SFA’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture provides East Texas high school students a variety of experiences to foster the next generation of professionals in several applied science fields.
The college recently hosted over 100 junior and senior high school students from across the region at the Department of Agriculture’s third annual College Experience Day. During this day-long event, students chose a morning and afternoon session which placed them in the field conducting activities related to that discipline. Depending on which of the eight available sessions they chose, students had the opportunity to take air quality measurements along Lanana Creek, determine forage nutrients using near infrared spectroscopy or aid in the vaccination of newly weaned piglets at the Walter C. Todd Agriculture Research Center.
Dr. Erin Brown, associate professor of animal science, says this direct immersion and awareness of the interdisciplinary nature of agriculture is key to youth involvement now and in the future as they pursue careers.
“People have this idea that agriculture is just about farmers, but there are so many more career opportunities for young people in agriculture, more than we had before,” Brown said.
High schools are also adapting to the changing industry. In addition to agriculture mechanics class, many now offer courses in forestry, environmental science, horticulture, veterinary medicine and wildlife as a part of their agriculture curriculum.
SFA alumnus and Huntington High School agriculture teacher Chris Hunt believes this course diversity has contributed to the growing number of students participating in the school’s agriculture program. He also said the event hosted by SFA broadens the horizons of students who are interested in the field of agriculture and natural resources but are not aware of the possibilities available in a university setting.
On the same day, a separate cohort of 20 local high school students could be found in a classroom taking notes alongside current SFA undergraduates during Dr. Sheryll Jerez’s Introduction to Environmental Science lecture. While other dual credit courses are offered at SFA, this is the first year a dual credit course has been made available through the Division of Environmental Science.
“It’s good for the students because they get a science class they can carry into college, and also it is good for them to learn about environmental concerns,” said Dr. Kenneth Farrish, director of the Division of Environmental Science.
During a Wednesday morning lab focusing on environmental toxicology, shouts of excitement emanated from the classroom as students used microscopes to view aquatic animals known as rotifers.
Prior to beginning the lab, students spent time discussing the results of the previous week’s experiment as well as ways in which group dynamics could be improved for future labs. During the discussion, a group of seniors from Woden High School determined group communication and time management skills must be enhanced. They also admitted that while the elevated expectations found at the university level can be stressful, the experience is positive and benefits their future career plans.
“I want to be in a lab,” said Sarah Scarborough, a senior at Woden High School. “I don’t know what I will be doing yet, but I’ll be in a lab.”