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Podcast: Latinos in Agriculture Interview

Posted by Edward Romero on July 10th, 2011

Nancy O’Mallon from About Harvest recorded a podcast interview with Edward Romero, Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Forum co-organizer, which will be held in San Antonio on October 27 & 28, 2011 at the El Tropicano Riverwalk hotel.  Click this link to listen to the interview.

The event is shaping up nicely. If you have not registered yet, go to the Latinos in Agriculture website for more information and register for the forum.  Registration is limited to the first 150 registrants.

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Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Forum

Posted by Edward Romero on June 19th, 2011

AgForLife, LLC and TCTS Global, LLC have partnered to organize the Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Forum, specifically called, Latinos in Agriculture: A Leaders Forum on Capitalizing Hispanic Talent, which will be in San Antonio, Texas at the El Tropicano Riverwalk hotel on October 27 & 28, 2011.

AgForLife and TCTS Global hopes to connect industry, government, and education in order to begin an open dialogue about some of the barriers, opportunities, and challenges in recruiting Latinos into Agriculture. For years, government and higher education have been working at trying to entice minorities into agriculture but with limited success.  Some agricultural related companies have been working hard to find a diverse and qualified applicant pool as well, but the problem lies in that there are very few Hispanics enrolling in agricultural related degrees in colleges in the United States. In 2008, only 11,353 or 4.5 percent of the 251,422 college students enrolled in an agricultural or related degree program were Hispanic/Latino.  In addition, many Latinos view agriculture as a dead-end career where only the negative perceptions of hard work, long hours, stoop labor, low wages, and working in harsh conditions are the norm. This negative perception will continue to challenge us in the coming years if not addressed.

What is the purpose of the leadership forum?

  • To explore deliberate approaches in connecting agricultural stakeholders to improve Latino/Hispanic representation in Agriculture.
  • To inform industry, government, and academia of the huge potential in creating a Latino/Hispanic pipeline of future students, employees, and consumers.
  • To develop and establish a post-conference network of participants interested in addressing some of the challenges in the different market segments related to students, universities, and businesses.

What are the goals of the workshop?

  • To share recruiting strategies and best practices from industry, government, and academia on how to increase the Latino/Hispanic student representation into the educational pipeline for agriculture and related fields.
  • To allow participants the opportunity to find out more about Latinos/Hispanics and ask what they always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.
  • To explore the possibility of establishing an annual event aimed at continuing to address the emerging Latino population and how it relates to the potential impact it can have on the future of Agriculture and related industries.

Participants in the 2011 Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Forum will benefit from the opportunity to network and meet with leaders from industry, government and academia that see the value and have the vision of the opportunity in addressing the impact Latinos can have on the future of Agriculture.

Everyone that attends the forum will walk away with strategies and best practices on how to tap into this emerging demographic and how to better meet the challenge of creating a Latino/Hispanic pipeline of future students, employees, and consumers.

The Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Forum early registration is open until September 16, 2011 and is $295.00 per person and is limited to the first 150 registrants. After September 16, 2011, the forum registration is $350.00.  Registration includes three breaks, continental breakfast, lunch, welcome reception and conference materials.

For those on planning to attend, reserve your hotel room at the El Tropicano Riverwalk hotel as soon as possible as only a limited block of rooms are reserved.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.  San Antonio will be nice in October. We hope to see you there.

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Natural versus Unnatural in Agriculture

Posted by Edward Romero on January 30th, 2011

I just read a great blog called Feedstuffs Food Link: Connecting farm to fork, by Dr. Normand St-Pierre explaining the difference between natural selection and unnatural in agriculture. It is a great post that explains in layman’s terms, why natural is not always a good thing. Natural eggs,  natural chicken, etc. may not always be the best. I would encourage you to read his blog to better understand why.  I think he does a great job in explaining his position.  Feel free to post  your comments on his site after reading the blog.

I think you will find the post enlightening and interesting as well as educational.

You can find the blog post here.

Until next time…

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Agriculture and Nonconformity: A thread that binds us

Posted by Edward Romero on December 1st, 2010

Photo by Pave M.

Thanks for your patience. It’s been way too long since my last blog post, and yet, you are gracious enough to stop by and read this latest post. For those of you who follow, thanks for the continued support.

For those of you who just stumbled into the AgForLife blog for the very first time, I would encourage you to sign up with the RSS Feed, which you can find at the upper left part of the page. For those of you who read my blogs (when I post), share it with your friends. Post it on Twitter. Share it on Facebook. Help me get the AgForLife name out there.

