Finding a Place to Belong Through Agricultural Education

Monday, August 19, 2019
Early in her high school career, Shelby Humbarger made the decision to join her school's Future Farmers of America chapter, a move that changed the course of her life.

Shelby Humbarger wants to make an impact – to be an encouraging source of support for those looking for a place and purpose in the world. She wants to be a teacher.

Humbarger, an incoming freshman pursuing a Bachelor of Science in the department of Agricultural Education, Technology and Innovation, knows firsthand the important role educators play.

Growing up in Mayer, Arizona, where the population barely exceeds 1,500, Humbarger didn’t always see opportunity. By the time she entered high school, she had already experienced unimaginable loss. Her mother passed away in 2012; Three years later, her father lost his battle with stage 4 lung cancer.

“I believe that agriculture came into my life when I needed it the most,” Humbarger said. “For years, I felt like I didn't know where I belonged, and I couldn't see what my future held.”

That all changed her freshman year in high school, when Humbarger, like many students in her community, joined her school’s Future Farmers of America program.

“When I joined the agriculture program, I fell in love with the topics and the willingness to serve others. Everything agriculture teaches you impacts the world and our communities.”

Through the FFA program, she learned far more than animal husbandry. She performed pH testing, learned to weld, worked with drone and remote sensor technology, and publicly presented her work all over the state. Most importantly, she found a real mentor in her FFA academic advisor, Jeff Dinges.  

“I first met Shelby her freshman year of high school. I could tell she was looking for a place to belong right away,” said Dinges, a former Wildcat who shared a similar background.

“As a youngster about her age, I was on my own, seeking my own home, as well. I found that in the FFA at Peoria High. I chose a career in agriculture education because I wanted to impact students the way my advisors did for me.”

Most of all he wanted to help Humbarger get to college.

“Shelby is the prime example of why we do what we do as agriculturists and educators. To save lives. To impact them for the future. To allow them an opportunity to become selfless, loving, productive members of society,” Dinges said.

“Not many people in my community can afford to go to college. I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to go myself,” Humbarger said. “But my FFA advisor was so set on me getting to the UA. He said, 'You’re going, and we’re going to make it happen.'”

With her advisor’s support and continued encouragement, Humbarger applied for and received a record number of scholarships and grants, including the prestigious Mary Kidder Rak Scholarship. Awarded to one student per year and renewable for three years, the scholarship was established through a generous gift from the Rak estate to celebrate the legacy, determination and resilience of one of Arizona’s beloved cattlewomen.

Humbarger knows a thing or two about determination herself and is looking forward to beginning the next stage of her life at the University of Arizona.

“I’m excited. My family’s rooting for me, but I believe my parents would have been especially proud of me," Humbarger said. "My family knows I can do it. They know how hardworking and determined I can be. Nothing nowadays comes easy and you have to work to achieve something, but you best believe hard work does pay off.”