MUSCATINE, Iowa–In their middle and high school years, many students flourish in agriculture classes. In Muscatine, lots of students first experience agriculture in Ashley Wiebe’s classes at Susan Clark Junior High School. To honor her many years of dedication to introducing kids to agriculture and helping the FFA program grow and thrive, Iowa FFA and Nationwide named Wiebe a Golden Owl finalist. Matthew Eddy from the Iowa Department of Education, Mia Gibson, Iowa FFA president, Rob Schmidt and Hunter Britton from Lee Agency, and Stephanie Bush from Nationwide presented Wiebe with the honor in a surprise ceremony Feb. 23.
After a brief introduction from Susan Clark Junior High School Principal Chris Nienhaus, Eddy provided some background on the Golden Owl Award. Each year, students, faculty, and community members may nominate an agriculture educator they feel has gone above and beyond for the Golden Owl Award. This year, 166 Iowa agriculture teachers received nominations. From this pool, a committee must select seven finalists who have the chance to receive the Iowa Ag Educator of the Year award.
Mia built on Eddy’s overview, adding that Iowa FFA and Nationwide first started giving out Golden Owl awards in Iowa during the 2018-2019 school year. That first year, Ohio represented the only other state to also give out Golden Owl Awards. Since then, the award has grown, and now teachers in seven states can qualify for their own state awards.
Before presenting Wiebe with a plaque and $500 check, Schmidt shared some of Wiebe’s qualities that made her nomination stand out in a crowded field. A longtime agriculture teacher, Wiebe had dedicated herself to helping students excel both in the classroom and at local, state, and national 4-H and FFA competitions. She teaches them many skills that can help both in a career in agriculture and in all aspects of their lives. Always willing to share what she has learned, Wiebe encourages other teachers to observe her classes. An animal lover, she always does her best to get students comfortable with livestock.
A Muscatine FFA graduate himself, Schmidt, who knew Wiebe at the beginning of her career, expressed his pride in how she has grown. “As I saw Wiebe come into the school as a student teacher with Mr. Fowler years ago, he said, ‘hey, this is a great one,’ and when he said, ‘this is a great one,’ you always knew to listen up, and he wasn’t wrong,” he reminisced.
Wiebe felt amazed to receive the Golden Owl finalist nomination: “Thank you for everyone who nominated me. I appreciate it a bunch. It kind of makes all the hard work pay off, really.” Wiebe also thanked her students, their families, and her fellow ag teachers for keeping her motivated.
As a finalist, Wiebe will receive consideration for the Iowa Ag Educator of the Year Award, presented at the annual Iowa FFA Convention in April. Should she win, she will receive both the Golden Owl Award trophy and $3,000 to spend on continuing education.