Cover Image

PAPERBACK
$33.00



View/Hide Left Panel
Click for next page ( 42


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 41
CHAPTER 4 The Challenges for Professional Education in Agriculture: A Corporate Vantage Point Robert M. Goodman As a former corporate executive, I returned to academia because of a desire to contribute to the role that I believe our colleges and universities must play in the future of agriculture. I have interwo- ven four themes into this discussion: 1. There is great leverage in seeking solutions to the many prob- lems that we face as a society and in how we handle the under- graduate curriculum. 2. A radical rethinking of the need for and approach to the un- dergraduate curriculum In agriculture is needed to meet society's future needs. 3. An even greater need lies in educating students in other cur- ricula about agriculture. 4. We will be successful in opening up agriculture to our society only if we broaden the interest and appeal of agriculture to people of all backgrounds. A major feature of the U.S. agricultural system today, and likely in the years to come, is that it has Increasingly become a partner- ship among public, political, private, and corporate interests. Agricultures interests, like society~s interests in agriculture, are no longer prima- rily in the public and political domains, as they were when the land- grant movement started. Few if any other sectors of the U.S. economy are like agriculture, which embodies many of the future imperatives we face as a na- tion. We have little choice but to design and execute a strategy to maintain and enhance our capacity as a world leader in agriculture. 41

OCR for page 41
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE There are many reasons that favor our success In designing and executing this strategy. Although the United States is a highly diverse and now a predominantly urban and suburban society, it occupies a highly productive and versatile piece of the globets agri- cultural real estate. By international standards, for example, in comparison with Europe or Asia, our rural areas are under less pressure from population or other competing uses for the most productive acreage. The United States continues to lead the world in the develop- ment of knowledge and the diffusion of the technologies and know- how that are used in agriculture. The creation of a complete sys- tem of research, Instruction, and public service that was the great social Invention of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and that advanced the perfusion of science into agriculture is largely responsible for this leadership. The land-grant Ideal has since be- come the model for international development that, for example, laid the foundation for the success of the so-called green revolution in countries such as India and the Philippines. It also provided a context for the growth of a strong private sector in agriculture. Our history as a nation and our shared values have their origins in and continue to derive their strength from agriculture. For all of its troubles of recent decades, U.S. agriculture is still a dominant sector and an important countercyclical factor in the U.S. economy. Thus, we look to the future from a position of strength, of technical and resource superiority, and with history and a certain sense of destiny in our favor. Agriculture faces enormous change. The problems faced and the solutions provided by our public institutions of agriculture in the past are in many ways very different from those of today and to- morrow. Our society and our world are also different. When we turn to education in and about agriculture, we find particular cause for grave concern about the demands we face simply to keep up with the needs of society in an uncertain future. So we must ask what changes we should expect of our institutions and our people to ensure that we will be as successful in the future as we have been in the past. To understand these needs and changes, we must begin by understanding the present and future role that agriculture may or will play in our future as a nation. This is not a simple analysis, because U.S. agriculture is itself at a crossroads. If it is to survive and contribute in a major way to our future economic vitality and to fulfill its potential to address in the long term the food and energy needs of the worlds population, it, too, must change. U.S. agriculture will be driven by two major trends that extend well into the past and that reach well into the future. These trends arise from an increasing command over the genetics of our crops and livestock and an increasing sophistication of our approach to 42

OCR for page 41
A CORPORATE VANTAGE POINT agriculture as a managerial activity. Agriculture will be much more biologically and managerially intensive. Nutrients and crop produc- tion chemicals will be used prescriptively rather than prophylacti- cally. Among the greatest opportunities for agricultural research and development In the next generation will be work that focuses on agricultural inputs derived from genetic and managerial improve- ments. The paradigm shift in agricultural production practices is toward biology and away from synthetic chemicals. The demands that this shift will place on professional education for agriculture, even in the strictly production sense, are great, and I suspect they are only vaguely appreciated by even the clearest thinkers. We are likely to turn more to agriculture for the industrial starting materials that we now obtain largely from petroleum. Eventually, agriculture will also be the likely source of large amounts of our fuel. We are likely to see more of our agricultural exports be value- added products made at home from commodities grown here and to see less export of the raw commodities themselves. Increasing concerns about the safety of foods and better understanding of the link between food characteristics and nutrition will likely result in stronger linkages between production practices, crop and live- stock genotypes, food processing, and marketing. An already tech- nology-rich food supply system will become more sophisticated. The same will likely be so for fiber and forestry. At the same time that we are dealing with these changes, we must also deal with the need to preserve and enhance the resource base and protect the environment. For a variety of reasons, these considerations probably mean that the amount of land committed to agriculture in the future will not significantly increase over that in use today. Environmental considerations drive significant major needs and opportunities for technologies in the future. If 1 am right about the future, U.S. agriculture must become more global. Today, we have companies that operate from our agricul- tural base in the global marketplace. But the export of, for ex- ample, consumer products based on agricultural ingredients is a very different challenge, requiring a level of cultural, social, and political knowledge that is atypical in U.S. agribusiness today. We must also think about our own markets. Our recent history in the global automobile marketplace, or closer to agriculture, in trac- tor manufacturing, shows that we failed to understand foreign mar- kets. We also failed to understand our own markets, as the preva- lence of imported vehicles and machinery testifies. What do these speculations about the future of agriculture say about the changing needs in education? To talk of a need for change is not to disparage the past. We have a distinguished history in agriculture and agricultural education. We are not called upon to defend or apologize for the past. The point is not that the past was not good enough but that it is not necessarily a model for the future. 43

