Patricia “Pat” Jepson’s history with UConn spans several decades – from her time as a high school student to her retirement in 2017. Throughout her career, Jepson worked to promote excellence and diversity in Connecticut’s agricultural education programs – a commitment she maintains even now.
As a student at Wilson High School (now Middletown High School), Jepson was involved in her school’s agriculture program and took UConn co-op credits. Jepson, a first-generation college student, went on to study animal science at UConn.
Jepson was originally on the pre-veterinary track, but moved into the agricultural education program after learning the impact she could have.
“It is a program that has a very holistic approach to education and personal growth,” Jepson says. “[The program] had an impact on me, and that was something I wanted to be involved in from the other side, impacting others and helping others in a similar way.”
Jepson graduated with her bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1978 and her master’s in 1981 from the UConn School of Education, later renamed after Ray Neag to honor his $23 million gift to the School.
After completing UConn’s Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates (TCPCG), Jepson taught in Connecticut before moving to Ohio to work for a veterinarian. But opportunities soon pulled her back to Connecticut. In 1988, Jepson returned to UConn as the director of the Academic Advisory Center for the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR).
“It felt like a way to put together the educational background and perspective that I had with the content, my love of agriculture and all the broad fields, and my connection to UConn,” Jepson says.
Advancing Agricultural Education
High school agricultural programs differ significantly from other subjects. Connecticut’s agricultural education programs have a three-pronged approach that involves experiential education, leadership development, and career readiness. The nature of these programs also relies on greater family and community involvement.
The inter-connected fields within agriculture are also intrinsically applicable to daily concerns surrounding food, health, and the environment.
“[Agriculture] isn’t isolated. It is so interconnected with human concerns, as well as science concerns, and policy decisions — so many different things that relate,” Jepson says.
During her time at UConn, Jepson played a major role in increasing the profile of Connecticut’s agricultural education program. The program was less visible in Connecticut and nationally until Jepson began reaching out to high school teachers and students in agriculture programs across the state and getting involved in national organizations.
Jepson was recently honored for her dedication to the field with a lifetime achievement award from the American Association for Agricultural Education. Awardees support the organization’s mission to “foster excellence in the discovery and exchange of evidence-based solutions for social science challenges in agriculture and related sciences.”
“Getting the award was sort of an acknowledgment of the program at UConn even more so than of me, but certainly knowing that I had a big impact on that,” Jepson says.
A Lifelong Commitment to Diversity
Jepson is driven by a commitment to meaningful human connection and helping others. Part of this commitment has involved Jepson’s championing the importance of diversity throughout her career.
During her master’s program, Jepson taught in Hartford Public Schools, exposing her to students with diverse backgrounds.
“That really was so meaningful for me, that I felt that awareness and desire to impact a broader audience, and knowing education is so important for people’s lives in the long term,” Jepson says. “The impact of the Hartford experience stayed with me throughout my whole career.”
Through her position at CAHNR, Jepson worked with students in the two-year, associates of applied science program at Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture. Working with more non-traditional students underscored the importance of looking beyond a high school transcript for Jepson.
“What you see on paper is only part of who someone is,” Jepson says. “Seeing that growth in students who other people may not have seen the potential in and knowing they had opportunities was very meaningful.”
Jepson would attend meetings at the African American Cultural Center and listen as Black students shared, intentionally exposing herself to and learning about a culture she is not part of.
“Taking advantage of these opportunities to learn made me, I hope, more valuable and a resource to other people.”
Jepson earned her PhD from the Neag School of Education in 2006. For her dissertation, Jepson worked with deaf students to study the impact of having deaf role models on their self-efficacy in career planning and working in science.
Jepson consistently lends philanthropic support to causes across the University. Previously, she started a fund for UConn Ag Ed students.
She also established a memorial scholarship in her parents’ honor for high school students graduating from the Middletown Regional Agricultural Science and Technology Program, where Jepson was a student and teacher.
Jepson also supports scholarships and funds in CAHNR, the Neag School, and University-wide diversity initiatives. Jepson still holds a position as an associate professor-in-residence in the Neag School.
“So many other people have helped me in my years of moving forward both in education and career that it feels very much like giving back and helping other people have opportunities I feel other people helped me have,” Jepson says.
The Difference Advising Can Make
As an advisor, Jepson, who could never have predicted the turns her own career would take, helped students avoid feeling they were locked into the first path they chose.
“I do look at things from a multi-dimensional perspective and that helps students to think differently, because very often, especially at a young age, you get locked into a plan and you think that’s the only way to go,” Jepson says. “And sometimes a discussion with somebody helps you see some different paths that will be a good match.”
Jepson encouraged students to come to conclusions about their academic and career goals on their own.
“I’m much more about trying to help students see some of the things that work well for them as opposed to me telling them what to do,” Jepson says.
Jepson says that students regularly tell her she made a difference in their choices, careers, and approach to the world.
“Knowing I’ve had a positive impact on others is the most rewarding part,” Jepson says.
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