14 Oct John Romo
International Assignments in a Developing Country
Don’t be fooled by John Romo’s title as a first year high school agriculture teacher in South Texas. It may seem as if he is a rookie, but he’s more of a veteran than one would guess by his young age. Not only did he graduate from Texas A&M with his undergraduate degree, but he also got his masters from Oklahoma State University. Between the two degrees, he spent time internationally in Ghana working in school-based agricultural education with AgriCorps before becoming a recruiter for their fellowship program, then heading back to Ghana for more outreach work, and then coming back, full circle, to South Texas.
Coming From Non-Ag
“I didn’t come from an agricultural background,” says John about his childhood. “My first experience was FFA.”
Signing up for FFA was a surprise as John didn’t have siblings that were involved and he knew nothing about the program. Once he started learning more about the organization, he got involved in swine and heifer project areas, participated in livestock judging, plant identification and contests.
These first experiences with FFA has led John to a passionate career in school-based agricultural education to help provide those same resources and opportunities to any student who wants to learn more and be involved in agriculture.
Joining FFA in high school not only shifted John’s career path, but his entire life trajectory.
AgriCorps connects American agriculture professionals to the demand for experimental, school-based, agricultural education in developing countries. John joined AgriCorps after wrapping up at Texas A&M, and being exposed to different international experiences through student organizations and study abroad opportunities. A not for profit, AgriCorps allowed John to teach and serve as a 4-H leader, a grade 7 through 9 ag teacher, and extension agent in rural west Africa for the 2014-2015 school year.
Recognizing Needs in a Developing Community
At the junior high school that John taught at, the 4-H clubs structure was very similar to FFA’s school-based agricultural education system. They started a cocoa nursery for a school entrepreneurship project!
This project was ideal for the community of cocoa bean farmers, where the kids would be helping their parents in the cocoa orchards after school. The nursery consists of the hybrid cocoa seedlings that the local farmers would have to travel over 45 minutes one-way to purchase from the extension agents. With the high cost of taxi fares, it was a financially strenuous trip, as well as time-consuming.
John’s idea diverted the taxi fare expense into a locally kept nursery that was partnered through the extension service. The seedlings were sold back to the community and the money fundraised went back to the school.
Making the Nursery Happen
“We didn’t have cocoa trees in south Texas – I had no idea! My expertise was not in cocoa,” says John about initiating the nursery after connecting the dots on what the community’s needs would be.
Through visiting local extension services, the ministry of agriculture, building relationships throughout the community and political districts, working with various entities, and more – he was able to get the nursery project started. In order to be successful, John had to be okay with failures and setbacks, reminding himself that he just had to keep pushing through.
Director of Recruitment for AgriCorps
AgriCorps is less than a one year commitment and John had the option to come back to the United States but he picked AgriCorps instead, being fortunate enough to take the position as the director of recruitment.
In the 2015-2016 school year, John traveled to over 25 public land-grant universities and five different conferences within an eleven week span. He shared his experiences and promoted the need for school-based agricultural education in developing countries. By recruiting fellows for the following year, he was also able to develop a system to develop curriculum for 4-H Ghana and AgriCorps, laying the foundation for the fellowship program using his experience as an inaugural fellow.
Returning to Ghana
Finishing his masters degree at Oklahoma State University, John jumped at the opportunity to be the director of programs for west Africa which led him back to Ghana. A big push to going back was that John found extreme value in Ghana that first year in the knowledge that he gained and the experiences that he had. In his new role, he not only got to work with programs in Ghana but also in Liberia for the next two years.
Working Internationally – Is it for you?
What are the best kind of people that will thrive in the experiences offered by working in agricultural education internationally?
- Don’t create a plan before you get there.
You might have high expectations before you arrive, but try to keep in mind that this is a country and community that you know nothing about.
- Take the time to listen, observe and learn.
There are a lot of resources and opportunities within the communities that already exist. It doesn’t take a foreigner coming in to make it happen.
- Background and/or passion for school-based agriculture.
Having a background gave John stories to share about what he experienced growing up. Those memories also fueled his passion for school-based agriculture which kept him going when times got tough.
Teaching Ag Education in Texas
Through his international resume, traveling the country recruiting and work in D.C. on legislative issues pertaining to AgriCorps; it’s not a surprise that John is an enthusiastic individual who is full of energy. He directs that energy into his classes, making jokes that sometimes HE is the one that is bouncing off the walls.
His passions have led him twenty minutes from his first high school ag teacher, a mentor he has stayed in touch with his whole life and who encouraged him to come back to South Texas to teach high school agriculture. John’s teaching partner is on his 30th year and both the veteran and the rookie have a lot of stories to share between the two of them. Those stories are a big part of how John finds himself able to keep his students interested, ontask, asking questions, and participating in projects.
To connect with John, you can find him on LinkedIn.Make sure to subscribe to the AgGrad YouTube Channel to learn more about career opportunities in agriculture and follow along on the special “30 Under 30 in Agriculture” series!
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