Growing ag education

Sarah Widener – Staff Writer
Ellie Steensma sits crisscross applesauce on a futon munching on goldfish. She has just come back from working as a swim guard, one of her two jobs. Steensma is a busy woman. On top of her jobs, Steensma participates in music, acting, agriculture club, and pursuing not one, but two majors at Dordt College. She is a senior and will be the second graduate from the Agricultural Education program. A program that to date has one graduate and currently has three students.

“Agriculture Education is a program that allows you the opportunity to learn how to teach others about agriculture giving them a better perspective about what agriculture is and what impact it has,” said Steensma. “ I was looking through Dordts’ list of majors and applied for agriculture education. When I came here I was like ‘I thought there would actually be a program.’”

Though Steensma would say that Dordt has prepared her well for setting a positive example in the field of agriculture, she does see room in the program for improvement.
Her frustrations start with the fact there are not enough students in this program.
“It’s hard for me to have a place, I am in the middle between the education department and the agriculture department,” she said. “I don’t take enough classes in either to completely fit in.”

Steensma said that if there were more agriculture education students a subgroup of the two majors could be made.

Why are there not more students in this program?

“They don’t really advertise it,” explained Steensma, “People just don’t know about it.”

Professor Dr. Dick Jorger, the program developer for Agriculture Education, agreed: “We’ve got to get a promotional story together like all the Christian schools in the country. We gotta have a big poster, a website presence and a recruiter.”

Dr. Timothy Van Soelen, the education department adviser for all agriculture education students, said, “We’ve been known for education and we’ve been known for agriculture, but we have yet to develop a reputation of agricultural education.”

This program with one incoming freshman this year, Ashley Armstrong. Armstrong explained that she heard of Dordt’s agriculture education program randomly at an FFA event and chose the school because if its location and small size.

Another challenge with this program, according to students in it, is the list of required classes. For example, Steensma was required to take organic chemistry but not biology. Dr Jorger agreed that Ag Ed majors should take biology.

Only 30.5 credits out of a 127 credit plan for the Agriculture Education program are agriculture classes. That’s fewer than the 35 required credit hours of core classes. Education classes account for 43.5 credits in this Ag Ed major. The discrepancy between the programs totals out to 13 credit hours, almost a semester worth of classes. This imbalance is caused by two things. The number of education classes required for an educational license in the state of Iowa is high and Dordts’ heavy core load.

According to DeVrees, the class outline is “Core Ag plus. Which means there is something about plants, animals, soils, policy, business, nutrition, and mechanics.” This is so that students have a basic understanding of most areas of Agriculture.

“Students are going to have more passions in one area then another so hopefully they will specialize with their electives,” added DeVrees. There are two open elective slots in this program.

Dordt’s biggest competitor for this program is Iowa State University. The Ag Ed program at Iowa State requires 40 Ag Ed specific credits taught by their 24 Ag Ed professors.
This is a sharp contrast to Dordts’ program with nine Ag Ed specific classes and one Ag Ed professor.

“It’s hard to prepare when you don’t have a good background in agriculture but just education,” said Steensma, “That’s what makes me nervous thinking I might not have enough background knowledge in agriculture.”

It can be challenging for agriculture education students to bridge the gaps that span between the agriculture and education programs.

“Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Do we add more agriculture education specific classes that draw more students or get enough students to create more agriculture education classes?” questioned Dr. Van Soelen.

Although the Ag Ed program at Dordt is currently small, Dordt faculty say is Ag education is ready for growth, especially among Christians. Professors note that there is a shortage of Ag teachers.

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