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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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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 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 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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Is Help On The Way?

Posted by Edward Romero on July 28th, 2010

Well, it has been a few weeks since I last posted a blog on this site.  Mr. Eric Brenner, graduate student from Costa Rica, posted some of his internship experiences on this blog while abroad. From time-to-time, he will continue to post on here as well.  I guess it is fair to say that he and I will tag-team the blog as we perfect our craft of blogging.   I am a student of this craft and still trying to sort out how to write effective blogs that are of interest, but most importantly, provide content that is relevant to the diverse group of readers we have. Please be patient, but also do not be shy in giving us feedback.

I am amazed at how much feedback and interest I have been receiving since my last blog about the need to recruit more students into agriculture. We have been receiving a steady stream of emails and phone calls regarding our site, as well as our social media efforts.  It is amazing to me, although I should not be surprised, how many people are truly interested and understand some of the challenges facing the industry, as it relates to recruiting challenges we face in agriculture.  We are unlike any other discipline, such as engineering, business, or education, for instance, when it comes to recruiting.

Why, you ask?

Because of perception! Unfortunately, a negative perception about agriculture and the lack of opportunities is a major reason why many students do not consider agriculture as a viable career path. Unfortunately, not only students view agriculture that way, but research says so do parents, counselors, teachers, and many others not directly involved in contemporary agriculture. We need to work on changing that negative perception.

There is no silver bullet. It is a collective approach.  I think that is why I get so excited when people call me and share their ideas and thoughts about how to recruit more students into agriculture.  People are thinking about it. That is the first step.

For instance, just last week I had a very interesting conversation with a faculty member at Washington State University who shared the same philosophy of trying to recruit students into agriculture using a very innovative approach.  After a 60-minute phone call, we surmised the need to continue to find ways of working together to bring some of our ideas to fruition.  I am excited about the opportunity.

Coast to coast, the interest is strong of trying to recruit more students into agriculture. Over the last month, I have been fortunate to “sit-in” on several phone conferences regarding a NASA proposal and grant in developing some formal learning modules (experiences) in the classroom in Florida using extra-celestial agriculture and lunar habitation. Very interesting and cool ideas and suggestions were discussed during several phone conversations with a group of very talented and creative individuals.  I wish them much success with their proposal and hope they are funded to carryout their project. Students will be excited to take part in some of those activities mentioned if the program is funded.

Another topic on peoples minds are along the same lines of recruiting students, but focusing their efforts on targeting students from underrepresented groups, which is sorely needed in agriculture.  I had an opportunity to learn of how a land grant university in the Southwestern United States is innovatively planning to reach out to students from underrepresented groups.  Their proposal will include recruitment, curriculum and instructional approaches, some cool experiential experiences, and a mentoring component.  Their plan is to develop a conduit to developing a pipeline of students into the agricultural teaching profession by allowing students in their cohort group to experience some professional development opportunities as well as critical thinking and service learning partnerships while in their program.  I wish them luck with their proposal and look forward to learning more as the federal funding cycle quickly approaches.

In addition, to universities and academia interested in recruiting more students into agriculture, the federal government is also very interested in this effort. The USDA, for years, has been working on building a pipeline of students into the agricultural profession as well.  One can argue both ways whether they have been successful.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been visiting with a USDA agency in Kansas City, Missouri about exploring ways to recruit diverse candidates, who have agricultural backgrounds, into their agency.  Within the next few years, many agencies in the federal government, USDA specifically in this case (others are affected as well), will be losing employees due to baby boomers retiring.

Guess what? They need to fill those positions as well, in addition to the many other positions in industry, corporate America, and academia.  Currently, the demand is far greater than the supply.

You have probably heard me say this before, but it is worth repeating. In 2008, there were 16 million UNDERGRADUATE students studying in the United States – all disciplines, all colleges and universities included. However, according to the Food and Agricultural Education Information System, only 251,000 students were studying agriculture or a related field. More information can be found here.

