After graduating with a degree in agricultural education, with an emphasis in plant sciences and agricultural economics, from the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) in 2013, Lesleighan Cravens soon joined the CAFNR faculty as an instructor of floral design in the Division of Plant Science and Technology.
Cravens is still instructing MU students – and was recently honored for her dedication to teaching with the CAFNR Golden Apple Award. The award is designed to recognize faculty in CAFNR who go above and beyond in teaching and/or advising.
“I was honored to have earned the distinct designation of the CAFNR Golden Apple Award,” Cravens said. “I am completely surprised and couldn’t have been more excited to be a recipient among so many outstanding educators in CAFNR.
“I love being a teacher in CAFNR. Seeing students’ joy when they finish their project that they have worked so hard on is the best part. It is great to be able to watch it all come together beginning to end, and seeing their ‘light bulb’ moment is the best. I truly enjoy watching students grow throughout the course or even courses and become even better designers, project by project.”
Cravens also earned her master’s degree in agricultural education and leadership from MU. She got her first taste of the floral design industry as a CAFNR student, when she began working at Tiger Garden.
“From that moment, my passion started to bloom and I was able to become a teaching assistant in the floral design program and a student leader at Tiger Garden,” Cravens said. “From both of those opportunities, my passion for the industry started and I was so enamored by the industry. I still absorb as much knowledge as possible.”
Cravens teaches five courses in CAFNR – Introduction to Floral Design; Everyday Floral Design; Special Occasion and Events; Wedding Floral Design; and Retail Floral Management, which is writing intensive. Cravens works individually with approximately 600 students per school year who come through the floral program.
“Having taken one of her courses, I can personally attest that not only is Lesleighan a superb instructor, she is a caring and kind mentor to her students as well,” said Shanon Dickerson, program director of study abroad in the CAFNR Office of Academic Programs, in her nomination letter. “Although floral design is really fun, it is also very difficult. Getting your design to look professional takes time, talent and patience. Lesleighan is encouraging and always available to give advice and direction to all students whether they are a CAFNR major or exploring some of CAFNR’s unique course offerings.”
After participating in one of her courses, Dickerson worked with Cravens to develop the CAFNR Holland study abroad program. The program, which takes place during spring break, allows students to see the largest cut-flower producer and exporter in the world. Holland offers a unique opportunity to visit the biggest wholesaler on the planet and take hands-on design classes to further understand Dutch horticulture.
The study abroad opportunity gives Cravens a chance to broaden students’ horizons when it comes to floral design.
“Lesleighan consistently demonstrates the key characteristics of being an effective teacher; clarity, variability, enthusiasm, task-orientation and student engagement,” said Bruce Barrett, professor in the Division of Plant Science and Technology, in his nomination letter. “What truly stands out about Lesleighan as a teacher is her positive attitude and her commitment to always putting student needs first. She brings to the classroom a unique mix of excellence in teaching and hands-on instruction with professional connections and real-world experience.”
Along with her numerous teaching responsibilities, Cravens also serves as the advisor for the Mizzou Student Chapter of the American Institute of Floral Designers (Mizzou SAIFD), where she leads 10 to 15 students per semester. Mizzou SAIFD, which is nationally ranked, takes part in several events, including a national symposium each year. Cravens also oversees Tiger Garden, the student-run florist shop located on the MU campus.
“Mizzou SAIFD and Tiger Garden are huge passion projects of mine,” Cravens said. “Both of these programs helped me to be the teacher that I am today; without them I wouldn’t have the knowledge that I have. I love getting to advise the club members of SAIFD because I get to watch their journey during their time at MU. Tiger Garden, our student-run florist, is a signature experience within CAFNR. It is a niche industry that students get to learn the ins and outs of. They grow not only as designers but business professionals and individuals. Watching the students grow in SAIFD and at Tiger Garden is truly the biggest reward as an instructor.”