By BURTON SPEAKMAN
Glasgow Daily Times
When Kristie Guffey was student teaching at Barren County High School, she told agriculture teacher Chris Schalk that she would come back to the area.
“I assumed it would be in the other building (pointing to Barren County High School) as an ag teacher, but now I’m here,” Guffey said from her office at Western Kentucky University-Glasgow.
Since then Guffey has become an instructor teaching agriculture and leadership at WKU-G and she leads a group of students each year to Ecuador for an educational trip that also serves as a humanitarian effort.
“During the last four years we’ve had 53 students travel to Ecuador from this campus,” Guffey said.
The students not only learn in Ecuador, but they take items for future mothers and their children to rural hospitals, she said.
In Ecuadorian hospitals, mothers who are preparing to have a child are expected to bring their own items — blankets, sheets clothing, etc., Guffey said. They also take some toys, so there are some fun items for the children.
“I noticed when we visited that in the rural hospitals, the families had nothing, except maybe a rough cloth,” she said.
The students also take a dental bonding agent with them. The agent is applied to children’s teeth in the poor, rural areas, Guffey said. The bond prevents them from getting cavities for six months.
While students at WKU-Glasgow, have all the same opportunities for traveling abroad that are available for all WKU students, Guffey organizes the only effort specifically designed for Glasgow, said Lisa Boswell, interim assistant director for the campus, who nominated Guffey as a Rising Star.
“She is such a dynamic person,” Boswell said. “She attracts a great quality of student to go with her.”
There are a number of students who go to Ecuador each year, who have never been on a plane before, Guffey said. For some of them their travel has been limited to the Kentucky-Tennessee area.
When the students arrive in Ecuador it’s the middle of the night. The students swiftly recognize the change in culture with daybreak as they see cows being walked down the highway and people walking with fresh-cut hay strapped across their backs, she said.
“You quickly start to see it. They start asking questions. Then they just get real quiet,” Guffey said.
The entire trip makes them appreciate how much people have in the U.S., particularly in the agricultural system.
Although Guffey teaches primarily agriculture, the study abroad programs can draw students from any major, Boswell said. Students from any discipline can and have participated.
In addition, the trips Guffey organizes also provide unique encounters in Glasgow, Boswell said. For example, this year two veterinarians from Ecuador visited the campus. They had met Guffey on one of her trips with students.
Guffey is also one of the most popular professors at the Glasgow campus, Boswell said. Her courses are always full.
It was unusual that there were no college agriculture classes being offered in the No. 1 ag county in the state, Guffey said.
So Guffey began working to build the agriculture classes at the campus, starting with three course per semester as an adjunct, before increasing to her current load of five courses per semester.
In addition to being a full-time professor and taking an active role in the community, Guffey is also earning her Ed.D through the Educational Leadership Doctoral Program at WKU, Boswell said.
“I gave up everything else to get my Ed.D. I can’t imagine doing all the things that she’s doing,” Boswell said.
Guffey said she will complete her Ed.D coursework this semester.
Her research is focused on participating in study abroad programs and its impact on rural students.
In addition to her studies, Guffey and her husband volunteer with the clothing and food bank programs at Columbia Avenue Church of Christ and teach a Dave Ramsey finance course together and as a way to help people overcome there issues with debt.