Gwyn Shelle: Back to Her Roots

Author: In the Field

“4-H had always been a big part of my life. My thought was that I would possibly be a 4-H agent or somehow work within Extension,” Shelle explains. Kraig Ehm has the story.

June 7, 2018

Gwyn Shelle and Kraig Ehm

“4-H had always been a big part of my life. My thought was that I would possibly be a 4-H agent or somehow work within Extension,” Shelle explains.

gwyn & kraig2

In the Field: Back to Her Roots with Gwyn Shelle - Transcript

Kraig Ehm: Welcome to In the Field, a podcast originating from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. I'm your host, Kraig Ehm. In this episode of In the Field, I'm joined by Gwen [Sheely 00:00:24], instructional technology specialist for Michigan State University extension. Gwyn, thanks for being here.

Gwyn Shelle: Thank Kraig, it's great to be here today.

Ehm: What was it like growing up on a dairy farm in Hudsonville, Michigan?

Shelle: I have to say, I think growing up on a farm is just a fabulous way to grow up. We had ... My gram and grandpa lived across the street. My aunt and uncle lived across the street as well. So, there was always family around, you know? When I came home from school and things, my dad typically there to greet me and say hello and things like that and that was ... It was fabulous. And of course, growing up on a farm you learn certain things. You learn about hard work. My parents instilled that in me definitely from a young age. I was always helping to feed the cows and doing whatever needed to be done around the farm. I also wasn't involved in many different things as well. My family was very loved in 4-H as 4-H leaders, very involved in our county farm bureau program. My dad was on the board of our local farmers' co-op and things like that. Learned about hard work and also the importance of volunteering. My mom was always volunteering with different things. She was even president of the Michigan horse council for a while and things such as that. So, I think I've learned a few things from both of them.

Ehm: Horses are a big deal in your life. Talk a little bit about how your love of horses began.

Shelle: Every since I can remember, I was always bugging my parents to get me a horse. I asked, and asked, and asked, and they always said, "Well, you know you need to be responsible enough to take care of it on your own." So, it wasn't until I was about maybe 11 years old that they finally said, "Okay, we'll get you a horse and we'll get your sister one as well and we'll see kind of how this goes." I had earned some money from selling a couple pigs at the fair, had a little bit of money saved up and we went to the Shipshewana horse auction. We went down there and we went with a friend and we're looking through the different lots and looking at the horses and so forth, and I fell in love with this black and white little Shetland pony. I thought this little pony was fabulous. I believe I bought her for $175 and they even included a saddle. Which was just fabulous. However, this little horse didn't quite work out very well. She kind of had a little bit of an attitude. Showing her in 4-H, working with her and working with her, and just maybe it wasn't going to quite be a 4-H project, so I eventually moved on to a different horse and throughout the years as I showed in 4-H, I kind of would work with a horse for a couple years and then I would typically sell it and maybe get a different one that was ... fit my needs a little bit better at that point. Worked with many different horses at a young age and also worked for a horse trainer for a while to get some experience, showing horses on the Arabian circuit. So really, they've just always been a part of everything I do. Through 4-H, showing Arabians, and just I've always had this love of horses.

Ehm: After high school, where did you attend college?

Shelle: I kind of took an interesting journey to college. When I applied to Michigan State out of high school, I actually was not accepted the first time. I think I spent a little too much time in high school maybe socializing and maybe riding my horses a little bit too much. What I did was, I went to Grand Rapids Community College for two years. Focused on my studies there, had great instructors at the community college, and met a lot of really good people. Then I applied to Michigan State again and was accepted into the animal science program. I can't say enough good things about my experience as an undergrad within the College of Ag and Natural Resources. I started out, as I mentioned, in animal science and I was very involved in the Block and Bridle Club. Had a lot of great experiences there, met friends through Block and Bridle that I still have today, and also was influenced by a lot of great advisors as well. So, Dr. John Sheely, definitely has been a big influence on my life. Other people such as [Harlan 00:04:27] Ritchie, and Dr. Hawkins, and Ken Gunns, and just a variety of different faculty members that were very influential throughout my undergrad. I actually didn't stay animal science for my major. I actually moved over to agricultural communications as my major. It was a little bit of a better fit for me in terms of some of my skills and things like that. Then I also got to work with some great people in the College of Ag such as, Dr. Krekenzie. It was just a fabulous experience as an undergrad. Just involved in as many things as I could, such as Block and Bridle, such as the horse judging team. I was a member of that team with Dr. Shelle as my coach as well as Dr. Chris [Kelly 00:05:04] and also the livestock judging team and my coach there was Martin Cully and once again, just the friendships from being involved in the student groups, in the judging teams, has just had a great influence on my life.