I am not even sure where I should start since I have so many things I want to say, but here we go…

Since my last post, I have traveled, moderated a panel for college students from all over the country, started a new project,  which we will be announcing the first quarter of 2011, and yet, I feel like I have let all my readers down by not posting religiously like I was told I should.

So be it…not because I don’t value those who support AgForLife, but because I am not the typical blogger who posts at designated days or times of the week. I believe you should blog when you have something important to say or share, not just blog because it’s “cool” to do so like the zillion other bloggers posting on the internet with useless content.

I, like many others, subscribe to a number of different blogs that I read often, for the most part, when they publish their blogs.  In doing so, I am going to do something I rarely do – endorse someone who inspires me.

Chris doesn’t even know me. We’ve never met. He doesn’t even know I exist. But Chris is an inspiration to me. Chris talks about different things but for the most part, his blog is centered around three areas: Life, Work, and Travel.

Oh and did I mention, he helps people take over the world. (His words, not mine!)

You see, he’s traveled to 150 countries and counting. No, he’s not an inspiration because of his travels. He’s an inspiration because his writes about The Art of Non-Conformity. Yeah, that’s right, non-conforming; unconventional methods of work.

Chris defines nonconformity as “a lack of orthodoxy in thoughts or beliefs” or “the refusal to accept established customs, attitudes, or ideas.”

In his blogs he writes with “the conviction that you don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to” which is refreshing and inviting. So many blogs out there are about status quo.

He also writes about entrepreneurship and unconventional work and stresses the importance of having fun while the work is meaningful.

And of course, he talks about his travels.

The real reason his posts are such an inspiration is because when we first started AgForLife, people doubted us. They didn’t or couldn’t see our vision. Some people still can’t.  People didn’t have faith in us. Even today, many people don’t think our approach is logical. And that’s okay.

I got tired of sharing our strategy. I got tired of people telling me it couldn’t be done. I countered…I think it can!  So we set out to try and make a positive impact in the agricultural industry.  I can honestly say, when I finished my doctorate, I never thought I would be the person in the driver’s seat. I naively thought someone else was already doing what we thought should be done.  But I guess I was wrong.

We’re not there yet, but everyday we move a little closer to achieving our business goals. I can’t tell you when we’ll get there, but I know everyday opens many new doors and those who are serious about helping, continue to find us.

You see…I am a realist at heart, but an optimist to the core. Today, I rarely share my strategies with anyone outside my support group, unless people are serious enough to want to learn more. I am told to ignore people who tell me “you can’t.” I think my supporters are right on!

So why am I telling you about Chris? Why am I telling you about my story?

Well, it’s simple. Chris is an inspiration because I believe like he does. I have come to the realization that I too look at unconventional ways at approaching a problem.  I guess you can say I am a non-conformist at heart. I see unconventional ways of approaching established customs or ideas in agriculture from a student recruitment perspective. The approach we are taking is unconventional – no doubt – but damn sure meaningful.

According to Jeffrey Gitomer, “every obstacle presents an opportunity, if you’re looking for it.” I think he’s right.

The challenge I am talking about is the lack of students entering agriculture and the many related fields of study available in many agricultural colleges across this country.  What’s even more sobering is the lack of minority students considering agriculture.

Where are they? Is any one addressing this issue? So far, I’ve yet to find anyone who dares say they do.

In 2008, only 1.49% of undergraduate students of the 16 million plus ENROLLED (not graduated) in 2-year and 4-year schools in the U.S., were studying agriculture or some related field. That’s a measly 251,000 students.

In that same year, of those 251,000 students in agriculture or some related field, only 4.5% (11.535) were Latino or Hispanic and Black student enrollment was not much better at 5.6% (13,972).

Is this a problem for agriculture – absolutely – especially with the rapidly changing demographics?  Is there an opportunity here to help out – you bet! As we continue working on our business model and product development, I am confident we will be able to make strides in helping students see the many opportunities in agriculture. It will take time, but I think we can do it, and in the end, we all win!

After all, Chris Guillebeau in his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity says we can; and that is good enough for me.

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Undergraduate Recruiting Series: Part 4 of 4

Posted by Edward Romero on October 12th, 2010

Domain: Professional Development

Welcome to Part 4 of the Undergraduate Recruiting Series.  You can find Part 1 (Intro) here. Part 2 (Outreach/Recruitment) can be found here and Part 3 (Educational Development) here.

