Add Vo-Ag Careers to STEM Choices

STEM programs are being integrated into kindergarten through 12th-grade education all over the country. What is STEM?  It is an acronym for “science, technology, engineering and math” – studied collectively.

The US Department of Education website promotes STEM and states, “In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information.” Sounds like agricultural education fits perfectly into any STEM program. In many parts of the country, vocational agriculture (vo-ag) education is available to high school students and sounds a lot like the STEM programs being developed.

The vo-ag programs consist of classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised occupational experiences and membership in FFA. This federally supported educational program was created in 1917 when about one-third of the U.S. population lived on farms, and agricultural businesses sustained rural communities. Enrollment in vo-ag programs peaked in the late 1970s and since declined 1 to 3 percent annually. If you consider that today about 2 percent of the US population are farmers, one might say that decrease in vo-ag programs is understandable.  I disagree.  With a fewer number of aging farmers – the average age of a farmer is 59 – feeding more people than ever, we should be doing more to encourage the next generation of farmers, not only those that want to farm but those who will have occupations that directly affect agriculture.

Agricultural degrees open a variety of career options. Having an understanding of agriculture in today’s business and economic world is a huge asset to farmers.  Banks and credit agencies that lend to agribusinesses hire loan officers, credit analysts and appraisers and agriculture-oriented businesses need accountants.  There is a demand for agricultural graduates for work in plant science, water management, as veterinarians for food animals, nutrition for humans and animals, ag technology, sustainable agriculture, government programs, conservation programs, education and research. It is amazing to consider how many career opportunities are available that can support agriculture. I Googled “careers in agriculture” and was impressed.

Engineering is one of the hottest occupations today. Know someone considering pursuing an engineering degree? Check out the possibilities as an agricultural engineer. Wikipedia came up with a list of possible specialties, from designing agricultural facilities, equipment and machinery to working for government agencies to consultants, to research analysis; it is amazing!  Makes me wonder if I had known about these possibilities, would I have chosen a different agricultural career path?

Incorporating agriculture into ever-growing STEM programs could really change the world. There is a need to understand the importance and complexity of agriculture and what supportive career opportunities are available. As stated by the US Department of Education, “All young people should be prepared to think deeply and to think well, so that they have the chance to become innovators, educators, researchers and leaders who can solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation and our world, both today and tomorrow.”

One of the most pressing challenges for the future is producing enough food for the projected US population of 438 million and world population of 9.6 billion by 2050.  Agriculture education is critical.

Written by Mary Smallsreed, a Trumbull County Farm Bureau member and county board trustee.