Richard Carter admitted he wasn’t a great student when he grew up in rural Watonga, Oklahoma, but he had FFA and an agriculture teacher who believed in him. Carter’s experiences in the youth leadership organization ultimately shaped his adult life as an educator at Oklahoma State University and elsewhere.
“Joe Legako had a lasting impact on me,” Carter said of his mentor. “He really encouraged me to go out and make something of myself.”
With that encouragement, Carter would go on to change leadership education and countless students’ lives along the way.
The path led to Oklahoma State University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Education in 1966 and then a master’s in the same field in 1968. He taught agriculture education for a few years at Guthrie High School, where he first met Glen Shinn, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University. Shinn, an OSU alumnus in agricultural engineering, could see where Carter’s career lay.
“His background and purpose was clearly in leadership development,” Shinn said of Carter’s drive.
Carter said leadership development became an interest of his because he wanted to understand the true purpose and need for programs like livestock judging in 4-H and FFA.
“When you think about livestock judging, the object isn’t to select the best animal. It’s to develop the skills and competency to enable a student to go through a selection process of choosing one animal over another,” Carter said. “I wanted to look at the underlying objectives and the tools for reaching those objectives with an awards program.”
Carter went to Iowa State for his doctorate and spent the rest of his teaching career there. He realized that leadership skills needed in any occupation, at every level, require a deep understanding of the material. It became his goal to share with students the value of activities similar to what he experienced in the Watonga FFA.
Although Carter was surrounded by Iowa State’s red and yellow, he never forgot his dedication to America’s Brightest Orange and what Oklahoma meant to his career. In 2013, Carter created Joe Legako Excellence in Agricultural Education Scholarship within the OSU’s Department of Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership. In honor of his teacher, the Legako scholarship is awarded to a student who is completing their student teaching semester.
Carter often talks about the positive influence he has had on his students’ lives, so he wanted to honor the man who did that for him.
“A lot of other teachers had counted me out, but Joe Legako didn’t,” Carter said.
Carter’s ongoing support is why Rob Terry nominated him for the Ferguson College of Agriculture Distinguished Alumni Award. The OSU Ferguson College of Agriculture, OSU Extension and the OSU Ag Research comprise OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Other award recipients are available online.
“Richard Carter has a strong passion for agricultural education and a connection to students who will become the next generation of educators,” Terry wrote in his nomination.
Thomas G. Coon, vice president for OSU agricultural programs, said the award honors a man who naturally thinks of others first.
“Richard’s generosity is a reminder of the many people who support each of us on our life’s journey. He has shared not only his wealth, but also the credit for what he’s accomplished in his own career,” Coon said.
At the heart of Carter’s research is a belief that if there are better leaders in agriculture, then related programs will improve as well. In his papers, he looked at how being on a committee or in an officer position affected the students’ leadership development.
He wrote, “Leadership skill training in vocational agriculture programs can serve leadership needs of high school students regardless of their career objective. Leadership training can also assist all students in developing interpersonal skills which may be required for employment.”
In that study, he suggested the need for a leadership skills instructional manual for all students; he would later write one for FFA teachers as well. By the late 1970s, FFA had evolved and the organization was reflecting on how effective it still was in terms of youth leadership development. Carter and colleague Joe D. Townsend set out to create an instructional packet for leadership development in FFA. Townsend later found in his thesis work that guidance was effective when teachers were given in-service training.
Townsend and his wife Chris Townsend, also a researcher, left Iowa State to take positions at Texas A&M, where they were tasked to carry on Carter’s teachings.
“When we took our leadership education course, it was more than training people to lead 4-H or FFA, which is a huge difference from any other university in the U.S.,” Chris Townsend said. “All of us before Carter taught leadership for people who were going to be FFA advisors or 4-H leaders. He expanded the platform to include anyone.”
She echoed Carter’s position: Giving leadership training to everyone in agriculture could improve so many other programs. Students are taught how to work together as teams and develop groups, as well as deal with conflict, chaos and ethics. Carter set out to look at leadership theories taught to industry and business professionals, then see how they could be applied to voluntary youth organizations.
Chris Townsend praised Carter for his meticulous, precise approach, which is what made his course so good. He was prepared and ready for each class.
“He would change the pace rapidly on us, but he was a great teacher,” she said.
Upon arriving at Texas A&M, the Townsends were told to replicate the leadership training that Carter created at Iowa State. They took it a step further and created an agriculture leadership degree. OSU has an agriculture leadership degree as well.
“If we hadn’t taken his leadership course at Iowa State and experienced leadership teaching like that, we wouldn’t have even thought to create a leadership degree,” she said. “It’s all because of Richard Carter.”
Being a humble man, Carter doesn’t give himself that much credit, though he’ll grudgingly take some of it.
“I’d like to think I had an influence on leadership education,” he said.
Carter was also a champion for distance education, which was a novel idea when he served as interim director of Iowa State’s Brenton Center. Iowa State started offering distance learning in 1995.
Having grown up in a small town, Carter understands the challenges students face in trying to attend classes on campus. Distance education let the university take its program to the students, getting agriculture training into the hands of more people.
As Carter explained, agriculture education is how all education should be taught, which is what makes it effective. Students learn an idea, then go out and practice it in the real world.
He said he tried to make sure his students understood why they were doing something.
“My agriculture teacher taught us so many things. We were applying them as we were learning, so that’s what I tried to do,” he said. “It’s worthless if students can only apply it on a test, so I tried to make sure they knew how to apply it in real-life situations.”
Carter was viewed as such an effective teacher that in 2009, he was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Agricultural Educators Inc., one of six individuals nationwide.
“That award was a true testament to his lifetime of dedication to agricultural education through visionary leadership, advocacy and service,” Terry wrote in his nomination letter.
During his career, Carter received numerous awards, chaired more than 25 graduate student committees and conducted five major research projects. He acquired more than $800,000 in grants, most of which supported distance education.
Despite retiring in 2004, he continued to show his dedication to education by funding OSU’s Inaugural Teacher In Residence Program at OSU with a grant in 2018 through Agricultural Education. The grant allows a teacher to visit the campus to see what’s new in teacher certifications.
Shinn thinks Carter retired too early; his colleague still has tremendous vision to share, he said. However, one of the traits that makes Carter a great educator is the same factor that lets him step aside for others to take up the responsibility.
“He may fly the Iowa State flag, and he may fly the OSU flag, but his humility won’t let him fly the Dick Carter flag,” Shinn said.
MEDIA CONTACT: Brian Brus | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-6792 | BBrus@okstate.edu