Bonnie Kegler (’88 CAHNR, ’90 NEAG) joined UConn Extension and the 4-H program in Windham County as an assistant extension educator in July, after an award-winning teaching career at Killingly High School in the agricultural education program.
“I want youth in the UConn 4-H program to have a sense of accomplishment on any level, whether it’s receiving a ribbon at the 4-H fair, being recognized for their contributions, or being in a peer group among other people with similar interests,” she says.
Bonnie was an agricultural education student at E.O. Smith High School and wanted to be a veterinary technician. She went to Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas; at the time, their vet tech program was the second highest rated in the country. She only intended to stay two years but discovered the livestock judging team.
“It changed my life, I didn’t even know they had one,” Bonnie says. “I love decision making with the information you have, and the confidence that comes with making that decision and living with the consequences.” She ended up coaching the team her senior year at Sul Ross, a significant recognition for her livestock evaluation and teaching skills.
After graduating, she got a job at a veterinary practice in West Texas, it was the only practice for 100-miles, so they treated all animals. Bonnie recalls taking a metal coffee can with rocks out to the barn section of the clinic to feed or treat animals, shaking the can along the way to scare the rattle snakes, who slithered out of the barn.
Bonnie returned to Connecticut in 1985, and pursued a masters degree in animal science, also coaching the livestock judging team at UConn, and then earned a teaching certificate from the Neag School of Education.
She loves education and animals, so it was a natural fit to teach agricultural education in the high school setting. Bonnie was always involved with 4-H through her own children too and adds that she loves watching the relationship and learning process between kids and animals.
“Watching youth find out something they didn’t know or get better at something excites me,” she says. “They want to improve, those ‘aha’ moments and watching growth, or having someone get recognized for something they’re passionate about, and helping kids understand how much they are capable of accomplishing. Seeing youth understand that what they know and the skills they have is the coolest thing, and it carries over to adult education too.”
Connecticut has a lot to offer, and Bonnie enjoys living in Mansfield with her husband, and spending time on the shoreline. She also raises and shows Hampshire sheep, and participates in dog agility with Tucker, her Corgi.
Her positive impact is already being felt by youth in Windham County, she led her first 4-H Fair shortly after joining Extension in July and is currently recruiting youth and adult volunteers for the program. Bonnie is also working on statewide agricultural and food literacy programs to educate residents. All her work with UConn 4-H is united in the effort to empower youth to make a positive impact and reach their full potential.
“Youth need to hear from someone that believes they have the ability to do something. I see things in kids where they weren’t sure they would be good, and I give them a different way to look at it,” Bonnie concludes. “I help them understand that what they know is valuable. If they’re willing to learn there isn’t anything they can’t do.”
Visit s.uconn.edu/4-H to learn more about the UConn 4-H program, enroll your youth member, or become a volunteer.