Penn State sophomore finds a future in agricultural education

Jack Ouligian
November 22, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Justin Kurtz’s first encounter with the FFA transformed the way he thought about agriculture, the world and, most importantly, himself.

Kurtz, an agricultural and extension education major in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, first began working on a farm at the age of 10 in Kent County, Maryland. After moving to Centre County, Pennsylvania, as a 13-year old, he began taking agricultural classes in the State College Area School District.

“I thought, ‘Hey, I live on a farm, that’s exactly what it is, right?’” Kurtz said. “And, of course, I learned that agriculture is so much more than just production. Only one out of six people in agriculture works on a farm. The rest are food scientists, journalists, teachers, technicians and many other occupations.”

Kurtz’s first agriculture class proved to be a transformative force in his life. Through the class, he was introduced to the State College chapter of FFA, a national organization that provides opportunities for leadership, growth and career success in a diverse range of agricultural subjects.

Justin Kurtz FFA

Justin Kurtz, a sophomore in the College of Agricultural Sciences, is active in the FFA.

IMAGE: Justin Kurtz/FFA

He became heavily involved in his local chapter, serving as chapter president and chaplain. As a member in and leader of his chapter, he also competed in various career and leadership-development events and worked with others to serve their community.

“I had a difficult family dynamic at home and tended to act out in school,” Kurtz said. “But my teachers and mentors recognized that I was a good kid. When I went to school, I was somebody, and I could be somebody, and because of that I have become someone.”

After graduating from high school, Kurtz took a gap year to work as an unpaid state officer for the FFA. During that year, he traveled across Pennsylvania, visiting schools and meeting people involved in agricultural education.

“I learned what it was like to be responsible for myself,” Kurtz said. “It was like I was engaged in a version of ‘adulting for beginners.’”

Armed with these experiences, Kurtz enrolled at Penn State in the summer of 2018, attracted to its robust agricultural education program. However, after he began attending Penn State, he quickly realized that the school offered much more.

“At Penn State, if you have a dream, someone’s going to help you run with it. We want to go above and beyond, to actually improve something for the genuine interest of bettering someone else’s life, for providing some good to the world.”

— Justin Kurtz, Justin agricultural and extension education major

“My professors actually wanted me to learn,” Kurtz said. “They took an interest in my personal development, and my classes went beyond the written test.” And, in his experience, faculty engagement extended beyond the classroom.

“At Penn State, if you have a dream, someone’s going to help you run with it,” Kurtz said. “We want to go above and beyond, to actually improve something for the genuine interest of bettering someone else’s life, for providing some good to the world.”

Kurtz also made quick friends with other agricultural education majors at Penn State.

“The major is very, very supportive,” he said. “Everyone’s out to help each other, and we’re all really good friends.”

Beyond Kurtz’s continuing involvement with the FFA, he is a member of the Collegiate Farm Bureau, the LEAD (Literacy, Education and Agricultural Development) Society, and the Agricultural Student Council, for which he serves as secretary.

Along the way, he has attracted high praise from others. Kurtz was named the October 2019 student of the month in agricultural education, and one of his professors, Daniel Foster, said, “Justin Kurtz represents the best of what it means to be a Penn Stater — persistence for success and passion for service.”

Though he is only a sophomore, Kurtz has clear post-graduation plans. After leaving Penn State, he plans to teach high school agricultural science, aiming to make a meaningful impact on his students.

“There are a lot of students that, even if they’re not acting out, they’re not as involved and don’t believe in themselves the way that they could,” Kurtz said. “I want to be a facilitator of personal and academic growth in them.”

Kurtz takes this responsibility seriously and often perceives his classwork as a duty for future students.

“I’m going to school to be a teacher,” he said. “I feel like it’s very important for me to take ownership of what I’m learning, because I should have at least a baseline knowledge for my students.

“And who knows? One of my students is going to love soils, and that student might just be the one who learns how to innovate amazing technologies.”

And, though Kurtz recently lost a bid for national office in the FFA, he drew positive lessons from the experience.

“I discovered my true passion for influencing others,” he said. “I want to continually create an environment that promotes individuality and self-expression, and, above all, I want to notice and encourage the good in others.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 22, 2019