Ag Students May Already Hold the Key to their Future​​


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FFA members in high demand for ag ed and a variety of other ag fields

As Coordinator of Student Relations for Clemson University’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, Katie Black spends a lot of time talking to high school agriculture students about their future – and how it might start at Clemson. Her main message? The possibilities are virtually endless.

“As you look at the job outlook for 2015, when this year’s seniors may graduate from college, there’s an obvious focus on careers that help us do more with less – how we can maximize food sources, grow lettuce in outer space, maximize alternative energy sources. What can livestock tell us about medical advances – like why are dairy cows the only mammal that doesn’t get breast cancer?” Black says.

As a professional college recruiter, Black knows that students with agricultural and FFA experience are in high demand – and have options available that include teaching, scientific research, medicine, engineering, public policy, marketing, business, communications and more. “We get a lot of push from companies who want graduates in agricultural education and related degrees,” she says. “Companies want sales, marketing and public relations folks with agriculture education degrees. Some companies just want students involved with FFA.”

Black is not alone. Increasing numbers of colleges and universities are hiring professional recruiters to attract students to their schools – and many are focusing on agricultural students. “There is a big initiative on behalf of private and public agricultural sectors for applicable candidates to fill agriculture-related careers,” says Alex D. Meredith, a recruiter for Delaware State University College of Agriculture and Related Sciences. “This year alone, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expecting to have a turnover in workforce due to the retirement of the baby boom generation.” That agency and others look to recruiters to help fill the pipeline with college students majoring in related agricultural fields.

Students considering a career in agriculture, ag education, or other related fields should take heart not just in job opportunities, but in the quality of the jobs and benefits available. “Students interested in teaching can find a lot of enjoyment in agriculture education, working with people and working with a wide variety of sciences,” Black says. “The 12-month contracts and salaries of ag education teachers are also appealing.”

Black and Meredith both say that attracting many FFA members and “farm kids” to agriculture is relatively easy, but colleges also want to let students interested in science and business know that agriculture is a real option to consider. “For students who don’t come from a farm background, the biggest myth about agricultural studies is that it only entails production agriculture. Yet 46 percent of agriculturally related careers are related to some form of business, such as accounting, management, marketing, etc.,” says Meredith.

High school teachers can play an important role in helping their own and other students see the career options available within agriculture. Increasingly, teachers find college recruiters willing to help them do just that.

“Clemson University and the South Carolina Department of Agriculture host a one-week summer program for kids interested in agriculture,” Black says. “We also invite every local FFA chapter to a Clemson football game and host them at a tailgate party. FFA is there, and lots of other organizations. And as someone with an ag ed background who’s still involved in FFA, I get to talk with a lot of teachers and students.”

Despite all the concentrated recruitment going on in many university agriculture programs today, Black says the high school teacher is still the most influential person in helping a student understand career options in agriculture. “I really enjoy working with students, but the most important part of my recruitment program is my personal relationships with ag educators in the state,” she says.

“Teachers already know their students, and they can help direct students of agriculture as they consider their options after high school,” Black says. Now more than ever, colleges and universities are increasingly eager to help teachers open a wide variety of doors to some very exciting options for college and beyond.