OCR for page 41
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE Many have already realized the challenge (Bodner' Isso; Holler, 1987; Koshland, 1991; Nature, libel), and so this discussion does not describe the situation in all institutions or for all courses, cur- ricula, and professors; some welcome and important progress is being made in some places by some dedicated and sage individu- als. Progress in some quarters is merely a reminder, however, of how far the rest of us have to go. It also provides some assurance that the effort will be worth it. We face significant odds and must work against a background that is broadly and sadly discouraging. Across the board, enroll- ments in colleges of agriculture are declining. Moreover, we have seen a serious decline in the appreciation for and understanding of agriculture by the educated populace at large. This decline ex- tends, ironically, to many professionals in industries and other ac- tivities that are dependent on (e.g., medical care or transportation), if not directly part of (e.g.' banking or food processing)' the agricul- tural sector of the economy. In the United States, people cling to notions of rural pastoralism and simplicity about what is in fact a highly sophisticated system for food production and distribution. These notions are perpetrated and embellished by advertising and political campaigns and, more insidi- ously, by a naive (at best) and at times seemingly conspiratorial (at worst) silence in our schools. AS a result, many people abstractly accept agriculture as a necessity, but their concerns focus on agri- culture as an environmental and economic enemy of the people. Between 1982 and Isso, I served on the leadership team of a successful agricultural start-up company. During that time, I hired over 300 individuals to work in a range of positions from senior scientist to patent attorney and in areas from greenhouse opera- tions to agronomy. During those years, I learned that higher educa- tion in agriculture has been marginalized to the point of being nearly superfluous in many areas of modern agriculture. This marginaliza- tion is because the education and training offered in many of our colleges of agriculture have not kept up with the forefronts and, therefore, with the basic skills needed in todays job market. A decade ago I noted that computers seemed tO be more preva- lent on farms in Illinois than they were in the classrooms of the college of agriculture at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Today, those of us who hire research technicians in the private sector find young people with the skills and experience we need as often as not among graduates of programs in chemistry, life sci- ences, and chemical engineering, and we must absorb the cost of teaching them about agriculture on the job. This is not bad, be- cause in my experience such people are quickly attracted to the importance and the intrinsic interest of agricultural research and development. Both of these observations raise the question of the relevance of having an undergraduate curriculum in agriculture. 44

OCR for page 41
A CORPORATE VANTAGE PO!~ Given this perspective on the present predicament, how do we go about putting agriculture back on the main agenda of the people of the United States? The issue comes down to how we educate our college-age population. Our highest leverage as a society is on the 4 years of undergraduate education. The highest proportion of future community, business, political, and intellectual leaders, as well as teachers of students from kindergarten through grade 12, share the experience of these 4 years of learning and growing. It comes at a time of human development in our culture in which most individuals are most open to new ideas and are most intent on an individual search for meaning in their lives. At the same time, they are acquiring skills and experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. The challenge is to define how the professional educational ex- perience in agriculture in the coming decades will lead to graduates who have a strong substantive knowledge base that underpins agri- culture biology, chemistry, mathematics, sociology, economics- that is every bit as rigorous and delivered with every bit of the excitement of professional courses in other areas, such as engi- neering, business, law, and medicine. The discussion must start with consideration of the need for a separate curriculum in agriculture. One must ask at what stage in the preparation of undergraduates is it appropriate to track under- graduates in agricultural subjects separately from other professional students? Consider seriously the question of whether we now do it too early and whether we make the distinction too distinct. Should professional training in agricultural specialties be at the masters level instead of at the bachelors level? We should not stop at the organizational questions. We must also ask the hard questions about teaching (Bodner' 1sso; Rigden and Tobias, libel). For example, what about course content? We share with the rest of science and engineering the criticism that our courses are dull and therefore difficult, that our disciplines are au- thoritarian, that we have succumbed to tyrannies of technique, and that we mistake weaknesses in our pedagogy for a lack of interest or even talent in our students (Tobias, limo). At the same time, our educational system must incorporate infor- mation and awareness about agriculture into other professional curricula and into the 4-year undergraduate curriculum in general. The challenge is to think creatively about how to make this happen. This is not a call for better public relations. It may be a call for more joint course offerings, but maybe even more radical thinking is needed. What about having professors in colleges of agriculture teach courses in education, law, medical, and business schools? What about the links between colleges of agriculture and colleges of liberal arts? And do not forget the smaller, nonprofessional liberal 45

