresearch question guiding this study was how do 4-H members view careers in wildlife management after participating in WHEP? A focus group comprised of nine WHEP participants was conducted at the Tennessee 4-H Wildlife Judging contest to determine participants’ perceptions of careers in wildlife management after completion of the annual program…

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Needs Assessment for Prospective Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers

Baleshka Brenes Mayorga, Robert L. Williams, Leah Wickersham, & Teresa Duch-Carvallo
The purpose of this qualitative study was to identify the needs and interests of prospective Hispanic farmers and ranchers in the target counties in order to improve outreach programs. The results will help outreach programs to mitigate the barriers identified by study participants and focus on the needs of Hispanic farmers. The methodology used was basic qualitative research using focus group interviews, observational analysis, and literature review of previous studies. Three focus group interviews with 6-14 people in each group were used for data collection. Interviews were conducted in Spanish and recorded. Comparisons were made within groups and among groups. The information was analyzed to identify patterns or trends in discussion. The categories found included family support, education, culture, communication, economic stability, immigration status, services, agriculture, fear, language, vision and opportunities, how to start and maintain a business, and community opinion leadership.

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