INDIANAPOLIS — As the new director of the Indiana State
Fair’s agricultural education program, Stephanie DeCamp has learned a thing or
two about connecting people with agriculture.
Though she’s only been working at her new job for a few
weeks, she sees opportunity for agricultural education at every turn and has the
experience to back it up.
DeCamp will lead the charge through the State’s Largest
Classroom, an agricultural education complex located on the north side of the
Indiana State Fairgrounds, where the new Glass Barn, a 4,500-square-foot
educational exhibit, is rapidly nearing completion in time for a grand opening
at the 2013 Indiana State Fair.
“We are using agriculture as our educational model, and
we’re starting through the new Glass Barn, which offers amazing opportunities
for distance education within our facility,” she said. “The facets of technology
and interaction being built into the Glass Barn will allow us to reach out to
classrooms around Indiana and link them to agriculture.”
“Hopefully, in my new position, we’ll be successful in
making the State’s Largest Classroom a well-known event at the Indiana State
Fairgrounds,” DeCamp said.
With the upcoming state fair slated as “The Year of
Popcorn,” the new director recently could be found at the fairgrounds with
Indiana State Fair director of advancement Justin Armstrong, crafting fun,
interactive projects related to the theme to see which ideas would pop.
One initiative they will launch for the upcoming event is
“The Year of Popcorn” short story contest for sixth- through 12th-grade students
to focus on how popcorn grows from a seed to become the popular snack,
eventually displaying the individual essays in a binder at the Normandy
The project will be a good opportunity to teach youth about
plant growth in agriculture, they stressed.
“Thinking back to my education in biology class, I remember
heating a penny in a glass beaker and taking a class trip to the Museum of
Science and Industry, but I don’t remember the standardized tests or
memorization of facts,” Armstrong said.
“We realized back in 2006 the inordinate number of resources
that were available to us as agricultural educators, and that there was no other
place like the Indiana State Fair in terms of where the 98 percent could be
introduced to the 2 percent of people who farm,” he said.
“Agriculture is our No. 1 asset. It’s why we are the country
we are today, why we have a safe, affordable, readily available food supply,”
Armstrong added. “We want to make agriculture interesting and fun, and we
realized this provided us with a springboard to make a difference and to help
people deconstruct agriculture and realize the important role it plays in our
future, and Stephanie is the perfect person for this goal.”
A Purdue University graduate with a master’s degree in
agricultural education and an undergraduate degree in animal science, DeCamp
spent the first part of her agricultural career as an Extension educator in 4-H
and youth development in Clinton County, teaching agriculture and science in the
“Being involved in 4-H is not just about the 4-H fair, but
about youth and Extension and taking an innovative approach to teaching
agriculture in the classroom from the kindergarten through the sixth-grade
level,” she said.
As the new program manager, DeCamp will veer away from
teacher-based education and focus on science, technology, engineering and
mathematics — the core components of the Indiana STEM program.
The upcoming state fair will feature ISTEM days Aug. 13-16,
during which fair guests can explore the tenets of the curriculum, learning
about technology through the Ferris wheel, science through the Glass Barn and
agriculture through the state’s largest popcorn ball.
ISTEM will be an open-curriculum program at the fair for
students in grades 7 through 12, DeCamp added.
In the future, she hopes to spotlight the annual state fair
themes of agriculture by tethering them to educational hubs and exhibits around
“There needs to be that connection, and the Indiana Soybean
Alliance vaulted us forward with the construction of the Glass Barn as our next
step,” she said.
“We want to be one of the most valued classroom enhancement
tools that exists, and we have a great opportunity to assist at all levels,” she
DeCamp said she will focus passionately on agriculture to
avoid the political asides that often distract from the important messages of
As manager, she will grow educational programming by working
with the Indiana State Fair Foundation to secure funding, as well as partners at
the State Fair Pioneer Village and the Indiana State Department of
She said she envisions working with Indiana Pork and the
state’s aquaculture industry to secure new educational opportunities and find
ways to connect the 98 percent with the 2 percent.
“Education is a lifelong process, and at the Great Indiana
State Fair, there is always room for improvements,” she said. “Our team has done
an awesome job stepping up for agriculture and working together.”
“We’ve touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of
agricultural education. The Little Hands on the Farm exhibit has probably helped
us communicate better with younger children. We need to do a better job teaching
the 8- to 18-year-old group about agriculture, so there still is plenty of
opportunity there,” the manager said.
In the future, the Indiana State Fair’s agricultural
education program could delve into new methods of teaching about farming,
hosting Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs or hiring Purdue entomologists to visit and
teach students about something as strange as maggot farming or poultry
specialists providing lessons about hatching chickens.
The Indiana State Fairgrounds will hold the State’s Largest
Classroom sessions April 15-May 15 this year.