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Last fall, Waukee APEX, in conjunction with Waukee FFA, was selected to participate in a program to improve Agriculture Education in Kosovo and Iowa. This is a partnership created in collaboration with Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa FFA Foundation, Iowa Sister States, the Republic of Kosovo Consulate in Des Moines, and the Global Agriculture Learning Center at Hawkeye Community College. Five schools in Iowa were paired with five schools in Kosovo to work together during the 2018 – 2019 school year. The program has provided a tremendous learning opportunity for all participants, as many have gained exposure to agricultural challenges and best practices on a global level.

The goals for the program are for all participants to experience and analyze global agriculture, to gain experience solving complex global issues in partnership with Kosovar students, to gain cultural competencies, and to improve Iowa Ag Ed programs. Waukee APEX instructor Cindy Snell as well as Waukee APEX alum Renee Piekema were chosen to represent the Waukee School District and APEX. Michelle Hill, Waukee APEX Director, stated, “this program represents everything that the Waukee APEX believes in. Real-world experience, solving global issues, and collaboration across boundaries.”

When the Iowa team traveled to Kosovo last September, they spent the majority of their time in the cities of Vushtrri and Pristina. Vushtrri is one of the oldest cities in Kosovo, and suffered a lot of structural damage in the Kosovo war. Alternately, Prishtina is more modern with visible differences when it comes to buildings and the availability of technology. Teams collaborated on issues regarding unemployment rates, educational opportunities, technology, culture and agricultural development. They also had opportunities to tour farms of all sizes as well as museums. Renee Piekma felt that her time spent with her host family was very rewarding. She was able to make a connection with a Kosovar student named Adessa, whom she keeps in close contact with. Like Renee, Adessa is a high school student ready to graduate. She has plans to pursue a college education and is interested in pursuing a major in Economics.

Members of both teams recently reunited in Iowa to continue conversations. A team of four  students and four professors flew from Kosovo to spend time with our Iowa students, teachers, government officials, and industry professionals. They were exposed to best practices in agriculture and education through tours of the Waukee High School, the Waukee Innovation and Learning Center, and the state capitol. Additionally, they toured Hawkeye Breeders, John Deere Des Moines Works, and the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. They were also able to visit many farms as well as attend the state FFA convention. Conversations regarding best practices in Agricultural Education continued to be a focal point.

What does an experience like this bring to young participants? The benefits truly are infinite, but when asked this question, Renee Piekema confidently stated, “Through these experiences I was able to define what my passions are and where I want my future to take me. I have decided to pursue a double major of International Agriculture and Large Animal Vet Science. Further, I gained an appreciation of how lucky I am to be a student in Waukee, Iowa where I have access to many educational and networking opportunities, as well as current technologies.”

The agricultural education partnership between Kosovo and Iowa will continue to grow, and everyone at Waukee APEX is excited to further this collaboration.

Read more about this exchange on the Hawkeye Community College blog spot at http://global-agriculture-learning-center.blogspot.com/.