Growing up on a farm in rural West Virginia, Shannon Allen quickly learned the importance of agriculture.
“My grandmother and other family members instilled in me, at a young age, the importance of growing your own food and providing for yourself,” she said.
An active member of FFA during high school, Allen discovered not everyone feels the same.
“I realized that many people were unaware of the true meaning and scope of the agriculture industry,” she said. “Because of this, I want to make a difference and educate those around me and shed light on the industry of agriculture.”
During her final semester at West Virginia University, the agricultural and extension education major was able to share her passion with students at South Harrison High School in Lost Creek.
“I had the opportunity to fill an agriculture teacher vacancy through the teacher in residency program,” Allen said. “I assumed all teacher responsibilities for the position, which was a tad overwhelming at first, but I loved it.”
Students in her fruit and vegetable production class worked in the high school’s greenhouse raising hydroponic tomatoes that were then used at schools throughout Harrison County.
“It was a great experience to be able to do this because many of the students enjoyed it and loved the hands-on learning,” she said. “It made their class work seem more practical and made them more eager to learn.”
Seeing their surprised faces when learning something new – or the rush of excitement after winning an FFA event – was the best part of her teaching experience.
“It’s in those moments you know you have made a difference in a student’s life, which is exactly why I chose the path of agricultural and extension education,” Allen said.
After graduation, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in agricultural communication.What has been your most meaningful experience at WVU?
Honestly, I cannot choose one experience that has been the most meaningful. However, the Agricultural and Extension Education department has become a place I will hold close to my heart. My professors and classmates gave me a sense of “home” making me feel very comfortable. We formed into quite the dysfunctional family and I loved every minute of it. Even on my bad days, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my time with another group of people. With all of us together, it didn’t feel like a class, it felt like we were spending time together and getting to know each other. Which is exactly what we did, while gaining a vast array of knowledge. The knowledge and experiences I have gained have shaped me into the person I am and holds a value I couldn’t possibly replace.
If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why?
If I could trade places with anyone, it would have to be my grandmother when she was a young woman. She lived to be 91 years old and passed away during my freshman year at WVU. She lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, not to mention she was married twice and raised seven kids, and helped run the family farm. I cannot imagine the experiences she had throughout life. She saw the country grow and form into what it is today. The knowledge and experiences that our grandparents hold is something that you cannot find in any textbook or website. I wish in so many ways I could have known her sooner and heard more of her stories but she was already fairly aged when I was born and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia later on. I was one of the youngest grandchildren and did not get to spend a lot of time with her. I would give anything to be able to switch places with her when she was younger to discover all the things she knew.
What is one thing you would have done differently during college?
Overall, my college experience was great! However, the only thing I regret is not taking more chances and risks. I know it sounds cliché, but you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone, which I failed to do for a while. At the beginning of my college experience, I rarely did this and it led to very little change in my life. Later on, I started pushing myself to be different and do different things that I wouldn’t normally do. These experiences completely changed my life and helped me grow professionally, academically, and personally.
Describe any internships, research, or study abroad opportunities you participated in. How did they benefit you?
I had the honor of working with Dr. Jason McKibben on a research project about small farmer’s personality traits. This opportunity benefited me in several ways. I was given the chance to travel around the state of West Virginia and network with a diverse group of people. I also became more educated in the process of conducting research. It allowed me to have a better understanding of agriculture in my wonderful state and become more aware of the amazing work our local farmers do. I greatly enjoyed the experience and would do it again if I was given the chance! I met many new people, made new friends, and gained knowledge that will assist me in my pursuit of a master’s degree.
Your final semester of college obviously didn’t go as planned. How did you stay focused? What lessons did you learn?The drastic changes in the whole world have shown me how fast life can actually change. The experience has taught me that it is okay to not know what my next step is at all times. Sometimes things are out of our hands and we just have to go with it. I have learned that life changes without hesitation whether you are ready for it or not. Because of this, I have been able to become more flexible and adaptable in my teaching and life in general. I believe that everything happens for a reason and this challenge has simply shown me not to take life for granted, live like you don’t know what the next day holds, and that it’s okay to not always have a step by step plan.