Stephanie DeCamp is the Indiana State Fair’s new agricultural education director. She is pictured before the Glass Barn, a new project being funded by the Indiana Soybean Alliance, as part of the State’s Largest Classroom and slated to open for the 2013 Indiana State Fair.
Stephanie DeCamp is the Indiana State Fair’s new agricultural education director. She is pictured before the Glass Barn, a new project being funded by the Indiana Soybean Alliance, as part of the State’s Largest Classroom and slated to open for the 2013 Indiana State Fair.
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 Barn.

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 classroom.

“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 the Fairgrounds.

“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 noted.

DeCamp said she will focus passionately on agriculture to avoid the political asides that often distract from the important messages of the field.

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 Agriculture.

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.