This week we will talk about the third part of the Undergraduate Recruiting and Educational Pipeline (UREP) model – Professional Development.

Over the course of the last several weeks, we have talked about the following research as outlined in the first blog post.

  • Students Must Be Connected With Their Educational Environment
  • Family and Community Support Is the Key to Academic Support
  • Students Become Active Learners When the Experience is Meaningful
  • Students Will Select Careers They Believe Are Most Relevant to Their Future Success
  • Perceptions about Agriculture Are Not Always Positive

Which leads me to a couple of points.

Relative to this topic and according to research, perceived barriers and relational support found that both family support and the perception of barriers were predictive of career aspirations. In other words, family is not only key to academic support but also influential in the career choice of the child. Students will select careers they believe are most relevant to their future success as do parents.  Some of those factors that influence career aspirations in addition to parental support are race, gender, academic achievement, socio economic status and self-esteem.

Research has also shown students often ask themselves the following questions when determining what their career selection will be, which in turn, determines their field of study.

  1. What does my family think about this career option?
  2. Are there others like me in this career?
  3. Can I be successful in this career and have room for growth?
  4. Will I make money in this career?
  5. Will I have to move from the comforts and conveniences of a life that I am use to?
  6. So you are probably asking yourself, what does all the above have to do with Professional Development?

Typically, Professional Development begins while students are in college. In the UREP model, it is part of the Educational Development domain (part 3 blog post) within the Student Development category, but it also occurs after graduation as well. See picture above.

From an academic perspective, the Professional Development domain is more a result of the efforts prior to graduation than the actual domain itself and is the final phase in the UREP model. The ultimate goal or objective for most colleges and universities is to prepare students who are ready to delve into the workforce and start their professional career.

By students working with their University Career Center, students can learn about:

  • Job Search
  • Cover Letters
  • Resume Writing
  • Dressing for Success
  • Professional Business Etiquette

plus more…

In addition, in preparing students for their early professional career, students exposed to industry professionals early in the process can learn valuable business skills such as:

  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Networking
  • Communication
  • Public Speaking
  • Mock Interviewing
  • Learning Industry Lingo
  • Professional Expectations
  • Industry Direction or Interest
  • Personal Brand Development

Please note, the above list is not meant to be an all-inclusive list. I am sure you can think of other skills as well.

All or some of the above skills can be learned during internship or cooperative work experiences and are strongly encouraged.

Industry Partners

Often times, the first thing we think about when partnering with industry is asking for money. Financial support in the way of scholarships or some of other financial means is important and many provide financial assistance to students to help them go to school.  And it’s appreciated, don’t get me wrong.

However, there are ways that industry can partner with colleges or universities besides just giving money to the school for scholarships. Money for scholarships is one way to collaborate, but there are more opportunities for direct involvement from industry professionals as well.

Industry Professionals are good resources and are often times very willing to provide general information to college students in preparation for their first job opportunities. Professionals are willing to talk about any of the topics mentioned above.

For instance, as a student advisor, we partnered with industry professionals and invited them to conduct workshops for the students. They would discuss many of the topics listed above. Some would conduct mock interviews. Others would look over resumes or cover letters.  We also had sessions on how to network with industry professionals, plus more.

Interestingly, what I found that students enjoyed the most and was most helpful were personal stories. Stories about how they ended up where they did. The routes they took and the experiences they gained along the way. In my opinion, nothing beats a personal story to show how many pathways can be taken to end up at the same place – the job you want.

My experience always found industry professionals excited to talk to college students about the do’s” and “don’ts” of what should be done in trying to land a job, whether it’s just an internship or a more permanent job; regardless, they were willing to help. You just need to ask!

Until next time…

Adios!

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Undergraduate Recruiting Series: Part 3 of 4

Posted by Edward Romero on September 30th, 2010

Domain: Educational Development

This week we are going to talk about the Educational Development domain found in the Undergraduate Recruiting and Educational Pipeline (UREP) model.  Last week I talked about the first domain, Outreach and Recruitment which is meant as the first step in reaching out to students to help them begin the navigation process into higher education while studying agriculture or a related field.

The Educational Development domain is divided into two categories, the first is Retention and the second is Student Development. Each category functions interdependent from the other but both are critical to the success of the student’s college completion regardless of whether they are attending a 2-year college or 4-year university.

