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Building Human Capital for Tomorrow's Food and Fiber System (Educating Students)

America's agricultural system is the world's largest commercial industry, with assets exceeding $1 trillion. One of every six U.S. jobs is tied to it. In Pennsylvania, almost 800,000 people are employed on farms, in food processing, in retail food stores and in eating/drinking establishments, making agriculture the state's number one industry.
Taisha Cruz Former participant in a College of Agricultural Sciences summer study program and senior at W. B. Saul High School, Philadelphia.

Taisha Cruz Former participant in a College of Agricultural Sciences summer study program and senior at W. B. Saul High School, Philadelphia.

"I'm a city girl. When I say I want to be a farmer, people look at me like I'm weird; but if I say I want to be an agriculture teacher, they understand a little better. I've always loved agriculture, but coming to Penn State was such an eye-opener for me: it's not just farming, but a big field that includes marketing, research, agribusiness, science and technology, and much more."

The value of the state's agricultural exports, including forest products, is nearly $1 billion. Animal agriculture, representing 56 percent of Pennsylvania farm income, is the largest sector of our agricultural industry. Pennsylvania ranks first nationally in the production of mushrooms, potato chips, pretzels, processed chocolate/cocoa and licensed bakeries. We are in the top 10 nationally in apple, grape, pear, peach and cherry production; cheese and ice cream; and trout, mink pelts and commercial red meat. If we are to maintain this strong position and meet the needs of a rapidly expanding global population, it's critical that we continue to produce graduates with the skills necessary to meet tomorrow's technical, social and political challenges. A recent Purdue University/US Department of Agriculture report cites an annual 5 percent shortfall of college graduates in the food and agricultural fields. Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences continues to be at the national forefront in preparing students to take leading, progressive positions.

The Payoff

Undergraduate research

Opportunities to learn the latest in research techniques are crucial in the changing face of agriculture, where advances such as precision agriculture, biotechnology and global competition require increasingly sophisticated skills. Undergraduate research experiences allow students to go one-on-one in the laboratory with internationally renowned scholars. Students develop a better understanding of current intellectual debates and acquire invaluable experience with new technologies. In an average academic year, 120 undergraduate students are involved in these research opportunities.

Study abroad programs

An indispensable component in the College's drive to produce graduates ready to compete in an international marketplace are study abroad programs. The College has created opportunities for students to gain international experience in their specific area of agricultural emphasis. Programs with the Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland; the University of Salamanca, Spain; the University of Freiburg, Germany; and many others provide unique educational opportunities in forest science, food science and agricultural economics. In addition, faculty use their personal international contacts to establish individual study opportunities for students outside of these formal programs.

Minority Student Apprenticeships in Agriculture

In an effort to improve both the ethnic and gender diversity of the College's student population, this program recruits science-oriented high school students from target populations, encourages them to enroll in agricultural sciences in college, and promotes their retention to graduation should they later attend college. Academically prepared high school juniors apply to apprentice one-on-one with faculty mentors on research projects in agricultural labs and field sites. They also receive precollege admission, career and financial-aid counseling. Applications to the program typically exceed available openings. Of the 61 participants to date, two-thirds went on to enroll in agricultural sciences as undergraduates. In addition, the number of apprentices who ultimately complete their undergraduate education is about 80 percent, matching the standard retention rate for all Penn State students.

The Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Agricultural Sciences

Created in 1986 to respond to a critical need for agricultural scientists, this program is a collaborative initiative of Pennsylvania's Departments of Education and Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania's Intermediate Units and Penn State. Following a competitive application process, 64 academically talented high school students who have a high interest in some aspect of agriculture are invited to attend this five-week summer program of intensive study. Along with instruction in several core courses, students can concentrate in such areas as remote sensing, land-use planning, silviculture, insect ecology, biotechnology and computer monitoring systems. Lecturers and faculty are drawn from top researchers, professors, agribusiness leaders and state government representatives. Since 1986, 100 percent of the program's 704 participants have gone on to college, and more than 60 percent have pursued careers in agricultural, natural resource or life sciences.

Internship opportunities

Created to provide college students with real-world experiences, Penn State has made a major commitment to student internships. The College of Agricultural Sciences has actualized that commitment with its computerized internship database -- the first of its kind at Penn State -- which contains more than 2,000 employment opportunities with more than 250 employers. Recent interns have raised swine at a large-scale farm in North Carolina, marketed hardwood in Indonesia, written news releases for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources and helped to develop a new product for General Foods. This searchable database is accessible via the World Wide Web and has had more than 16,000 "hits" since 1996.

Job opportunities

Penn State's Office of Career Development and Placement Services is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the nation, offering individualized career counseling, workshops on interviewing skills and job searches, and job fairs. The College of Agricultural Sciences offers agriculture-specific services, including academic and career advisers, an agricultural-career job placement course and an annual student-run Agribusiness Careers Fair that attracts more than 50 companies. The College also provides an individualized faculty-to-student mentoring program. While very labor-intensive, the efficacy of this strategy is clear: 80 percent of the College's baccalaureate degree recipients are working in their profession within three months of graduation, while 10 to 14 percent go on to graduate or professional schools.

For more information regarding College of Agricultural Sciences undergraduate and specialized programs, contact Dr. Marianne Fivek in the Office of Undergraduate Education at (814) 865-7521 or visit the College's website at: http://agsci.psu.edu.