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Supporting the Next Generation of the Agriculture Workforce

Supporting the Next Generation of the Agriculture Workforce
The Animal Science students take notes and answer questions during their tour of livestock facilities.

The Northern Crops Institute Conducts a Successful Inaugural Summer Ag Academy

We often hear about the lack of agricultural education within our schooling systems. Though some places have thorough resources for kids and teens looking to go into the agriculture industry, many schools do not. This is one reason why the Northern Crops Institute (NCI), in conjunction with North Dakota State University agriculture professors and experts, has designed a new summer agriculture experience for high school students. The inaugural Summer Ag Academy—which took place from June 13 through June 16— brought teens from all over the country to NDSU’s campus, where they took a deep dive into the world of agriculture and learned about potential career opportunities. I spoke with the Northern Crops Institute’s Program Development Manager Casey Peterson to learn more about the goals of the academy and what it will do to improve access to ag education.

The Origin of the Academy

Prior to the creation of the NCI Summer Ag Academy, the Director of the Institute, Mark Jirik, had gotten some feedback from those in the agriculture industry that there was a shortage in the younger workforce. As much of the current workforce reaches retirement age, it has become more important than ever to generate interest in agriculture among the younger generations. In the Midwest, with agriculture at the forefront of our economy, it is a great place to show young people the intricacies of the industry.

“We’re uniquely positioned to do this. We serve North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana primarily, but we work with a lot of people internationally and across the US, as well. Because of that, we have a lot of resources to pull together and share with students to give them a unique experience,” Program Development Manager Casey Peterson said.

With the knowledge and resources to educate young people on the plethora of career opportunities related to agriculture, the NCI came up with the idea to host up to 60 high school students on NDSU’s campus to learn about the complexity of agricultural careers. In the development process for the academy, the team came up with three primary tracks that the students could choose from: International Trade and Policy, Food Science, and Animal Science.

“All of the curriculum was developed by Brooke Thiel, who’s a professor in ag education at NDSU. It is a very active, handson experience. It is also very fast-paced,” Peterson said.

In order to make this program as accessible as possible and to attract students who may not be otherwise interested in agriculture, NCI decided to make this program completely free to the students, as well. The academy was open to any student who was interested in ag, regardless of their experience with the track they chose. 

To sweeten the deal even further, NCI was able to offer the option for students to receive two college credits towards a future degree upon completion of the Academy. While this was optional, it added another reason for students to join in on this educational opportunity—and ultimately more motivation for students to learn about agriculture.

On the livestock barn tour, students were able to interact with the calves.

The Experience

June 13 came around, and 44 students from around the United States embarked on their new agricultural journey. After settling in on Tuesday night, their Wednesday and Thursday were jam-packed with hands-on educational activities, classroom learning, facility tours, and lectures. At the end of each instructional day, students were asked to debrief and discuss what they learned throughout their day.

On Wednesday’s debrief session and afternoon lecture, the general consensus was that agriculture is way more complex than most of them had originally thought. The students were quick to connect their experiences to the world around them. With some help from NCI staff and other industry experts, the students also began to see that agriculture was more than just farming out on a field by yourself.

Throughout the course of just three days, students were able to learn enough to count the experience as two college credits—a crazy number, considering a full semester-long course is typically three or four credits!

“Dr. Thiel worked hard on making sure that the number of hours that they were in the classroom and/or with an instructor, along with any types of projects that we were having them do, would meet the requirements for those credits,” Peterson said.

Though many students seemed a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information that had been given on their first full day of the academy, most had something to contribute when asked about the key takeaways from their educational experiences of the day. And within those 72 hours on NDSU’s campus, the students walked away with a whole new set of skills and knowledge that most their age will not have. Ideally, they’ll tell their friends about it and get more people interested in it for next year!

The Future of the Academy

Now that the first NCI Summer Ag Academy has come to a close and the students have gone home with a renewed interest in agriculture, the future of the Summer Ag Academy is looming. Will it be back next year? Peterson and the NCI team think so.

“Our hope is that we’ll do it here for another year or two,” Peterson said. “We want to host it here for a while to make sure it continues to be successful, but we also partner with land grant institutions in each state that we work with. Eventually, we would like to rotate the locations so that we can serve our states a little bit better and reach more of our region.”

The ultimate goal is to establish this as a more permanent program in the Midwest to help generate interest in ag and bolster the workforce more than ever before. After a successful first run, the NCI Summer Ag Academy is well on it’s way to becoming a vital educational resource for the Midwest and beyond!

International Trade & Policy students learned about the international food supply chain with a fun in-classroom Farm to Fork activity.

NCI Northern Crops Institute

Interested in Getting involved with the NCI Summer Ag Academy?

1240 Bolley Dr, Fargo
(701) 231-7736
Facebook | /NorthernCropsInstitute
Twitter | @NCI_NDSU
Instagram | @northerncropsinstitute

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