Matriculation is the step that occurs after recruitment but before retention in the Educational Development domain.  See the image above.  Students who apply AND enroll into a college or university are said to have matriculated. Show up. Register for courses.

Once students have enrolled onto a campus the Educational Development domain takes over and is critical in two areas, retention and student development. Retention is critical for many reasons and can vary greatly from student to student.

Retention

Retention definitions can vary from school to school or program to program. It’s important that you determine how you define retention for your program prior to developing your recruiting plan. Most universities will consider 6-year or 4-year persistency (how long they stayed) numbers at a university. Two-year colleges may look at 3-year or 2-year time-frames to determine program completion.

This post will not delve into the differences in retention strategies, but without getting too detailed, retention can deal with finances, academics, personal issues, etc.  In short retention is an intervention that will help you keep the students in your programs who are struggling and who want to be there.

Ask yourself this question: What is the problem you are trying to solve to help the student stay in school?

This requires that you ask a lot of questions to get to the root of the problem.  Sometimes it takes time and lots of patience.

Last week I mentioned that you should consider Outreach first before recruiting.

Here’s why.

Helping students understand the relevance of how agricultural careers are significant to their success in the Outreach/Recruiting domain helps students stay motivated to finish their program when they run into bumps along the way. Otherwise, if students do not see the importance of how their college major will be of benefit to them in the future, often, students give up and try a different major. This affects your matriculation numbers, which in turn affects your persistency numbers.  It’s a domino effect.

In short, it does no good to go out and recruit more students if you can’t keep the students you have in your program.  After all, we are not even considering time, energy, and resources (financial or otherwise) it took to recruit the individual student.  Good recruiters understand this concept.

Student Development

The second category of the Educational Development domain is Student Development.  Regardless of whether the student is attending a university or two-year program, Student Development is pretty much the same concept. This category is broad but is rather simple. Basically, any type of activity that can provide the student an opportunity to build their skill set will fall into this category.

Fundamentally, it is programming that helps the student further develop emotionally, socially, and/or intellectually in a college environment. It can also include leadership or work experience such as work-study, study abroad, internships, and cooperative work agreements.

Often times, Retention is a beneficiary of effective Student Development opportunities.  Research has shown that students involved in extra-curricular activities – in moderation – are more apt to stay in school and also do better in school.  Hence, retention numbers improve, students have a better college experience, and are more fulfilled when they graduate and prepare for their professional career.

Next week we will tackle the last of the three domains, Professional Development in the UREP model.  It is important to note that the Student Development category and the Professional Development domain are interdependent, meaning; they can function alone but work best when they work in tandem.  We will explore this a little more within the coming days.

Until next time…Adios!

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Undergraduate Recruiting Series: Part 2 of 4

Posted by Edward Romero on September 21st, 2010

Domain: Outreach/Recruitment

Last week I introduced you to the Undergraduate Recruiting and Educational Pipeline (UREP) model as well as some research that should be considered in your agricultural recruiting efforts.  This week I will talk about the first of three domain areas in the UREP model. They are Outreach and Recruitment, the 2nd part of the 4-part series I will be sharing with you over the next several weeks. This post will delve a little deeper into the strategies used in Outreach and Recruitment as well as the difference between the two.  Please keep in mind the UREP model is designed toward funneling more students into higher education in the fields of agriculture, food, natural resources and related fields.

All strategies to help steer students into Agriculture or convince them of considering a career or major in Agriculture starts with Outreach. For the purpose of the UREP model in this discussion, it starts with high school aged students.  NOTE: The model can start well into the lower grades. Conceptually speaking, starting with elementary, middle, or high school aged students in using the model is the same. Where you start, depends on your target audience. For the purpose of this discussion, we are targeting high school students.

For some of you, Outreach and Recruitment are synonymous and probably meant to be the same or used interchangeably; however, they can be distinctly different and can serve a singular purpose, depending on intent of your program or outcome.

Perhaps a couple of definitions can help followed by some explanation.

Outreach: Providing information about Agriculture, food, natural resources, and related fields in order to help students (and parents) make informed decisions about opportunities in higher education without being specific to a particular agricultural department, college, or university.

In short, Outreach is giving students (can include teachers, parents, and counselors as well) information that will help them make an informed decision. Giving students facts about agriculture (not your school) related to careers, majors, employment opportunities, etc. are all part of Outreach. In essence, the student is given information that he or she can use to determine whether they want to consider Agriculture as a viable major or career NOT where they want to attend college. For instance, Johnny can use the information to determine whether a career in Agriculture is right for him. Period.

