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Training the next crop of agricultural professionals | KRVN Radio

Training the next crop of agricultural professionals

Training the next crop of agricultural professionals
Toni Rasmussen, agriculture education teacher at Wayne High School, works with her class as they dissect a ruminant digestive system. October 17, 2018. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communication

Toni Rasmussen is a former farm kid who knows the pride of donning an FFA jacket. Thanks to support from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she’s using her life experience and education to share that pride with high school students, too.

As a high schooler in Albion, Rasmussen was inspired by her ag education class, which propelled her to organize a goat enterprise for her family farm. Naturally, a career in ag education was a perfect next step for her. Today, she’s one of 200 instructors across the state working in a full-time position teaching agriculture to high school students.

There’s been a 40 percent increase in agricultural education programs offered at Nebraska high schools since 2010 – all with the goal of churning out professionals to fill a growing number of agricultural careers across the U.S. Between 2015 and 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects an annual average of 57,900 job openings for graduates with degrees in agricultural-type fields. That’s a great opportunity for students who can get an early jump on their ag education.

And who better qualified to educate those future professionals than homegrown experts like Rasmussen?

In fall 2018, 189 Nebraska schools offered ag education classes, the majority of which will be led by Husker grads.

“We just graduated 25 students who are prepared to teach this August – and nearly all have accepted teaching positions in Nebraska,” said Matt Kreifels, UNL’s Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communication (ALEC) program director.

Because of her connection to UNL, Rasmussen gets to take advantage of UNL’s support long after graduation. UNL’s ALEC department keeps graduates like her sharp with professional development workshops year-round, so she can offer the latest curriculum to students. Thanks to these workshops, school lessons include a wide variety of subjects, like greenhouses, aquaponics, and animal laboratories, even welding and construction.

“When the students started to understand the culture of an ag ed classroom and started treasuring their FFA jackets, that is when I started to realize the good that was being done for the students,” Rasmussen said.

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