Lifelong ambassador: Ag educator Nicole Snyder will carry CAHNRS banner at ’22 commencement

Nicole Snyder
Gonfalon bearer for the spring 2022 commencement, Nicole Snyder, Agricultural Education graduate, helps high school students learn about science through an ag lens. She calls CAHNRS a family.

Already teaching her first class of high school students about the world of agriculture, Nicole Snyder will bear the banner of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resources Sciences during Washington State University’s spring 2022 commencement.

The honor of carrying the tall, pointed banner, known as a gonfalon, into the ceremony is an honor given to one outstanding senior from each college. Snyder was selected based on her passionate involvement and rich, tenacious experience.

Hailing from Covina, Calif., a small town 30 miles outside of Los Angeles, this agricultural education major “seized every opportunity that I could” in college.

“I was a city teenager,” Snyder said. “My family had a horse, and some experience with animals, but I wasn’t like my peers who grew up on a farm.” She gravitated to agriculture anyway, especially thanks to involvement in FFA and school classes.

At the same time, Snyder always knew she wanted to be a teacher.

“My mom was my science teacher from Pre-K through eighth grade,” Snyder said. “On the day in Kindergarten when you come dressed as who you want to be, I dressed as my mother.”

As a WSU freshman, Snyder helped found the WSU student chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS), and attended the organization’s national conference. As a volunteer CAHNRS Ambassador, she represented the college to visitors and prospective students, exemplifying what students can do and be. She was also a college student employee for three years, worked as a summer camp counselor, and maintained her involvement in FFA as a coach and team leader.

“Nothing to it, but to do it,” Snyder tells new students. “Join that club, go to that event, do anything that you can to get out of your comfort zone. That’s where you’re going to grow best as a person.”

Lifelong ambassador

“Nicole is not the typical ag education student in background, but she is in heart,” said Colette Casavant, CAHNRS Director of Student Success and the MANRRS advisor.

From the day that she met Snyder, “an energetic freshman from Los Angeles,” Casavant was impressed with her energy, intelligence, and passion for education.

“As Nicole says, she looks forward to helping students become a better version of themselves and the leaders they are meant to be,'” said Casavant, who nominated Snyder for gonfalon bearer. “She will be an amazing lifelong CAHNRS ambassador.”

At WSU, Snyder received the David D. and Eleanor M. Zimmerman Scholarship, which supports undergraduates in agricultural studies, as well as the Everett M. and Louis Ott Webb Scholarship, which supports upper-grade students in agricultural education.

“From day one, Nicole was committed to becoming a Coug,” said Anna Warner, Assistant Professor of Agricultural Education in WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. “Despite facing more challenges than most students through her college career, she continued to persevere with a positive attitude, committed to meeting her goals and staying on track for graduation.

“Nicole’s resilience will serve her and her future students well,” Warner added. “I am excited to see how she contributes to the agricultural education profession as Nicole begins her career as an agriculture teacher.”

Fully half of her college career was spent in the pandemic, which brought tragedy and struggle.

In the fall of 2020, her father Rick Snyder passed away from a rare fungal disease, just one month shy of his 60th birthday. A few months later, Snyder’s uncle Eran died from COVID. Three months after that, her adoptive grandfather, Doug, passed away. That series of family deaths, coming in quick succession, was hard to take.

“But it’s a part of what made me who I am,” Snyder said. “School became my safe place. I threw myself into school to take my mind off it. And that helped prepare me to become a better ag educator.”

A place for all to learn

In her final semester, Snyder student-taught at Pullman High School, instilling knowledge in biology, physical science, plant and animal science through an agricultural lens.

“My ag teacher was the person who pushed me in high school, and ag was a safe place for me,” she said. “My students are what gets me up in the morning. I want to provide them with a safe place where they know it’s OK to learn.”

While it’s hard to say goodbye to her students, Snyder will help coach their FFA team later this month at the state convention, then begin her own career as a full-fledged ag teacher.

The gonfalon honor was a big surprise. During commencement, Snyder’s family will cheer her on from the VIP section Beasley Coliseum.

“I’m the youngest one in family to graduate, so it’s a big hoorah,” she said.

Saying farewell to WSU is another big moment.

“CAHNRS really is a family,” she said. “Years from now, these people are going to have my back.”