Perhaps little Johnny is considering several options such as “business”, “law”, “engineering” or any other number of careers. Your competition is not other schools, but rather other careers. More on this later…

The Outreach information can be used no matter where they decide to go to college, which leads me to Recruitment.

Recruitment: Is encouraging students to consider studying (anything… but in this case Agriculture) in a specific department, college, or university.  For the sake of this discussion, target audiences can include juniors in high school (depending on time of year), seniors in high school, and transfer students (mostly community college although not exclusive) ready to matriculate to a designated and targeted college or university.

AFTER, you have provided students with Outreach information about Agriculture and the many positive opportunities for them in a variety of degrees found in agricultural programs, colleges, universities; then, and only then, should you try and convince students to come to your school to study Agriculture.

Often times, I get the question, “Why do you recommend this process? Why don’t you start with the recruiting piece first and then give them the Outreach information?”

Well, remember the research I shared with you in the first part of this series. Two pieces of research relevant to the Outreach/Recruitment domain in the UREP model are:

  1. Perceptions about Agriculture Are Not Always Positive
  2. Students Will Select Careers They Believe Are Most Relevant to Their Future Success

The literature is riddled with research that shows there is a negative perception about agriculture. In fact, a 2005 national study in the United States found that 41% of the students surveyed had a misconception or image about agricultural sciences. In addition, 33% of the same students surveyed lacked knowledge about employment opportunities and 22% lacked knowledge about fields of study.

Talking about Recruiting first to students who have a negative perception about agriculture or do not know about careers in agriculture or related fields is like talking to the wall. Students really have a hard time understanding the relevance of why they should consider YOUR agricultural school if they do not first believe agriculture is what they should study. You need to help students see the relevance how agricultural careers are significant to their success first, which then:

  1. makes recruiting easier,
  2. establishes your credibility with them,
  3. improves matriculation to your program,
  4. increases retention once in your program,
  5. which in turn, boosts graduation percentages.

For all students, graduation is a major milestone. And rightly so!

Of course, there are other variables in the formula for success and graduation. It would be naïve to think Outreach and Recruitment are the only two factors that predicate graduation success, but research shows that if students believe their career choices are relevant to their future, they will most definitely work hard to finish school.

As a side note, how you approach students into convincing them agriculture is their best choice takes practice.  As a recruiter, you have a moral and ethical obligation to share accurate information.  Being truthful and honest about the opportunities in agriculture, careers, majors, etc. is critical in guiding students into their proper program even if it means it’s not in an agricultural college or program, hence the importance of being knowledgeable about careers in agriculture and related fields. The more knowledgeable you are, the more options you can give students to find their interest, and the more effective you are in your agricultural programming.

Next week, we will talk about Educational Development, the second domain found in the UREP model.  This domain addresses some of the factors related to the first domain above – matriculation and retention – and positions the students for graduation.

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Undergraduate Recruiting Series: Part 1 of 4

Posted by Edward Romero on September 13th, 2010

Over the next several weeks in a four-part series, I am going to talk about an undergraduate educational recruiting pipeline model that I often use when consulting. I have been developing this model since the early 90′s when I was a recruiter at New Mexico State University in their agricultural college. Since then, I have refined it and used it successfully to increase Hispanic students by 70% and African American students by 58% during my time in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University, from 2000 to 2008.  I hope the model can provide some value to your recruiting efforts.

This week I will introduce you to some research that should be considered in your agricultural recruiting efforts. In addition, I will also introduce you to the Undergraduate Recruiting and Educational Pipeline model.  Due to space and time constraints, we will only touch on a select number of issues found in the research for this post, but you should consider the areas highlighted below in your recruiting efforts when addressing students to consider an agricultural major or academic program. Over the subsequent weeks, I will touch on the three domains of the model; one for each week – Outreach/Recruitment; Educational Development; and Professional Development.