That is a measly 1.5% of the undergraduate student population in the agricultural pipeline.  To make matters worse, that is not the final tally. Why, you might ask. Well, we are only talking ATTENDING College we are not talking GRADUATION.  Our educational system loses students for a variety of reasons that never complete their academic programs. Graduation numbers are always lower due to a variety of retention issues. Therefore, rest assured, the number is less then 1.5% of undergraduate students in the agricultural pipeline.

How much lower?  Not sure.  I wanted to get a peaceful nights rest in order to continue tackling this problem in the morning!

Seriously, we need help. We need YOUR help. We would like to hear your thoughts on this issue. How can you make a difference?

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Rethinking Agriculture

Posted by Eric Brenner on June 14th, 2010

Back when I was in high school, like many other students, I did not really know what career to pursue. My parents did not really care what I majored in, as long as I went to college; not going was simply not an option. But figuring out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life when I was 16 years old was not an easy endeavor.

But looking back, I was seriously struggling trying to find a career option that I felt passionate about. I looked for school counselors for guidance to help me figure out a career path. However, those options were limited and did not spark the smallest bit of interest. Counselors, teachers, friends, and even my parents always talked about majors like engineering or business management because that is all they knew.

Agriculture was never in the picture or even suggested as an available option because their perception of this field was distorted and limited. Almost 13 years later, with a bachelor’s in Agricultural Systems Management, and a master’s in International Agricultural Development, I can honestly say that I have been blessed and even lucky to have fond my true calling in the agriculture field.

Back then, my knowledge about agriculture was restricted to the production part; raising livestock and crops or farming. I did not know that the agricultural sector had such a colossal amount of majors and careers available. However, my parents nor my school counselors told me about it, because like me, they did not have a clue either. We were all ignorant about the great career opportunities that can be found in this field.

Even for students who had some interest in agriculture, many did not major in this field because there was the perception that in order to be successful, your family had to be directly involved in this field through a business or had land for agriculture activities.

All the wrongful perceptions deterred many students to major in agriculture, and this is a problem that is still latent today. It was not until I came to the U.S. to pursue my college career that I had the opportunity to be exposed to agriculture, and I was able to find my real passion for this field. But even in the U.S, agriculture was misunderstood and wrongfully perceived. By the time I was done with my bachelor’s degree, I came to two very important conclusions: agriculture played a vital role in our daily lives, and that most people were oblivious to this fact.

In developing countries like Costa Rica, the development and expansion of the agricultural sector can create more stable economies and economic growth. There is a need to increase the amount of agriculture professionals in the job market and students into agricultural careers. The problem is how to attract more people into agriculture, when there is a lack of understanding and information for this field.

For those of us involved in this field, we have not been very successful capturing potential students into ag majors. Agriculture has a stigma that it is a dead-end career with low wages, and few opportunities. It is time to rethink how we recruit more students, including minorities, and show them that agriculture is a dynamic, innovative, exciting, and vibrant field full of opportunities that go beyond the production sector.  And even for the production sector, which is a fundamental component of agriculture, we can show how it is perpetually changing by the introduction of new technologies to solve more complex challenges.

Even though production represents only 2% of the employment opportunities in agriculture, we have to find better ways to keep feeding a fast growing World.

One of the goals in AgForLife is to keep up with rapid changing times where younger generations of students are becoming more technologically savvy. The integration of these technologies are not only necessary to attract more students, but also to improve agricultural processes. Our vision is to change the perceptions of agriculture through education, technology, and innovation. You can be part of a concept that will change how people perceive agriculture. Now, the question is if you are going to join us in pursuing this quest?

Until next time, have a great week.

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AgForLife, LLC Established to Address Agricultural Student Recruiting Woes

Posted by Edward Romero on May 17th, 2010

Agriculture.

What is it about agriculture that is so intriguing for some people and not even considered by others? After all, agriculture is the lifeblood of our society.  It is because of agriculture that we are able to enjoy many of the joys of life.  Just about everything we touch and definitely everything we eat comes from agriculture.

A small number of today’s undergraduate students in college are studying agriculture. Only 1.5% of the undergraduate college students are studying some form of agriculture in the United States.

