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Home > Feature Articles > Agriculture & Organic Production

Solutions for Today's Agri Education

We depend on agriculture for food and many raw materials, as well as stewardship of massive swaths of land. Education for today's sustainable challenges requires change. Here are nine recommendations that bridge colleges, schools, businesses and local advocates.

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From STEM to STEAM!

"The pool of potential candidates for the agricultural disciplines is no longer a relatively homogenous group of young people who grew up on farms. That number is diminishing, while the student population has grown increasingly diverse in terms of age, background, and culture. The diverse and broader student body is generally unaware of the multi-dimensional and challenging nature of the agricultural disciplines and the exciting career opportunities open to them, despite evidence that many students have an interest in a variety of scientific, business, economic, environmental and social issues related to food and agriculture. The problem is that educators have not helped students make the connection between those issues and a degree in agriculture.

In many ways, agriculture is intertwined with other disciplines in the natural and social sciences, with agriculture professionals using similar approaches and systems as those in other fields. Agriculture now so thoroughly combines basic and applied aspects of the traditional STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics that the acronym might rightly expand to become STEAM, joining agriculture with the other fundamental disciplines."

Recommendations for Change in Agriculture Education

1. Strategic planning

Strategic planning should involve a broad array of stakeholders with an interest in undergraduate agriculture education, including faculty in and outside agriculture colleges, current and former students, employers, disciplinary societies, commodity groups, local organizations focused on food and agriculture, and representatives of the public. The plan should be revisited every 3 to 5 years to shape change, evaluation and adaptation.

2. Include Introductory Courses that serve multiple populations

By incorporating agriculture in courses outside agriculture with team-taught and interdepartmental introductory courses in a variety of majors, agriculture colleges can bridge the many domains that can contribute to a broader understanding of agricultural issues.

3. Broaden the undergraduate student experience

Integrate opportunities for a variety of transferable skills including communication, teamwork and management. Participate in undergraduate research, outreach and extension. Participate in internships and other experiential opportunities outside the institution. Gain exposure to international perspectives including learning-abroad programs and international perspectives in coursework.

4. Prepare faculty to teach effectively and develop new courses and curricula

Support faculty development at the institutional, local, regional and national levels. Prepare the next generation of faculty by providing appropriate training to graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. Ensure that responsibility for faculty development rests not only with individual faculty members but with departments, colleges and institutions. Leverage existing resources or provide additional resources to support development of new courses, curricula and teaching materials. Resources needed include faculty release time, support for teaching assistants, workshops and use of education materials and technologies.

5. Provide substantive support for exemplary undergraduate teaching

Reward high-quality teaching, curriculum development, mentoring and other efforts to improve student learning, including rigorous hiring, tenure and promotion. Implement new tenure-track faculty appointments that emphasize teaching and education research in a discipline. Reward excellence in teaching with education and research grants. Professional societies should raise the profile of teaching in the disciplines with support and rewards for teaching and sponsored education sessions and speakers at society meetings, workshops on teaching and learning, education-focused articles and dissemination of teaching materials.

6. Connect for support, opportunities and student pathways

Develop connections between four-year colleges and universities, community colleges and land-grant institutions. Establish and support joint programs and courses relevant to agriculture and develop pathways for students pursuing agricultural careers.

7. Outreach to elementary- and secondary-school students and teachers

Expose students to agricultural topics and generate interest in agricultural careers and public perceptions. Programs to consider include:
  • Agriculture-based high schools
  • Urban agricultural education programs
  • Summer high-school or youth enrichment programs in agri
  • Partnerships with youth-focused programs (4-H, FFA and Scouting)

8. Partner to facilitate coordination between food and agriculture

Include representatives of industry and other employers on committees, advisory boards and in strategic planning. Exchange programs can enable food and agri professionals to spend semesters teaching and working at academic institutions and enable faculty to spend sabbaticals working outside academia. Student opportunities in nonacademic settings can be expanded with internships, cooperative education programs, summer opportunities, mentoring and career programs, job shadowing and other experiences.

9. Reviews should be updated to include these recommendations

Accreditation, grant proposal reviews, department reviews, institutional reviews, etc. that include strategic direction in their policies and procedures will provide a strong incentive for implementation. Develop a checklist of items that should be used by any review of programs, curricula, departments, colleges or institutions.

Summary

This addresses strategic planning processes, but does not address content of education such as green and sustainable practices. By engaging a variety of stakeholders in the strategic planning of tomorrow's agricultural best practices, it is hopeful that a long term outlook will include these innovations and developing methodologies.

These recommendations are from "Transforming Agricultural Education for a Changing World", by Committee on a Leadership Summit to Effect Change in Teaching and Learning, from the National Research Council of the National Academies.

More information is available at www.nap.edu Read the book online



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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