What the Research Tells Us

Students Must Be Connected With Their Educational Environment

Underrepresented students have a hard time finding instructors, classmates and programs they feel connected to at historically white colleges and universities.  This disconnect sometimes leads to academically well-prepared students to earn lower grades, on average, then majority students given the same academic preparation.  This lack of engagement is a primary reason for a student’s disengagement which, in-turn leads to weaker academic performance. (Anderson II, 2006)

Family and Community Support Is the Key to Academic Support

Perceived barriers and relational support found that both family support and the perception of barriers were predictive of career aspirations (Kenny, Blustein, Chaves, Grossman, & Gallagher, 2003)

Students Become Active Learners When the Experience is Meaningful

Meaningful experiences in agriculture, food, and natural resources for college students that incorporate strategies for academic, social, and career success, in addition to agriculturally related content, increases selection of agriculture, food, and natural resources as an area of study. (Anderson II, 2006)

Students Will Select Careers They Believe Are Most Relevant to Their Future Success

Factors influencing career aspirations are gender, race, parental support, academic achievement, socio economic status, and self esteem (Esters & Bowen, 2005).

For many urban and minority students, major factors that determine their career selection that in turn determines their field of study is: (Anderson II, 2006)

  1. What does my family think about this career option?
  2. Are there others like me in this career?
  3. Can I be successful in this career and have room for growth?
  4. Will I make money in this career?
  5. Will I have to move from the comforts and conveniences of a life that I am use to?

Perceptions about Agriculture Are Not Always Positive

Minority students had more negative perceptions regarding agriculture and agricultural education; and were more likely to perceive their reasons for enrolling as being beyond their control, perceived more barriers to enrolling, and were less likely to see opportunities for themselves in agricultural careers or to perceive agriculture as diverse (Talbert & Larke, 1995).

A negative opinion of pursuing a career in agriculture is really an expression of pursuing a career in farming and ranching, and that students have not been exposed to factual information about the industry of agriculture and corresponding careers (Orthel, Sorensen, Lerman, & Riesenberg, 1989).

Development of a conceptual model to illustrate redefined career areas in the broad agriculture, food, fiber, and natural resources industry needs to be created (Conroy, 2000) in order to provide useful and valuable career path information for students.

Undergraduate Recruiting and Educational Pipeline Model

In consideration of the information above, the Undergraduate Recruiting and Educational Pipeline model touches on three domains. They are:

  1. Outreach/Recruitment
  2. Educational Development
  3. Professional Development

The model is geared to address the three domains along the educational pipeline.  The purpose of the holistic recruiting and educational model is to matriculate future leaders from underrepresented groups (or any student), ensure retention, and assist in their career development for success toward college graduation. This is all done while preparing for their early professional career.

The model begins with identifying students through outreach and/or recruiting strategies. It is important to note, outreach and recruitment are not the same thing and will be discussed in more detail in next week’s blog post.

Once students have been identified, students will either choose to go to a 4-year university and some will decide to attend a 2-year college. Either way, Educational Development will occur. How it occurs can be different for each school and the strategies and programming to use can also be slightly different for each. Within the Educational Development domain, Retention as well as Student Development will take place. It’s important to note, diligence should be taken in making sure students are retained as well as what student development activities are available to them.  Each university or college identifies what retention and student development activities are available to students.  More detail about this area will be discussed in upcoming blog posts.

Professional Development is the last piece of the undergraduate model. Prior to graduation, students should take time to explore the third domain of the model.  This area addresses opportunities for students in preparation for their early professional career.  We will wrap up the series of blog posts with this domain topic in the coming weeks.

In order to graduate a larger number of students into agriculture, I believe colleges and universities have an obligation of helping students who are accepted into their programs – succeed. This Undergraduate Recruiting and Educational Pipeline model helps to address a holistic approach to assisting students navigate the educational pipeline at any university or college. For first generation students, this model helps put into perspective the process with which they will proceed. However, individual experiences are predicated on a number of variables found at each school or university as students navigate the often arduous process of obtaining a college degree.

With a little help from student advocates and persistence from students, this model has been known to work when both, student and college professional(s) work together.

Next week we will delve into the Outreach/Recruitment component of the model and how that affects college recruiting efforts in agriculture.

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Agriculture and Wall Street

Posted by Eric Brenner on August 30th, 2010

When I was a teenager, I always thought of the stock market as a crowded place with a bunch of people screaming at each other. A place where millions were made and also where lost. I never imagined that inside all that apparent chaos there was actually a logical financial frame behind the scenes. Several business, economic, finance, and accounting college courses later, topped with constant reading of financial articles have given me enough background to understand the fundamentals of it.

I am most definitely not an expert in the matter, but I have enough understanding where I can give a watered-down explanation of how it works. In general, many people hear the term stock exchange, but don’t really understand what the stock exchange is all about. A stock exchange is an organization that brings together stockbrokers and traders by giving them facilities to trade stocks, other securities and other financial instruments. For many of you this is an obvious matter, but for those who did not know, this might sound a little bit abstract. I am not really going too deep into the subject but barely cover the surface to give you an idea how it works.

