Virginia Tech alum brings modern teaching methods to Belarus
When Will Waidelich of Zionsville, Ind., made his first volunteer trip to the Belarusian State Agricultural Academy (BSAA) last September, he came to teach an important message: developing countries like Belarus play a vital role in increasing food production to meet rising global demand. This past April, Waidelich returned to Belarus with a new teaching focus: to help the academy provide its students with the necessary tools to become leaders in this transformative era of global agriculture.
A Virginia Tech alum, Waidelich received his doctor of education in vocational and technical education in 1995 and a certificate of advance graduate study in vocational and technical education in 1989.
BSAA, based in Gorki, Belarus, is a leading educational institution providing technical training in areas including agronomy, agro-engineering and water management, business management and economics. As part of its strategy for the future, the academy hopes to strengthen its agribusiness management courses to better prepare students entering agricultural and food industries, providing them with the technological skills that will propel the students and the country forward.
To address this challenge, BSAA first turned to CNFA (a group dedicated to strengthening agricultural markets and empowering entrepreneurs in the developing world) for assistance in late 2010 because of CNFA’s successful history in implementing the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Program. After he achieved positive results on his trip last year, CNFA was eager to send Waidelich back to Belarus to continue his work at the academy.
As an expert with nearly 30 years of experience in leadership education and management, Waidelich’s goal on this trip was to aid BSAA teachers and students in developing practical leadership skills, providing lessons on such topics as improved communications and conflict resolution strategies. Waidelich also focused on introducing new teaching techniques to BSAA’s professors.
“I gave them a couple seminars on how to get students more involved in the learning process,” Waidelich said, adding that he introduced professors to the FFA LifeKnowledge® program designed “to get students more engaged and less lectured.”
On his most recent trip, Waidelich was able to reach 65 students through over 16 hours of classroom instruction, in addition to conducting training seminars with 15 teachers to help better incorporate leadership development training into their curriculum.
Although Waidelich has been a leader in the field of agricultural education in the United States for many years, it wasn’t until his first trip as a CNFA volunteer that he began to get involved in the broader field of global agriculture. As the senior director for educational programs at the National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America) – a youth organization devoted to agricultural education and promotion of careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture – Waidelich felt it was important to gain international experience in order to encourage FFA members to think more globally about agriculture.
“[The FFA has] a global initiative to try to get our students more globally minded when they go out into the field of agriculture. I had very limited to zero international agriculture experience myself, yet I needed to incorporate global agriculture into FFA programs,” Waidelich said. “Now I have a much better understanding of not only specifically how Belarusian agriculture works, but more importantly, how U.S. students need to be more globally minded.”
Waidelich said that on his recent trip in April, BSAA instructors and students alike were very receptive to his new teaching methods, and that his second trip was even more successful than the first. Waidelich looks forward to returning to the academy in the future to continue strengthening its educational programs and communicating the importance of this small Eastern European nation in helping to provide for an ever-rising global population.
“Belarusian agriculture needs to feed the world just as much as we do,” he said.
Will Waidelich traveled to Belarus under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Program, which provides voluntary technical assistance to farmers, farm groups and agribusiness in developing and transitional countries to promote sustainable improvements in food processing, production and marketing.
Story by Daniel Skallman of CNFA.