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Preparing Students for New Crop of Careers

Posted: June 21, 2011

In the agricultural sciences lab at Oley Valley High School, students cut tiny slices of plant tissue and insert the fragments into growing mediums. There, if things go as planned, miniature roses will eventually bloom. But this lesson is not necessarily about growing roses.
Oley Valley High School junior Andrea Johnson, 17, left, learns how to take a plant tissue culture sample with student teacher Alexander Youst in the school's agricultural sciences lab. Oley has about 130 ag students, up from 35 three decades ago.

Oley Valley High School junior Andrea Johnson, 17, left, learns how to take a plant tissue culture sample with student teacher Alexander Youst in the school's agricultural sciences lab. Oley has about 130 ag students, up from 35 three decades ago.

Originally Published in Reading Eagle on 5/21/2011
By Darrin Youker, Staff Writer
610-371-5032 - dyouker@readingeagle.com

As student teacher Alexander Youst (Penn State Agricultural and Extension Education-Production major student) leads Oley students through the lesson, he is reinforcing the importance of keeping a clean lab and following precise directions to ensure the best results. The lesson, Youst says, mimics the work that scientists perform every day for agriculture companies and research firms.

"What we are focusing on in ag sciences is how it is applicable in the real world," Youst says. "I could lecture, and that is one way to teach it, but why not just jump into the lab?"

Agriculture education teachers in Berks County and across Pennsylvania are trying to lay the groundwork for getting students interested in agriculture careers. They are pushing to meet a growing demand. Industry estimates project that more than 50,000 jobs will be added annually to the agriculture and renewable energy sectors over five years.

That means high schools have to capture students' interests early, before they make decisions on careers, said Dr. J. Marcos Fernandez, associate dean for undergraduate education in agricultural sciences at Penn State.

There are simply not enough students in agricultural sciences to meet that nationwide job demand, he said.

What's more, Penn State and other colleges have to appeal to an increasing number of potential agriculture students who are coming from nonfarming backgrounds, Fernandez said.

Penn State has 2,700 students enrolled in agricultural sciences at its main campus in State College and satellite locations, an increase of 1,900 students from five years ago, Fernandez said. But of that number, just 15 percent have backgrounds in farming.

Read more at:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=309448 or contact Darrin Youker at 610-371-5032, dyouker@readingeagle.com.