Oklahoma ag careers

Harrah High School FFA students Tyler Thomason, Baylee Rooks and Lexi Malaske are learning how to use drone technology to survey crops with help from teacher Tonya Middleton; Photo by Nathan Lambrecht.

Agriculture is more than a way of life in Oklahoma, it is also a career path filled with ample opportunities.

Helping students capitalize on those opportunities is a shared goal of the Oklahoma FFA Foundation and the Oklahoma State University (OSU) College of Agriculture Science & Natural Resources (CASNR) Student Success Center.

Both of these organizations open doors and dedicate resources to guiding students toward a successful career in agriculture.

FFA Foundation Grants Enhance Hands-On Learning

The Oklahoma FFA Foundation strengthens agricultural education so students can develop their potential for personal growth, career success and leadership. For example, grant funds awarded by the FFA put cutting-edge technology in the hands of Harrah High School students. The school used the money to purchase a drone with infrared sensors and the equipment needed to analyze the data. Tonya Middleton, agricultural education instructor and FFA adviser, says it is exciting to see students utilize modern technology in the classroom.

“It looks like something they wouldn’t be allowed to touch,” she says. “It takes a few minutes to figure it out, but soon they are off and flying.”

The drones allow the students to gather information and make informed decisions.

“In my class, we take that data and walk out into the field to determine what causes plant stress,” Middleton says. “It could be pests, not enough irrigation or water-retention issues. We’ll pull soil samples and use those to determine if there is a nutrient deficiency. The students learn how to address those problems.”

She says that using the technology as a teaching tool opens students’ minds to the high-tech opportunities available in the agricultural industry.

“My students are seeing agriculture as a viable career option, one that includes the use of innovative technology,” Middleton says. “We have students who come from eight generations of farm families and students who live in an apartment complex and think of plants as the stuff growing next to the road. They are all beginning to see that agriculture can be a path to a challenging and rewarding career. It’s all about connecting a student to a bright future.”

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Oklahoma ag careers

Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

This career connection is the goal of the Oklahoma FFA Foundation. The $70,000 in grants awarded to 13 Oklahoma FFA chapters in the most recent school year are just the first step, says Holly Blakey, FFA Foundation executive director. In addition to purchasing drones, the money has been used for community food-producing projects and bee colonies.

“The money helps place the technology in the classrooms so students can experiment and implement what they are learning,” Blakey says. “The next step is for them to understand the career opportunities available to them. The advisers are the link.”

OSU Success Center Opens Career Doors For Students

When students graduate from FFA to college, there are many opportunities for them to advance their interest in agriculture. Students enrolled in OSU’s College of Agriculture Science & Natural Resources choose from majors ranging from pre-health and pre-law to natural resources and communications. CASNR helps prepare students for careers by offering hands-on experience in the classroom, and they help students find internship opportunities within their field of interest. Student clubs and organizations also allow students to interact with people from their potential industries through events and panel discussions. These opportunities allow students to dive into their potential careers and determine if the path will be a good fit.

“It is important for our CASNR students to receive real-world experience outside the classroom. We successfully provide this with numerous opportunities to interact with agricultural and natural resource industry leaders and employers,” says Taylor Harbuck, student development coordinator.

Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

CASNR hosts a career fair on campus every fall, exposing students to more than 100 employers within the agricultural and natural resources industry.

“We assist our students in preparing for the career fair by fine-tuning their employability skills and helping them find a career path that fits their interests,” Harbuck says. “The connections these students make at the career fair leads to internships and job opportunities.”

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Those efforts pay off for students like Colten Bison, a recent graduate of CASNR in agricultural economics and animal science. Bison took advantage of the opportunities and services during his time at OSU, and he is now working for Bayer Agriscience as
a crop sales representative. Bison served the college in a variety of capacities, including serving as a CASNR Student Success Leader as a member of the ambassador team.

Whether a curious high schooler or a college student picking a major, the programs available through OSU and Oklahoma FFA are encouraging the new generation
to pursue careers in agriculture. They’re preparing students and giving them the tools to turn their career goals into reality.

Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

Opportunities Abound

In addition to the grant program, the Oklahoma FFA Foundation created the Oklahoma Blue Room. The project, hosted at the State FFA Convention, introduces students to technology companies through an experience lab and presentations from innovators in agricultural technology.

The 2019 Oklahoma Blue Room, modeled after a National FFA project, allowed students to learn about food science, animal genetics software and an app focusing on urban agriculture.

See more: How Drones are Improving Farming Operations

“The reason behind the Blue Room is to get students to think outside the box,” says Holly Blakey, FFA Foundation executive director. “A lot of students think ag careers are either being a teacher or a veterinarian. We want to stretch that thinking and help them understand there are many interesting and high-tech careers in agriculture.”

These career opportunities are going to continue to expand.

“The development of new technologies specifically to serve agriculture is going to grow as we have to produce more food on fewer acres for an increasing population,” Blakey says. “The way we produce and harvest food will continue to improve. Today’s students can be part of that. Food, clothing and shelter are necessary for every person to live, and all those things are tied to agriculture. Our industry is getting smarter and more exciting.”

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