Rockie Ernst (B.S., ’85): Award-Winning Teacher and Leader

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)

Rockie Ernst (B.S., ’85) was one of six U.S. educators who received the 2019 Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher Award from the National Association of Agriculture Educators at a ceremony in California. It was the latest in a long list of accolades. In 1991, the same organization named him Outstanding Young Member. In 2013, he received an Honorary American FFA (Future Farmers of America) Degree at the organization’s national convention.Two years ago, he received the Outstanding Educator Award from the Colorado Agriculture Teachers Association.

Rockie Ernst displays the plaque he earned for outstanding agricultural teaching below a banner displaying his achievement on Saturday, December 7 in Aneheim, Calif.

After growing up near Arickaree in eastern Colorado, Ernst become a Ram in order to pursue agriculture education. He had been on campus a number of time for FFA activities, so CSU was his school of choice. He was a member of Farmhouse Fraternity, involved with the Ag Council, and served as a Ram Handler. Elected state FFA vice president for 1982-83, Ernst took a year off due to the extensive travel required of state officers, then returned to finish his degree. This award-winning teacher has high praise for his former professors in the College of Agricultural Sciences and still keeps in touch with many of them.

Ernst did his student teaching at Cortez in southwestern Colorado, then started his own teaching career at Wiggins in northeast Colorado. Thirty-four years later, he still teaches there. Over the years, he has adapted to changes in both the student body and the agricultural landscape. For example, many of his current students were not raised on a farm.

His classes involve lots of hands-on learning. He wants his students to understand what agriculture is, both locally and more broadly. He tries to find out “where each student is coming from and where they want to be.” He deals with the challenges of a technology-driven environment, telling them that technology “is a wonderful resource but not a substitute for thinking on your own.”

Ernst with FFA students

Not only is he an outstanding teacher, Ernst is a leader in his field. He currently serves as vice president and president-elect of the Colorado Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association. He also served a term as president of that organization 15 years ago. He assists other agriculture teachers all over the state and is an active advocate for agricultural education. He also works to support agriculture programs at CSU.

Ernst’s wife, Rowana, was an agriculture teacher in Arizona. They met in California when he received the Outstanding Young Member award. She remains a big supporter of agriculture education in Wiggins and of alumni of that program. They have two sons. Ryan (B.S., ’17) graduated in civil engineering and works as an assistant engineer at Olsson. He was in the Honors Program at CSU. Reid is a CSU senior majoring in soil and crop sciences. He is a member of Farmhouse Fraternity, currently serving as president.

Former students have high praise for Ernst. They say he pushed them to do their best, including encouragement to run for state FFA office, and he motivated them to become better people. Ernst’s philosophy, which he not only lives by but passes on to his students, is to “stand up for what you believe in.”  This, he says, “is a lesson in ag as well as a lesson in life.”