The agriculture departments at Southern Arkansas University and the University of Arkansas are teaming up to take on science’s “elephant in the room,” declining numbers of agriculture students and more and more mouths to feed on earth.
“The number of farm-reared students has declined greatly while high-paying agriculture careers in Arkansas and beyond have steadily increased,” said Dr. Jeffry Miller, chair of the Department of Agriculture at SAU.
The United States Department of Agriculture agrees with Miller. He and Robbye Taylor, director of grants at SAU, recently secured a more than $280,000, three-year grant from the USDA to educate and inspire secondary education students to the possibilities of choosing agriculture as a post-secondary and career option. Miller will be the project director, and is overseeing the production of eye-catching yet informative videos that will coincide with self-contained science kits.
“We believe these videos and science projects, over a three year period, will affect positive perceptual change toward agriculture not only for the students we are targeting, but for their administrators, counselors, and teachers as well,” said Miller.
He is partnering with Dr. Jill Rucker of UofA, and they will be working with Arkansas’ secondary teachers in the areas of physical science, biology, and chemistry. In September, Miller conducted teacher in-service sessions in Sheridan, Searcy, Marion and Trumann schools.
The first year the project will consist of ninth grade science classes from a small, medium and large school in each quadrant of Arkansas. The following year, the project will add 10th grade science classes. On the third year, 11th grade classes will be included. Each year, six agriculturally-focused videos will be produced and each will be accompanied with a hands-on laboratory exercise.
“The intention of this project is to introduce agriculture to agriculturally-naïve students by relating the science of agriculture,” said Miller. “We also hope to change any negative perceptions of agriculture held by the students and educators, administrators and counselors within the secondary schools. Agriculture is much more scientific and high-tech from what many people might imagine it to be.”