Students Explore Ag Careers While on a Virtual Field Trip
"This is an exciting time in agriculture, especially for innovators like Syngenta, because we have new tools to develop better seeds and crop protection products, as well as digital solutions to help farmers be more productive,” says Ian Jepson, Ph.D., head of trait research and developmental biology and RTP site business head at Syngenta. “We encourage students to think about the wide range of challenging and rewarding careers in companies like ours to help develop and deliver what farmers need to feed the world."
The virtual field trip was livestreamed to nearly 1,400 classrooms through AgExplorer®, an online career resource developed by the National FFA and Discovery Education, a leader in digital content for grades K–12. The program set out to educate students about the many opportunities in the industry and help them understand that working in agriculture doesn’t always mean working on a farm. In fact, of the estimated 60,000 positions available in the industry over the next five years, nearly 40 percent of them need graduates in science, engineering and other highly skilled areas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Two Syngenta experts—Gil Strader, head of field force excellence and training, and Hope Hart, scientist in product safety—joined hosts from Discovery Education and FFA for the live broadcast, “Technology in Agriculture: Feeding the Growing Globe Virtual Field Trip.”
The field trip began with a tour of the Advanced Crop Lab, a state-of-the-art greenhouse where Syngenta scientists study multiple crops in different growth environments simultaneously. The tour ended in one of the greenhouse’s propagation labs to show where scientists are working daily to improve crop productivity. The hosts encouraged participation by chatting with viewers in real time and answering questions posed by students following along on social media.
“It’s not just about being a farmer. There are researchers, scientists and marketers, and all of those people play a key role in agriculture.”
The scientist behind the experiment, Chris Fleming, Ph.D., a senior researcher at Syngenta, is an example of someone who didn’t know working in agriculture was an option. He studied biochemistry in college and assumed it would lead to a position at a pharmaceutical company, where he would develop technologies for the human body, not plants.
“I didn’t put farming and protein biochemistry together until I got into the ag industry,” he says.
Katelyn Honeycutt from Benson, North Carolina, is a past FFA state officer and one of the students who participated in the live demonstration. She grew up on a farm and knew she wanted a career in agriculture, but she knows many people her age don’t have the insight she gained from her farming experience.
“It’s not just about being a farmer,” she says. “There are researchers, scientists and marketers, and all of those people play a key role in agriculture.”
She’s now a junior at North Carolina State University, majoring in agriculture business and education, and hopes to work in ag lending after graduation.
Prerecorded videos transported students to different areas of Syngenta, from the office of a computational biologist to a research lab focused on genotyping to a cornfield with an agronomist. The employees highlighted in the segments explained how they were able to apply their degrees in analytics, biology, entomology and marketing to a career in agriculture, even though they may not have thought they’d end up in the industry.
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“For me, the biggest question in high school was, ‘I love agriculture, but what’s my place in it?’” says Meyer, who is now studying agricultural business and supply chain management at Iowa State University. “Where do I want to end up having a career?”
Experiences like the virtual field trip can help students answer that question by exposing them to the different ways people are working in the industry—without being limited by location. Students in large urban environments who have never been on a farm can see how the math and science they are learning can be applied to help develop better seeds for a farmer in the Midwest.
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