Purdue University recently inducted Dr. Dexter Wakefield, a 1990 Fort Valley State University agricultural education alumnus, into the 2016 Distinguished Agricultural Alumni Class.
“A Family Affair” is the title of a popular song recorded by Sly and the Family Stone. It can also describe how a Fort Valley State College alumnus (now university) started his award-winning career as an agricultural educator.
Purdue University officials recently honored Dr. Dexter Wakefield, an associate professor of agricultural education and mechanics at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, as one of its distinguished agricultural alumni. Out of more than 30,000 agricultural graduates in the history of Purdue, only 221 have earned the honor. Wakefield is the first FVSU alumnus to receive this accolade.
Before earning his master’s (1998) and doctorate degrees (2003) at Purdue, Wakefield earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from then Fort Valley State College in 1990.
The Quitman native is one of 33 members of his family to earn degrees from FVSU in various fields of study. Included in that number is his mother Beurena (Hunter) (business education) and father Freddie (agricultural education), both members of the class of 1964.
Wakefield said watching his father influenced his decision to major in agriculture at FVSU. “One of the things I used to see the most was the way the students, as well as myself looked up to my dad in agriculture as a high school teacher,” Wakefield said. “I saw how the impact of being a teacher can touch the lives of so many different people.”
Wakefield said that with a background in agriculture, and his experiences working with hogs and farm equipment, it was a natural fit to go into the biological or agricultural professions and become a teacher. As an educator, he wanted to help other young people and said those reasons pushed him towards teaching.
As a student at FVSU, Wakefield gives credit to numerous people who kept him on the right track for success in the classroom. “The ones that pushed me the most were the black agricultural teachers that were alums of Fort Valley State,” Wakefield said. He said he met those instructors at some of the meetings his father used to attend.
Wakefield mentioned some of those individuals served as advisors to him. “My biggest mentor at Fort Valley state was Dr. Curtis Borne. Anything that Dr. Borne wanted at that time I was eager to jump on. “He would say, ‘I need somebody for a fence building team’, and I would say ‘I’ll be there Doc,” Wakefield said laughingly.
Wakefield participated in numerous activities during his undergraduate years at FVSU. As a trombone player in the “Blue Machine Marching Band,” he was section leader all four years. He also had memberships in the science club, collegiate FFA and joined Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. The former trombone player said smart class scheduling allowed him to take part in extracurricular activities.
Despite being away from campus on a full time basis for more than 25 years, the FVSU alumnus still manages to come back for homecoming. Wakefield said the physical layout of the campus has improved a lot since his undergraduate days walking the grounds. “The buildings right now look so much better. To me, that helps with recruitment,” the veteran educator said.
Wakefield’s advice to students interested in pursuing a degree in agricultural studies at FVSU is straightforward. “I would tell them Fort Valley offers a lot of opportunities for professional development and career advancement through internships and the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Wakefield said. He added that FVSU offers students the building block for success, and when he was a student, there were people willing to help students acquire internships and get jobs.
The agriculture educator recalls earning his first internship on his way to Woodward Gymnasium to play pick-up basketball. “Dr. (Mark) Latimore said, ‘hey, why don’t you come in here and talk to these people, they are in here interviewing.’” “I said, ‘but Doc, I’m headed to the gym.’ “Just come on in here,” Latimore said. “I interviewed with a pair of short pants on, headed to the gym, and I got the job!”
For more information about programs in the college of agriculture, visit ag.fvsu.edu or call (478) 825-6320.