Mentoring it Forward

Monday, June 9, 2014
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Whenever you receive an email from Regina Smick-Attisano, you gain a bit of wisdom. That’s because as the Executive Director of the Thompson School of Applied Science, Smick-Attisano signs off with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”

When she was a high school student Smick-Attisano wasn’t certain that she’d go on to college, but she credits her horticulture teacher, Robert Cobb, with encouraging her to follow her academic dreams. With that kind of foundational support, Smick-Attisano developed the tenacity to become a first generation college student who later went on to earn an Ed.D. in Vocational and Technical Education, with a special focus on Community College and Agricultural Economics, from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. And last April, Smick-Attisano was selected by Virginia Tech as the outstanding alumna for the Department of Agriculture and Extension education for 2013-2014. Today, part of Smick-Attisano’s life’s work is to encourage students—and prospective students—of the Thompson School to fulfill their own academic potential.

Founded in 1895, the Thompson School is an academic unit of the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA). With a highly experiential academic focus, students engage in hands-on learning in one of nine associate degree programs in the applied sciences, including Applied Animal Science, Applied Business Management, Civil Technology, Community Leadership, Culinary Arts and Nutrition, Forest Technology, Horticultural Technology, Integrated Agriculture Management, and Veterinary Technology.

Megan Borden Arey ‘07 attended the Thompson School as an Applied Animal Science major. Enthralled by the subject matter, Arey continued her education in the UNH baccalaureate program and now teaches in the Grooming Shop at the Thompson School. In addition to giving back through teaching, Arey and Smick-Attisano have in common an involvement in the FFA (Future Farmers of America) organization beginning in their high school years. In fact, Arey remained active in the collegiate FFA throughout her education at the Thompson School, an organization at the University for which Smick-Attisano serves as an advisor— especially to the officers. Says Smick-Attisano, “I support the FFA because I can see what it does for students who may not get that kind of exposure elsewhere.”

Under Smick-Attisano’s leadership, the Thompson School hosts the FFA’s spring and fall interscholastics—a full day of agricultural competitions, including events in forestry, dairy, equine, small animal science, and floral and landscape design. Smick-Attisano welcomes the participants and gives them of an overview of the educational opportunities available at the Thompson School and throughout the University. “We support student interest in every segment of agriculture, which is important because agriculture is diverse,” says Smick-Attisano. “Young people know that to have an education beyond high school gives them the best chance of success in life. For agricultural students, the FFA high school and collegiate network is extensive, and when they participate in the organization throughout higher education it helps them to grow in their careers.”

Smick-Attisano has been supportive of the FFA throughout her career and has served in different roles at land grant universities across the United States. A past recipient of the Honorary State FFA Degree in Maryland, Smick-Attisano was again feted with the title in New Hampshire this year. The Honorary State FFA Degree is conferred upon one recipient in each state whose work advances agricultural education and the FFA. Smick-Attisano has been recognized as someone who has provided outstanding service in the Granite State through hosting the FFA interscholastics at the Thompson School every spring and fall, advising the UNH collegiate FFA participants, and serving as a judge at the FFA convention and other related events. “I have a natural affinity for the FFA,” says Smick-Attisano who was one of the first female members of the organization in her high school. “It is an integral part of agricultural education in high school and highly encouraged for students of agriculture. The FFA allows students to develop important leadership skills and abilities through opportunities in public speaking and giving presentations.”

Many students at the Thompson School continue their involvement in the FFA through UNH’s collegiate branch and serving as State Officers in the Granite State Association. Smick-Attisano and her faculty are cognizant of the responsibilities in being a part of the organization. “Our faculty are flexible when working with the FFA students,” says Smick-Attisano of professors like Don Quigley who stays regularly involved with the forestry portion of the FFA events. “We know how difficult it is to balance academic work with FFA commitments, and we respect that this is a great opportunity for our students.”