OCR for page 41
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE arts colleges. Some of the more successful professional curricula at the postbaccalaureate levels have established strong ties to these liberal arts colleges. Can agriculture afford not to do the same? We know from the past that these kinds of links can serve agricul- ture very well over many years. A further challenge is to consider how the graduates of profes- slonal curricula in agriculture will acquire or maintain and strengthen their personal and professional commitments to the traits that make for a life of learning and enrich the human dimensions of their professional lives. As I think about the needs of Industry in a changing world, I think of needs such as flexibility, diversity, per- spective, and values. These needs cannot be fully met by paying attention only to what we teach. They must also be embedded in our institutions and in the way in which we teach (Tobias, logo). They must be part of the fabric of our student's lives. They must be lived to be truly learned. Pedagogy is almost certainly part of the answer. Students will learn flexibility if they are taught problem solving. Students will learn the value of teamwork if they are taught in a cooperative learning environment. They will find excitement in their studies and maintain an interest in the difficult courses if they are taught in a way that al- lows and requires them to discover rather than merely to memorize. Students will acquire a healthy perspective on work, on their role in society, on their society's place in the global picture and at the same time shape their values for a lifetime of true citizenship if they are not Just taught about but get to experience in a meaningful way the world that they will become part of when they take Jobs. Students in any professional curriculum need experiences in the real world. This experience can be gained in many creative ways, but it will be a step forward Just to have more accessible opportuni- ties for the tried and true approaches, for example, through intern- ships, semesters abroad, and exposure to examples set by profes- sors whose experiences include work in industry or abroad as well as academia. My experience running intern programs with undergraduates, and even some high school seniors, in both industry and the university is that carefully chosen students can fit into and learn an immense amount from surprisingly challenging roles in the real world. The National Science Foundationts Undergraduate Research Participa- tion program of the 1 960s is another example of a very simple but effective model for students headed for advanced degrees. I know many professors in agricultural fields today who, like me, had their first taste of research, and for many, their first exposure to agricul- ture, because of this program. In industry, we need graduates who have begun to acquire a maturity about the world and their place in it while they are still in 46

OCR for page 41
A CORPORATE VANTAGE POJNT the learning environment. We must create or adapt learning ap- proaches that incorporate discovery, cooperation, exposure to the real world, synthesis, and problem solving. One of my favorite ideas is the use of decision-case analysis. The need for maturity again raises the question of whether the appropriate focus for "pro- fessional preparation" is at the bachelor's or the master's level. Diversity is a particularly difficult issue for those of us in agricul- ture. Quite apart from the legal and moral obligations that compa- nies must meet in their hiring practices, our experience shows that a company with a rich diversity In cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender terms is a more appealing place to work and yields a more productive, creative work force. No one can structure a diverse work force by recruiting strictly from the ranks of graduates from colleges of agriculture today, be- cause the makeup of that pool of potential employees is impossibly monochromatic. Some progress in the level of gender diversity in some subdisciplines of agriculture has been made in recent years, but there is far to go. In other measures of diversity, agriculture lags far behind, even in what it is trying to do, compared, for ex- ample, with minority recruiting and retention efforts at the under- graduate and master's levels in colleges of engineering. My experience as an employer suggests to me that there is noth- ing intrinsically wrong or unappealing about agriculture to minori- ties or women. There are still many barriers, however. These barriers have a lot to do with the kind of environment those of us in the field of agriculture create, often unwittingly, toward those who are interested but who must be shown some enthusiasm and some willingness to accommodate new perspectives and different values and who may require new or different teaching approaches for the most effective learning. We can learn a lot about the requirements of recruiting and retention of minorities and women in agriculture by paying attention to the spirited attention this issue is getting in other previously men-only disciplines as well as from the creative work of cognitive and social scientists (Kolodny, 1991). The issue about diversity in agriculture is therefore to define how we can specifically recruit and retain more minority and women students in colleges of agriculture. Encouragement, directly and indirectly, of students will be part of the program, but it will not be sufficient. Faculty awareness programs that deal with issues that range from the obvious to the subtle and projection of these aware- ness programs into the agricultural production and agribusiness communities will be necessary. If we are successful, the jobs will be there for those students lucky enough to be attracted by the programs that we should be developing. I want to discuss briefly the issue of teaching teachers. It is in the undergraduate curriculum where we have the greatest leverage to address the pressing issues that we face as a society regarding 47