The stock exchange is very similar to a grocery store and the things you see inside. In a grocery store, you will find sections like the fresh meat and fresh fish sections, the produce section, the dry goods section, etc. People come to this place to buy and sell food items. The difference is that in a stock exchange, instead of sections, there are markets that trade non-tangible transferable goods, and the markets per se are essentially not physically present inside the building. A stock exchange is a virtual marketplace where sellers, the issuing corporations or organizations, and buyers or traders, conduct business. Even though, the stock exchange and a grocery store are somehow similar, the process behind the operation of the stock exchange is way more complex.

I don’t believe there is a single descriptor that could fairly explain a career in this type of environment. Professionals in this field describe it as dynamic, fast moving, rewarding, stressful, fulfilling, exciting, and amazing all at the same time. Generally, when we think about careers in this line of work, we are inclined to associate it with business, finance, management, and economic majors, but never or almost never with agriculture.

But how does agriculture relate to stock trading?

Agriculture is related to the stock market through commodities. Practically everything that comes out of the ground such as wheat, orange juice, gold, oil, grains, etc, can be classified as a commodity. People buy and sell commodities based on speculation which have the potential for huge returns with lower than average investment, but with a much higher risk for loss. The agriculture commodity venue requires experienced investors with solid knowledge in the agricultural field.

Agricultural specialists provide current and accurate information that can make all the difference whether buying or selling commodities. Some of the information comes from different sources of data, and some of the decisions are made by forecasting market behaviors based on criteria that could positively or negatively affect commodities. By collecting and disseminating the right information in a timely manner, commodity traders position themselves in today’s diverse agricultural markets to make decisions that can generate profit and greatly mitigate the chances for losses.

Some professionals believe that agricultural commodity trading should be classified as a stand-alone cluster within the trading management business because of the distinctive aspects found in similar businesses that trade other types of commodities. Certain factors like multiple quality characteristics, weather conditions, unexpected events – political and economical – can affect crops and can increase the level of risk and complexity that are not found in more standardized or generic products.

Commodity traders constantly need to adjust the approach to agricultural production, marketing, and distribution to be able to compete in national, regional, and international markets. Traditional commodities like bananas, coffee, and sugar are no longer assured of guaranteed prices and ready access to international markets. The decisions based on speculations and uncertainties for this market require agricultural based knowledge.

Agriculture has the potential to inject professionals beyond the traditional roles. However, the current rigid and obsolete recruiting structures in our industry are doing little to expand beyond the traditional areas. Most elementary, junior high, and high school students are unaware that Wall Street, the banking system, financial analysts, stock traders, lending institutions, financial institutions, commodity trading, investment banking, accounting firms, and many more jobs are reachable through agriculture majors like agribusiness, agriculture economics, agriculture development, and agriculture engineering, among others.

But why is it that potential agriculture students are not getting this kind of information early on in their formative years?

For starters, the industry has not actively engaged students to show them how diverse the industry really is. Second, school counselors usually are not aware of agriculture majors outside the production side, which limits students to certain areas in agriculture. Third, teachers are usually not aware about the broad spectrum of career paths students can pursue and are not encouraged to consider pathways outside of production agriculture. Even though the agriculture industry and universities are aware of this issue, there has not been a collective effort to revolutionize the way students are recruited into agriculture because of the incorrect perception, that agriculture is limited to farming of crops and raising livestock.

Changing people’s perspectives and the way they think about agriculture is not an easy task. Nevertheless, more than ever as an industry we need to creatively and innovatively find better ways to attract young talent. In order for our industry to grow, we have to break away from the status quo. AgForLife is committed to educate students, parents, teachers, and school counselors about career opportunities in the broad agricultural industry to encourage and recruit high school and college students to join food, and life sciences careers, and college majors that will provide rewarding and successful employment opportunities in the agriculture industry.

We have been getting a lot of positive feedback and are so pleased to know that so many people share our vision. We would be interested in hearing your story. What did you major in school? Was it in an agricultural related field? What job are you doing now or hope to do so in the future?  Share your message in the comment section and let us know or drop us a note on Facebook.

I wish you a great week. Until my next post, have a good one.

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Agriculture Program: To do or not to do?

