College Degree Program Created From Dreams is Made Into Reality

On May 18, 2018, the first graduates will cross the stage to receive Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Communications degrees from Missouri State University. This accomplishment was a dream planted decades ago.

In the 1980s, one farm broadcaster had a simple conversation with Anson Elliott, former director of the William H. Darr School of Agriculture, about the need to improve a newsletter the Ag Club published annually at what was then, Southwest Missouri State University, to reconnect with alumni. What started with a simple crash-course on writing ultimately laid the groundwork for a comprehensive agricultural communications major. Since the beginning, Joyce Cutright has been in the middle of it all.

Farm broadcaster, the “soil lady”, Farm Credit Service employee, wife, mother, grandmother, dog mom, antique collector, media room extraordinaire and instructor are all hats Cutright  has worn throughout her life.

While she was raised on a farm in Illinois, Cutright initially pursued a degree in interior design.  “I didn’t realize agriculture was an option for me. I grew up in a time where females didn’t get agriculture degrees, or at least that is what I thought,” Cutright said. “I lived in 4-H House, which is a cooperative house where former 4-H members and females growing up in agriculture could live together. There were a lot of girls who were agriculture majors and after talking to Dr. Jim Evans, the agriculture department head at University of Illinois, I decided I wanted to be an agriculture communications major with an emphasis in advertising and marketing.”

Cutright found the field of agricultural communications interesting due to the broad range of knowledge required.

“It is not like you are focused on any one aspect of agriculture,” Cutright said. “You’ve got to know a little about everything and you’re probably not an expert in anything because you just need to know how to ask the questions, but it exposes you to a lot of different aspects of agriculture and you meet a lot of great people.”

After 11 years as a farm broadcaster, Cutright worked for five and half years for the Farm Credit Service. She also worked on a freelance basis for different organizations, writing newsletters and business plans. Cutright also spent about 15 years as the information education specialist for the Soil and Water Conservation District in Greene County. There, she focused on educating elementary-aged students about agriculture.

“I went into schools and did fun,  hands-on experiments about soil and water for 3-5th grade,” Cutright said. “I had teachers that I faithfully saw every year and I loved when I saw a kid in the grocery store and they said ‘oh that is the soil lady,’ and they would wave. I always told them soil was a precious resource so why wouldn’t I want to be the soil lady?!”

When the program she helped nurture and grow at Missouri State grew, Cutright was nothing but excited.

Cutright says when graduates have a formal degree in agricultural communications there is a greater sense of assurance to their future employers. When a student graduates with this degree, it is clear they have dual qualifications – in depth knowledge of the agriculture industry as a whole and technical training in communications.

“It was such a thrill when the School at the time decided to add a full-time person to the staff,” Cutright said. “I am now teaching the event communications class during the second block of the spring semester. Our practicum is to the be the staff for the media room at the Missouri FFA Convention.”

Cutright became a media room extraordinaire through years of practice.

She ran the media room at the Ozark Empire Fair for 10 years, bringing in student interns from, at the time, Southwest Missouri State. She then gained a long-desired connection with the FFA.

“Around that time, the Missouri FFA Association decided they needed a media room. Through my connection with Mr. Jim Bellis, a past FFA district supervisor, I was given that opportunity to work with the FFA and start the media room at the State FFA Convention.”

Cutright has gained quite the reputation. She is known for her hands-on approach for teaching and desire to successfully prepare graduates to work in the agricultural communications industry.

“She is honest with her critiques and she is always going to find that solution to make you a better writer,” Clara Jungermann, senior agricultural communications major from Moscow Mills, Missouri, said about Joyce’s teaching style. “She will turn everything into a teaching moment. She is not just going to hand you the answer.”

Alumni members of the program credit Cutright to lessons and experiences they would not have  received otherwise. Laura Wolf, a 2015 graduate and Manager at Osborn Barr, says Cutright was a highlight in her time at Missouri State. Lessons Cutright has taught Wolf include giving people the chance and make a decision then stick with it. Wolf says she learned even those who are not the star writers in class need to be given the chance, tools and support to succeed. She also learned how to make a decision and stick with it, especially working for several years in the media room with Joyce. She says Joyce taught her it is easy to get tied up in the minor details of a story in the media room, especially grammatical details, but the point of the story is to tell the story. If a decision needed to be made, Joyce made the call, informed the team of her decision, gave her reasoning behind the decision and kept going.

Reflecting on her time spent with Cutright, Wolf said her favorite memories of Cutright are always of the last day of the Media Room work. Almost everyone has gone home and it proves the media room is a marathon, not a sprint. According to Wolf, those who stick it out until the end see what makes Cutright so special to her students and friends. Wolf says Cutright refuses to allow the spirits of those around her drop – no matter what – by telling a story or giving a grin to those who need it.

Wolf values Cutright’s presence at Missouri State every day thanks to the wealth of professional experience in the field and the opportunities she received to work with her in a real journalistic capacity.

“She showed all of us what working in the “real world” can feel like and what having a supportive team can do.” said Wolf. “She inspires me to jump at the chance to help people at work when they need it: to offer a hand, a smile or a kind word whenever I can.”

Cutright can now be found in a mid-century modern home in Springfield, Missouri. Her home is filled with eccentric antiques and unique art from her and her husband JT’s shared hobby of art and antique collecting, something the two have enjoyed throughout their lives. Together with their black lab, Jasper, they travel the country in their RV sightseeing, catching up with old friends and making new ones all while looking for the next show-stopping piece for their home or their booth found at a local antique mall.

Her has a pride for Missouri State that has grown for years as a per-course instructor and overall advocate for all things maroon.
What Cutright did not expect to happen was to fall in love with teaching. She has found the growth of her students to be extremely rewarding and humbling. She enjoys watching alumni succeed in the industry. She also has seen growth within herself.

What grew from a simple request from a former director, turned into something she truly enjoys – teaching.

“Teaching has made me a better journalist and I believe a better person.” said Cutright.
Her dedication to the agricultural communication industry in Southwest Missouri and the program at Missouri State has left a large impact and she sees the field as important as ever.

“Now I can die happy that they finally have a degree program because it was a dream from the very beginning that there would be an actual agricultural communications degree program,” Cutright said