College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Graduate School

Clemson offers new Agricultural Education teaching certificate


CLEMSON – Agricultural Education teachers are in high demand and Clemson University adds a new post baccalaureate certificate program that can help fill this need.

Keomba McNeely is the first Clemson student to earn the add-on certificate in agricultural education.
Keomba McNeely is the first Clemson student to earn the add-on certificate in agricultural education and believes engaging students in the learning process is important.

The program is an add-on certificate in Agricultural Education that compliments most bachelor degree programs offered in the Clemson College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences. This certificate requires an additional 31 credits of coursework plus a full spring semester (12 credits) of student teaching.

Catherine DiBenedetto, an assistant professor and academic program coordinator in the Clemson Agricultural Sciences Department, said students can add this certificate program to their degree program and be recommended for a teaching certificate to teach school-based agricultural education at the secondary level.

“Agricultural education is so important,” DiBenedetto said. “Through agricultural education, teachers can help students understand where their food comes from, as well as how their carbon footprints affect the environment. The curricula taught in school-based agricultural education programs builds important connections to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts, technical knowledge skills, leadership and employability skills and practical experiences that are vital to preparing secondary students for both college and careers.”

In addition to current students, industry professionals who have bachelor’s degrees in areas related to agriculture, food and natural resources (AFNR) and have work experience related to AFNR areas can come back to Clemson, earn a certificate and change their career to teach agriculture.

Keomba McNeely graduated from Clemson in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries biology. She participated in the certificate program when she came back to earn a master’s degree. McNeely, who is from Goose Creek, is the first student to earn the add-on certificate.

“Participating in this program has taught me how to involve students in the learning process so that they will gain a better understanding of what is being taught and be successful,” McNeely said. “Being successful will boost their confidence. They will enjoy learning and become eager to learn more.”

McNeely plans to use project-based learning related to agriculture as part of her lesson plans when she starts teaching science at NEXT School Eagle Ridge in Salem this fall.

“I also will encourage students to become involved in the 4-H club and the FFA organization,” she said. “These experiences provide excellent learning opportunities for students outside the classroom. By participating in these activities, students can learn about agriculture, as well as what they can do to help make their communities thrive.”

Mariah Swygert is a senior agricultural education major from Leesville who helped develop promotional materials for the program. Working to develop these materials has given her a better understanding of the program and the need for agriculture education.

“Through the process of developing these documents with Ms. Katie Black and Dr. DiBenedetto, I gained a better understanding of the program and its benefit to non-Ag Ed majors to dive deeper in to their choice course of study while also having an opportunity to become a certified agriculture teacher,” Swygert said. “There is a huge demand for agriculture teachers and this certificate program is a great step forward in helping supply the need for these teachers.”

Swygert believes agriculture classes are important because, “The more agriculture classes are taught the number of students who receive an agricultural education increases which, then, increases students’ agriculture literacy and understanding, and hopefully appreciation for everyone involved in the agriculture industry.

“In this program, people have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the next generation of leaders. What else is greater than showing a young person the vastness of the world they live in and the depths of their own inner potential?”

According to the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE), the demand for agricultural education teachers continues to grow because of program growth, expansion and retirements. School districts value the agricultural education model of rigorous STEM-based classroom and laboratory instruction, experiential learning and leadership development. Due to the demand for agricultural education teachers and the comparatively low supply of graduates, school districts are hiring a high number of alternatively certified and non-licensed teachers to fill open positions and avoid program closures.

South Carolina is located in the NAAE Region 5. NAAE statistics show the average starting annual salary in 2019for agricultural education teachers in this region was $39,309 and $42,028 nationwide. The retention rate of agriculture teachers in South Carolina is historically high at nearly 97%.

“As the demand for high quality and diverse agriculture teachers grows, it is critical now more than ever we invest in and celebrate current and future agriculture teachers who will cultivate the next generation of leaders, problem solvers, entrepreneurs and agriculturalists,” said Ellen Thompson, National Teach Ag Campaign Project Director.

For more information on the Clemson Agricultural Education Teaching Certificateprogram, go to, or contact DiBenedetto at (864) 656-0296 or


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