Project brings together agriscience educators from U.S., Malaysia

Melissia Grant, an agricultural educator from Indiana who participated in AgEd2Malaysia, helps students create a poultry digestion mural at Dato Lela Maharaja Vocational College in Pedas, Malaysia.  Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a youngster growing up on a dairy farm in Perry County, Thomas Gabel's world didn't extend beyond the borders of Pennsylvania.

"It was hard for me to imagine making a road trip a couple states over, let alone boarding a plane and traveling to another country," said Gabel, now a freshman majoring in agricultural and extension education in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

He had a change of heart, however, after learning about a monthlong experience in Malaysia that was being organized by the Global Teach Ag! initiative at Penn State.

"I could not think of a better way to kick off my first year at Penn State than by experiencing a new culture and learning about agriculture in another country," he said.

Gabel was among a dozen preservice teacher candidates and current teachers from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan who learned about agriculture and agricultural education in July as part of the AgEd2Malaysia Human Development Project, a collaborative effort among Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, and the Global Agriculture Learning Center at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa.

The purpose of the professional development experience, funded by a U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant, was to develop globally minded agricultural education teachers by providing them with an immersion experience within the context of school-based agricultural education and university agricultural teacher-preparation programs.

"This was a unique opportunity to bring together agriscience educators from Malaysia and the United States to work together and, in the process, learn about each other's culture, agriculture and agricultural policy," said Melanie Miller Foster, assistant teaching professor of international agriculture in the college's Office of International Programs. She spearheaded the program at Penn State with Daniel Foster, associate professor and agricultural teacher educator in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education.

Shown working on a project using lemongrass, a perennial grass that grows in tropical climates, are AgEd2Malaysia participants, from left, Thomas Gabel, Penn State teacher agricultural candidate; Ain Zulkifli, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia agricultural teacher candidate; Darla Romberger, Penn State alumna and Pennsylvania agriscience educator; and Nisa Zakaria, UTM agricultural teacher candidate. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

Malaysia, located in Southeast Asia, was selected because it is one of the few countries that teaches agricultural education at the secondary-school level and prepares and certifies teachers in secondary agricultural education programs at the university level, Miller Foster explained.

To help develop the program, Miller Foster and Foster turned to Nur Husna Abd Wahid, a senior lecturer in the Department of Technical and Engineering Education at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, whose global learning experience includes her involvement as a graduate of the Workforce Education and Development program in Penn State's College of Education. She also served as the first Global Teach Ag! Initiative Visiting Teaching Fellow at Penn State. 

Wahid said her home country of Malaysia offers a fascinating study in diversity because it is home to a mix of cultures and religions, including people of Chinese, Indian and indigenous descent.

"What makes Malaysia interesting is that we have such a diverse culture and religions," she said. "Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists live together in a harmonious environment. This project provided participants the chance to connect with Malaysian agriculture and our local communities for an exchange of ideas and a new perspective to improve agricultural education."

During their visit, American educators worked with their Malaysian counterparts to create and deliver lesson plans, focusing on project-based learning, that were implemented in several of the country's National Secondary Schools. For example, the teaching teams hosted an Aquaponics Ag Day, allowing students to gain knowledge about aquaponics and even build and present their own model.

According to Kristi Mensen, an agricultural education major at Hawkeye Community College, this lesson is particularly important because Malaysia does not have large amounts of available land to use for growing vegetables.

"This was the first time I taught students whose first language was not English," she said. "That day I saw a sign of bravery from the students — asking a 14-year-old to speak in another language is not an easy task."

AgEd2Malaysia participants received a warm welcome upon arriving in Malaysia for their study tour. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

The group's classroom teaching experiences culminated at Dato Lela Maharaja Vocational College, where students enroll in one of several specific tracks of study, such as agronomy, animal and poultry, mechanization, food processing, and aquaculture. One of the instructional teams led lessons on internal anatomy and physiology of poultry, while another concentrated on biosecurity and the effectiveness of various biosecurity practices.

"When tasked with teaching a class of Malaysian students, I instantly thought of all the barriers we would have with language and content," said Darla Romberger, a Penn State agricultural and extension education alumna and an agricultural science teacher at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg. "However, I quickly remembered why I enjoy teaching — sharing my passion for animal agriculture with future generations of students. This motivation will continue as we enter our classrooms and continue to motivate, inspire and share knowledge about global agriculture and our second home, Malaysia."

When not in a classroom, the group toured agricultural and manufacturing facilities showcasing Malaysia's main agricultural exports of pineapples, rubber trees and palm oil. Participants also took sightseeing excursions, including a day-trip to Melaka, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Malacca, where they explored museums, historical sites and Shore Sky Tower, the tallest building in the city.

For Gabel, it was an experience that won't be forgotten anytime soon.

"The ability to make lasting friendships with agricultural educators in both Malaysia and the United States is so special that I cannot capture the feeling properly in words," he said. "In between developing lesson plans, interacting with students and the cultural experiences, I found myself growing and learning to better myself as a future agricultural educator and agent of change for the next generation of leaders."

More AgEd2Malaysia stories and photos can be found online at

Last Updated December 07, 2018