Posted by Edward Romero on August 16th, 2010

When I was a young boy, I knew I was going to go to college. I did not know what I was going to major in college, but knew I was going. I was the first from my family to go to college and graduate. I did not know anything about college. I guess you could say, that I did not know, what I did not know!

Huh?

Have you ever heard the saying, “you don’t know that you don’t know?”  Sounds like an old cliché.  However, that was the truth for me because when I went off to college, I did not even know what questions I should ask. I did not know many things about college, but some how, I managed to stumble my way through it and learn many life lessons along the way.  In some respects, I think I learned just as much, if not more, outside of the classroom than I did in it. Studying agriculture was no different.

As I continue to build our business structure for AgForLife, I reflect back on how or what people need to know or want to know to help implement change by recruiting more students into agriculture. I often think why people would be…or are interested in recruiting more students into agriculture. Sometimes I wonder if anyone cares.

Deep down, I know people care.

I know companies care. I know agricultural schools care. I know government (USDA, etc) cares.  I know commodity groups care. I know industry professionals care. I know educators care. I know producers care.

In my time of being part of agriculture as a college recruiter, college administrator, and small business owner, I have heard numerous times from many constituents of the need to do something about recruiting more students into agriculture. In fact, research confirms it.

One the bright side, over the last couple of years, we have seen a slight increase in general student interest in agriculture. That is good, but that has not always been the case and we should not rest on our laurels just yet. We have a lot of work to do.

What is sad to me is the lack of minority students considering agriculture as a viable career path.  Where are the Hispanic/Latino students? Where are the African American students?

You may ask why that is important.

It is important for many reasons – economically, socially, culturally, and nationally.  The Hispanic population is the largest AND youngest minority group in the United States, yet when it comes to Latino students studying agriculture, per capita, they rank dead last of students studying agriculture. These young people need to find good jobs when they grow up too. Many of those young students now will need to go to college when they grow older. Predictions are that in a few short decades, the U.S. as we know it today – racially and ethnically speaking – will be even much different than it is today. Perhaps I can save that topic for another blog. However, suffice to say, we need to begin to think differently about how we will be engaging these young people into our industry in the coming years.

For me, I know why I am so passionate in helping young people through college to study agriculture. It was because I stumbled my way through several majors (as well as college). I never thought I would have majored in agriculture when I was a young boy living on the ranch working long hours out in the middle of nowhere. I also had a perception about agriculture that was not true, but I did not know.

It was not until after college graduation that my eyes were really opened about the vast opportunities in agriculture. In some ways it was a little too late for me, but if we can help reach young people now when they are young, they can make better-informed decisions and not make the same mistakes I did.

When students from Canada and the United States were asked about what influenced them the most in selecting their post-secondary school research in 2004, Edge Interactive Research, found that students placed emphasis on the following:

  • One in five students considers schools outside of their country.
  • Prospective students apply to three schools.
  • School visits and the web are key factors in school research.
  • Programs are a primary factor in choosing a school.
  • Prospective students want a mix of email and mail communication.
  • Prospective students want to hear from university officials at least twice a month.

When students were asked what the primary factors in choosing a school, students in the United States responded:

1. Program 97.0%
2. Campus Life/ Student Services 86.3%
3. Level of Service 86.3%
4. Scholarships/Financial Aid 84.1%
5. Reputation of School 83.8%
6. Location 82.2%
7. Tuition Cost 80.3%

If the above data gives us any indication of what students’ value when considering or attending college, should we not begin putting a stronger emphasis on agricultural programs?

I have always believed that we need to do a better job of addressing the opportunities offered in agricultural programs to help students better understand the opportunities they have in our industry and move students (parents, teachers, and counselors) from “not knowing what they don’t know” to “knowing that they know, that they don’t know.”  In other words, helping students (and others) realize that they do not know as much as they think they know about contemporary agriculture.  Many students think of agriculture, as a dead-end career path with long hours, stoop labor, low wages and working in harsh conditions is the norm.  That cannot be farther from the truth.

We need to help students take the first step in helping them begin to open their mind to considering agriculture as a viable career option by showcasing many opportunities available to them.

We are fighting an image problem, and for many people, perceptions are reality.

What are you doing to help fight the negative agricultural image as it relates to agricultural careers? I would be interested in hearing what you are doing to affect change in the agricultural industry. Drop me a note or post your comments on our Facebook page.  If you are on Twitter, look us up.  Either way, I look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time,

Adios!

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