Ehm: After your undergrad degree, you then pursued a master's.

Shelle: After I graduated I did go on and get my master's degree in agriculture and extension education. 4-H had always been a big part of my life. My thought was that I would possibly be a 4-H agent or somehow work within extension, cooperative extension. That was just ... Once again, here in the College of Ag we just have such a fabulous group of people. Dr. Joe Levine, worked with him throughout getting my degree. And Dr. Murari Suvedi, he was my major professor and I've worked with him in the Center for Evaluative Studies, and just learned so many good things about adult education and reaching out to different audiences and things like that. It was a wonderful experience. I also did a study for my graduate work. I did a survey of Alumni from the College of Ag and Natural Resources. Got some feedback from them in terms of what they thought of their educational work of different extracurricular activities that they did and things such as that. And we also did a little bit of a study of their employers as well to get a feel of, are there any areas that were lacking of some of these undergraduates and were focus areas that we should look into.

Ehm: After you received your master's, what was your first job?

Shelle: My first job after graduating my master's degree was actually here within the Ag-E [inaudible 00:06:29] department here within the College of Ag. I helped manage a project focusing on wetlands here in Michigan and was helping with some qualitative research. I was in that position for about a year and then moved over actually to Lansing Community College. I was contacted by someone that I had worked with and had classes with during my master's degree and he was kind of starting an initiative over at Lansing Community College for integrating online technologies into the classes there. So he was kind of creating something they were calling the virtual college. So group of online courses for students. He needed what is called instructional designers, and so it's kind of folks that help faculty members and those that may be teaching classes to integrate technology into their programming and to put their classes online. He simply just called me up one day and said, "Hey, I think we could use you over here." So, I went to work for LCC for about five to six years.

Ehm: While you were at LCC you were recruited to come back to campus and work with My Horse University.

Shelle: Yes. I was out one weekend at the Michigan Horse Expo, and I was walking around the different exhibits and so forth, and came upon the MSU horse programs booth and started talking to one of my former horse judging coaches, Dr. Chris Kelly. She was telling me about the project called My Horse University, which is basically online curriculum for those that have an interest in horses. They were looking at a ... They've done a lot of face to face programming obviously throughout extension and through the animal science program in the area of horses and were looking to venture into the online market. I was talking to Chris and I was telling her what I was doing as an instructional designer, she said, "We need you." And so, they hired me as a consultant, initially to work on the My Horse University project and then eventually that turned into a full time job here at MSU in a unit called MSU Global. In that role I helped with the My Horse University project as well as some other university-wide projects as well in the areas of food safety, planner and land use and things such as that.

Ehm: What are you doing now?

Shelle: I worked at MSU Global for ... I think I was there about 7 years actually. Two years ago I came over here to work in Michigan State University Extension. I was really excited about this new role here in Extension because, as I mentioned before, that was my whole goal. When I went to school, I went and got my master's degree and so forth. I wanted to work for Extension and I really wanted to help the people that we serve here in Michigan. So it was just a fabulous opportunity. What I basically do is, you mentioned my title is instructional technology specialist, but sometimes people call me the Zoom expert. 'Cause zoom is a tool we use to do video conferencing across the state and across the country. Or, you know, I may be the person people call with idea they had for social media, or for adding active learning into their courses, or for, you know, how can they do their own video out in the field? How can they take some videos of some pests or some insects out in the field and share that with people. Anything relating to technology and helping to broaden our reach to the people that we serve throughout the state of Michigan, is what I help with. I've been here two years. It's been very rewarding. It's exciting. The ideas that people have, creativity of our educators and so forth. It's just been a fabulous, fabulous opportunity.

