Kalie Anderson (left) and Camryn Buskey (right) practice lab techniques for experiments in their biotechnology and genetics class in the agricultural education program at Anthony Wayne High School.

STEM programs appear in schools

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 U.S. 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 that are being developed. The vo-ag programs consist of classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised occupational experiences and membership in Future Farmers of America. 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 have declined 1 to 3 percent annually. But this program is no longer enough. We should be doing more to encourage the next generation of farmers and 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 agri-businesses 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, veterinarians for food animals, nutrition for both 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!!

So how do we get students excited about career jobs in agriculture? Get the teachers excited!

We need teachers that are willing to learn new things and engage their students with a new  or different perspective in the STEM programs. Why? Because agriculture fits perfectly and it’s needed!!

Incorporating agriculture into the 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.

Maybe you, as a teacher don’t know where to start! There are free resources available to schools and teachers willing to use them.

Want to take your students on a virtual field trip to a pig farm? Check out Farmtastic Google Adventures sponsored by county Farm Bureaus in northeast Ohio, Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Pork Council at www.Ohio-pork.org/fieldtrip.

GrowNextGen is an agricultural education outreach effort funded by the Ohio Soybean Council and Ohio soybean farmers.

Another great resource is the Feed the World program offered through the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association. And please check out the American Farm Bureau Foundation where there are downloadable activities and lesson plans about agriculture.

“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,” the U.S. Department of Education site states.

Let’s not leave agriculture out of the educational equation!

Submitted by Mary Smallsreed, a Trumbull County Farm Bureau member who grew up on a dairy farm in northeast Ohio.