Agriculture teacher enriches education for students and fellow teachers

Sarah Nerswick (BSA – Agricultural Education, ’10; MAL — Agricultural Leadership, ’12) didn’t know anything about agricultural education before enrolling at the University of Georgia, but it’s where she found her calling in teaching.

Now, Nerswick has helped establish Green and Growing Education, an online professional development platform that connects agriculture teachers across the U.S. and internationally.

Nerswick, who grew up in Maryland, knew UGA was the place for her the instant she set foot on campus. “I toured UGA with my dad. I just kind of fell in love with campus and said ‘I’m going here,’” she recalled.

CAES alum Sarah Nerswick works with other teachers to present the annual Germinate conference, which offers professional development for agriculture teachers.

It was during an introduction to a College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences first-year seminar class that she decided to switch her major to agricultural education. “I opened up the packet of the course and changed my major without knowing much about the field. I was like, ‘I like agriculture and I think I like kids — let’s do it.’ I was involved in 4-H but never met anyone in FFA or ag education — public speaking was kind of my thing.”

After completing her bachelor’s degree, she went straight into UGA’s graduate program in agricultural leadership, then taught in North Carolina for three years before joining Cambridge High School in Milton, Georgia, to start a pre-veterinary agriculture pathway and FFA program.

In her opinion, agriculture is the coolest way to educate students.

“There’s so much that’s hands-on, so many different things that you can do,” Nerswick said. “I think I’ve taught 15 different classes. I’ve been able to teach everything from metal fabrication to agricultural business, where we run a CSA (community supported agriculture) program out of Old Rucker Farm, an organic farm run by the city of Alpharetta.”

As she grew professionally and developed her own teaching style, Nerswick started a project to help novice teachers.

“I really love teaching other teachers. Any time that there’s a conference or an opportunity for me to speak and share something that works well in my classroom, I am all about sharing it,” she said.

She began posting videos and various lesson plans and projects she developed on Instagram. Her page began gathering followers and she added networking Zoom calls with other teachers. Nerswick discovered a broad base of educators interested in her content, many of whom didn’t have access to in-person professional development opportunities due to time or budget constraints.

“It’s not just young teachers showing up to our events. It’s so important to stay green and growing in your career. There’s always something more to learn — you’re never finished becoming a teacher. It is always moving forward because our students are always moving forward,” said Sarah Nerswick.

“That’s how the Germinate virtual conference was born. It started in 2019, made for ag teachers by ag teachers,” Nerswick explained. “We put together professional development sessions hosted online. We do prerecorded sessions, happy hours, panel discussions and live sessions covering everything from Zumba to charcuterie boards. We built this group and now it is called Green and Growing Education — it’s become a community of ag teachers.”

She now works with other teachers to present the annual Germinate conference, which has quickly grown to more than 2,000 participants, with the 2020 conference attracting registrants from 43 states and two countries beyond the U.S. — Belgium and Hong Kong. The group also shares resources and experiences in creating blogs, podcasts and social media content related to agricultural education.

“It is rewarding seeing teachers thriving instead of just surviving. They are able to use strategies and techniques and the community to help lift them up when they feel like they’re drowning.” —Sarah Nerswick, agriculture teacher and co-founder of Green and Growing Education

Green and Growing isn’t the only professional development organization Nerswick is involved with. She is part of the latest cohort of the Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture and Forestry program offered by CAES.

“I’m able to connect with all of these people from the industry and what they’re teaching me, I’m able to pour into my students,” she said. “It’s just another family of people that I probably would have never met, even though we’re all in the ag industry. It’s really all about making connections with people who are leaders and who want to grow and network with others.”