Ehm: Okay, we're going to step aside from work and horses for just a second and I've got three rapid-fire questions for ya. Favorite breed of horse?

Shelle: Arabian.

Ehm: Favorite racehorse of all time?

Shelle: Secretariat.

Ehm: Favorite television horse?

Shelle: Mr. Ed.

Ehm: Excellent. Are you still involved with 4-H?

Shelle: Yes. I mentioned earlier, you know, I think my mother really instilled the importance of volunteering in me and so forth. As I mentioned before, we're all very involved in our 4-H. I have an older sister as well. She's four years older than me. She was very involved in 4-H as well. We showed livestock and horses and we're 4-H leaders and things such as that. Really, after I graduated with my master's degree, one of my friends from college who lives here in Ingham County, was a 4-H leader in a club, and she said to me one day, "What do you think about helping out a little bit at our summer riding meetings?" And I said, "Oh, you know, you think you're so busy, of course," but I thought I really need to give back. So I said, "Yep, I can start helping."
And so, started helping out with some of the summer riding meetings and then eventually I became a full 4-H leader here in Ingham County, helping with horses. I'm a leader with the Saddle Mates 4-H club. I think it's maybe a little shy of 15 years that I've been helping with the club and it's just fabulous to, in order to give back to the kids, and I also kind of look forward to the next step which is, my kids are getting to the age where next year my son'll be able to be in the Cloverbuds, five to eight year old program and hopefully my kids will be involved as well. I have a step-daughter as well and she's been involved in the past in doing crafts and that too. So, one way I've been a 4-H leader in the club, also, for several years I was the Ingham County 4-H horse judging coach. It's one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done. Teaching these kids skills such as public speaking skills, decision making skills, is just so important. The kids would come in and they'd be really shy and they'd be scared and they'd be nervous and by the end of that year, when we got through our competitions, they would have confidence. I don't know how many times I heard from parents that it made such a big difference in terms of the kids at school, in terms of them being able to give presentations and feeling comfortable in front of people. It was actually kind of interesting the other day on Facebook. This was a mother of a couple of girls that had been on the team and these girls, one is married now, they're all out of college, one is pursuing her PhD. The mom commented about how her daughter who's getting her PHD right now, she's received many awards for her teaching and she attributes some of that to her being on the judging team many years ago. And her other daughter, in terms of being, you know, responsibility and her work ethic and things such as that comes back to it as well. So, horse judging definitely ... We had some fabulous teams, we traveled all over the country, we competed at 4-H Nationals in Louisville. We went to Arabian Nationals in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when it used to be at that location, and went to Quarter Horse and competed a couple times. So, it was just great. A great team of kids to work with every year and one of the things I'm most proud of.

Ehm: What puts a smile on your face every day?

Shelle: Well, I'd have to say that it's my family. Just to go back a little bit, you know I talked about how Dr. John Sheely was my horse judging coach and my advisor when I was a student in animal science, well, he's actually also my father-in-law. So, he actually set me up on a blind date with my husband, Kevin, and now we have just a wonderful family. Kevin and I, we've got a ... have a step-daughter who's just fabulous. She's 15. And then my son is four and a half, and my youngest, my daughter, just turned three. It's just such a blessing to have such a wonderful family. We have a lot of projects going on as well that sometimes are frustrating, but most of the time put a smile on our face. We're building a pole barn right now. I also have three horses at home as well. I have a couple mares and have a colt that is a year old, so, really, it's my family that keeps me going.

Ehm: I would like to thank Gwen Sheely, instructional technology specialist for Michigan State University Extension, for joining me today. Be sure and listen next time for another episode of In the Field.