Why?

Well, it is for a number of reasons.  Based on a 2005 national study to evaluate the different factors affecting admission and matriculation of high school students in the United States into college programs related to agriculture sciences, 41% of the students had a misconception or image about agricultural sciences; 33% lacked knowledge about employment opportunities; and 22% lacked knowledge about fields of study.

What are we doing to address this issue?  More importantly, who is doing something about it?

There are pockets of people, organizations, companies and a sprinkling of universities trying to address this problem, but we really are not making the strides we should be making given our growing population and changing demographics. Even more so, given the diverse career opportunities in agriculture, students are not enrolling into agricultural majors in the numbers you would think.

Companies are looking for larger pools of applicants in college. They are also looking for more students from underrepresented groups, but they are having a hard time finding large minority applicant student-pools to choose from in universities and colleges across the country studying agriculture.

Universities are constantly challenged in trying to recruit more students into their schools but they too are struggling in recruiting more minority students, especially Hispanics, and students in general into their agricultural programs. The issue of recruiting more students into agriculture – especially minority students – has been a long-standing issue. When I graduated from high school this was a problem.  Today, almost 25 years later, we are still dealing with this problem and it is not going away any time soon.  Many of the issues we faced 25 years ago, we are still facing today, such as those factors mentioned above from the 2005 national study.  We need to address this issue proactively; otherwise, I believe it is going to hurt the agricultural industry.

Research shows that many Hispanic students (parents and high school counselors included) steer away from agriculture because of the perception that agriculture only equates to 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. Perhaps this is true if you work in the production agricultural sector.  However, less than 2% of our employment opportunities in agriculture are in production agriculture – farming and ranching.

So what are we doing about it?

In 2004, a concept was shared with a group of industry representatives in St. Louis, Missouri to address some of the above concerns.  During the next 18 months, Dr. Edward W. Romero and Pablo Ramirez, a graduate student pursuing a Masters in Agribusiness, developed a framework to address this problem and a unique design and structure was born in what has become known as the AgForLife Map.

  • The AgForLife Map is utilized to help educate the general public about the various opportunities related to, but not limited to, occupational and career opportunities in agriculture, food and life sciences.
  • The AgForLife Map is an innovative process which helps in the recruitment of students interested in the agriculture, food and life sciences.
  • The two-dimensional AgForLife Map aides in the visualization and guiding students into employment opportunities and careers.
  • The Map aids in understanding the integration of multiple systems and the route taken for inputs, such as materials and information to reach the consumer as an output.
  • The AgForLife Map will assist students with knowledge in order to make informed decisions about multiple career paths and opportunities in the agriculture, food, and life sciences.

The AgForLife concept is derived from the belief in which a successful and vibrant agricultural industry relies on human capital. The ‘chain’ starts with well-educated and informed individuals knowledgeable about how agriculture plays a vital role in our daily lives.

In order to address areas such as career and employment opportunities in industry and government as well as student recruitment by agricultural schools, a small start-up company was formed in 2009, called AgForLife, LLC.  It is grounded in the AgForLife concept and framework and was formed to begin to directly address issues facing agriculture by utilizing unique and innovative methods to reach students, primarily high school and college age students.  In short, the company will be working to identify unique, non-traditional approaches using innovation and technology to address problems facing agricultural student recruiting today and within the coming decades, especially given the dramatic demographic shift in certain groups. You can learn more about their vision here.

If you share our concern as well as our vision, we encourage you to become involved. You may already be doing something in this area. Perhaps you have a blog, or you have a Facebook Group or Page advocating agriculture.  As a first step, we encourage you to join our Facebook Group or Page.  You can connect with us through a variety of social media sites found on our website.

In upcoming weekly AgForLife blogs, we will be blogging about a variety of topics dealing with agricultural student recruiting, minority student issues, careers, employment opportunities, and a variety of other agricultural related topics.  If you have ideas or would like to share your comments on future topics, please connect with us. We would enjoy hearing from you.

Until next week, best wishes for a fun and productive week.

Adios!

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