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Professor Reaches Beyond the Classroom

11.24.13

Professor reaches beyond classroom

Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2013 11:01 pm

Some know him as their professor, others their colleague or the guy with two pictures hanging on the second floor of the Student Union.

No matter where in Stillwater you are, Oklahoma State University professor Shannon Ferrell has a presence. He’s even made a name for himself throughout the state as the “wind guy.”

 

“A huge issue in Oklahoma was that land owners were being approached by wind companies to lease their land to build these wind projects, and they had never seen it, you know, they had no idea what was going on,” Ferrell said. “So, what I took it on myself to do was to explain to them: How does wind energy work?”

There’s more than the four to five permanent jobs that increase per site, the “more than $7.3 million in income to farmers and ranchers who lease their land to the project,” and the “$155 million in revenue during operating period of 25 years,” according to the OwnEnergy website. Their land is compromised some in the process, and Ferrell makes sure all the facts are displayed in front of the farmers to make the best decision for them.

As a result of his research and work with farmers, he began working on legislation that involved wind issues while he was an associate attorney at Hall Estill Hardwick Gable Golden and Nelson, P.C. This work involved leading the firm’s Renewable Energy Practice Group, which he was a founding member of.

Now, he does this as a side job.

“Professor by day, attorney by night,” he said, laughing.

He is an associate professor for the Department of Agricultural Economics, using his personal experience with farmers as tools to teach in the classroom.

“Being out there and actually talking to farmers about issues that are very real to them helps me make that (lessons) a lot more real for my students,” Ferrell said.

He assisted with the development of the Cowboy Wind Farm near Blackwell; specifically, he did wind energy workshops with landowners to explain how the leases work, and how landowners need to read things when they were approached by OG&E. He took them on tours as well as doing daylong workshops. In total, he talked to about 350 people in that project alone.

Overall, he has done more than 100 presentations on wind energy and has presented to about 8,000 people. Ironically, after all this time working with energy and the environment, he still hasn’t talked to Boone Pickens.

He has always been passionate about the environment. Born in Stillwater to former OSU professors, he was raised a farmer in Leedey. Farmers are naturally environmentally aware and inclined, he said.

“Being a farmer, the land is your partner,” he said. “If you don’t take care of the land, you’re out of luck.”

He has been involved with the environment even in high school, where he was a state officer for the 4-H program and chapter president of the Future Farmers of America. On a 4-H trip in high school, he met Cara, his wife. They began dating their freshman year at OSU in 1994 and were married in 2005.

He also was awarded the Harry S. Truman Scholarship while he was an undergraduate at OSU. He now has a picture hanging on the wall with other Truman Scholars on the second floor of the Student Union in the atrium.

According to the Truman Scholarship website, a Truman scholar is a future “change agent.” The scholar is described as a person who has “passion, intellect and leadership potential that in time should enable them to improve ways that public entities … serve the public good.”

His then adviser and current colleague, professor emeritus Joe Williams, went the extra mile to write the recommendation letter for him at the time.

In 1997, the day before the scholarship application was due, Ferrell realized he forgot to ask his adviser, Williams, for a recommendation letter. Williams was on his annual elk hunting trip in New Mexico. Ferrell got his cellphone number and gave him a call.

“He was still within cellular range, which in that day was a trick,” he said. “(He) mounted the donkey he took on his hunting trips … rode down the mountain into the nearest town, found somewhere to borrow a typewriter, wrote the letter and faxed it to us.”

Without all that, Ferrell would have never received the Truman Scholarship.

Sixteen years later, Williams and Ferrell have offices down the hall from one another on the fifth floor of Agricultural Hall.

“He is a very capable young man, he was an excellent leader, outstanding student,” Williams said. “He had his goals set, knew what he wanted to do and he accomplished it, everything he set out to do.”

Williams and Ferrell had known each other while Ferrell was in 4-H in high school, Williams daughters and Ferrell were on the same officer team. His relationship with his adviser outside of the office planted the seed for his future goals in his own classroom.

“I had that connection from my adviser from the very start, but I saw that lots of my fellow students didn’t have that and it kind of made me realize that that’s what’s important, having that connection outside that official school role,” Ferrell said. “And it made me realize that if I ever come back someday, that that’s the kind of relationship I want to have with my students.”

Ferrell makes himself available to all of his students outside of the classroom. He’s actively on Facebook and Twitter, and students can also call, text, email and see him in person. Students and friends sometimes are invited over for dinner or bible study. He also has feedback surveys via SurveyMonkey throughout the semester, so he doesn’t have to wait to hear students' criticism until the semester is over.

The survey basically asks, “What can we do better about class?” Ferrell said.

This allows students at any time to anonymously respond with a suggestion, sometimes it is a reminder to slow down, other times it is asking him to explain something better, he said.

“That’s actually helped,” Ferrell said. “I’ll get a suggestion one day in class about something that, you know I didn’t present very well so then the next day I can say, ‘OK, I don’t think I did a very good job of explaining this to you guys, let me try it a different way,’ so it actually helps students then.”

His teaching abilities have won him the national Outstanding Teaching of an Undergraduate Course Award with less than 10 years of experience from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in 2013. He’s also won regional awards, such as the Outstanding Teaching of an Undergraduate Course Award with less than 10 years of experience from the Southern Agricultural Economics Association in 2009.

A few years ago, he was a mentor for OSU undergraduate student Blake Jackson, who was a Truman Scholarship recipient in 2011. That’s why Ferrell’s picture is on the wall in the second floor of the Student Union twice, once for receiving the award and another for giving it.

“That was pretty cool,” he said. “That was one of the absolute proudest moments of my teaching career was to give one of my students his award.”

He continues working with students to make sure they are successful. Whether their goal is to get an A in his class, a job or a scholarship, he is there to help.

“That’s what we want to do, keep building our family, not just our biological family but our student family,” he said.

His wife said she is just as enthusiastic about building these relationships.

“People did that for us,” Cara Ferrell said. “It’s not like our idea. We were adopted college kids to one family … and their daughter’s my best friend now.”

Cara Ferrell, a third generation OSU alumna, works in career services.

“You hear people say OSU is a family a lot, and that is very true,” she said.

This year, the couple has welcomed their first child, Shawn Ferrell, into the world on earlier this month. He may be the future fourth-generation OSU graduate for the Ferrells. No matter where he goes, he has potential to continue his family's legacy.

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