OCR for page 41
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE the quality of our precollege (kindergarten through grade 12) sys- tem. My conviction is that preparing teachers to teach is too impor- tant to be left to colleges of education. Those of us in agriculture need to work at two levels. We need to get behind the programs that are providing materials for teachers already in service to learn about agriculture. Two notable programs are the U.S. Department of Agricultures Agriculture In the Classroom program and Project Food, Land, and People, a nonprofit, interdisciplinary supplemen- tary education program emphasizing agriculture and conservation. However, it is just as important to engage the state agencies that govern syllabuses and our colleagues who design curricula for training teachers to infuse agricultural topics and hands-on agricultural ex- perience with plants, domesticated animals, forests, food, and the environment into the learning experiences of future primary and secondary school teachers. The suggestions I have made are not likely to happen without a rededication of our major colleges of agriculture to the undergradu- ate curriculum and without a recommitment of our best faculty to the challenge of undergraduate instruction. I question whether all or even any of this teaching should be done In the traditional frame- work of an "agricultural" curriculum. In fact, I have very serious doubts about the typically separate agricultural curriculum, at least for the first 2 years of undergraduate work. I might rather see our professors in colleges of agriculture "professing" in the core curricula of our colleges of arts and letters and, in return, have our upper- level curricula in agriculture draw heavily on some "professing" by professors of law, business, behavior, humanities, and the sciences. Finally, I want to issue a challenge tO my friends and colleagues in the corporate world. They stand to be the beneficiaries of what- ever good comes out of the ideas presented in this volume and the rethinking about our educational enterprise in general that these ideas represent In agriculture. 1 believe that individuals in the cor- porate world also have a responsibility to make it happen. The problems in our precollege educational system to which some local communities and their corporate citizens as well as individuals are now awakening require action on at least two levels. There is much that corporations can and should do at the local level, for example, undertaking local action to support schools and the status of teachers in the community. They can throw generous support behind the Agriculture in the Classroom program and Project Food, Land, and People and create other such Initiatives. They can lobby and support the creation of agriculturally related pro- grams in local and regional science centers and be generous sup- porters of those centers in their outreach programs. Equally important and, arguably, more highly leveraged opportu- nities will be at the undergraduate level, however. There is much 48

OCR for page 41
A CORPORATE VANTAGE POINT that companies can do at the undergraduate level, too. They can develop internships for students and mentorship programs for their teachers. They can offer continuing education opportunities for teachers that are linked to the last year of teacher training programs in local or regional colleges. They can offer sabbaticals for their employees; specifically, this will allow company staff to work in places where education of undergraduates in agriculture is a prior- ity, thereby giving professors and students exposure to industry and people In industry exposure to the academic environment where future employees are being educated. They can support gener- ously the recognition of great teaching. They can incorporate ex- plicitly into their gifts and grants for research support funding for undergraduate participation. And they can lend their considerable political support to the challenge of redesigning the curriculum. Wise educational institutions will welcome the support, both finan- cial and political, and the wisest ones will also engage companies in the process in some meaningful way. The students most needed in agriculture today are those who are most likely to be able to think globally, to act creatively, to value diversity, to behave responsibly, to respond flexibly, and to interact cooperatively. Open and fertile, inquisitive, and observant minds, not Finished products," should be the goal. In society at large, we desperately need a higher level of general science literacy and specific understanding of agriculture. In todays world, however, the need is as great to equip all people in our society with an understanding of agriculture. The need is not lim- ited to just more facts and figures about and exposure to agricul- ture. A better appreciation of probability, for example, would equip people with the ability to better understand risk. Thus, one might argue that a better understanding of applied mathematics could do more to advance people's understanding of the implications in their lives of agricultural production practices than a better understand- ing of agricultural production practices themselves could. The future of U.S. agriculture in no small measure rests on how well we meet the challenge of placing education in and about agri- culture back on the main agenda of our society. If the conference and this volume collectively make some progress in moving in this direction, we will have done something worthwhile. References Bodner, G. M. 1990. Falling grades for college-level science. Chemical and Engineering News 68:69-70. Helter, S. 1987. Ways to improve undergraduate education sought by alliance of state universities. Chronicle of Higher Education, January 14, 1987, pp. 13-14. Kolodny, A. 1991. Colleges must recognize students' cognitive styles and 49

OCR for page 41
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE cultural backgrounds. Chronicle of Higher Education, February 6, 1991, p. A44. Koshland, D. E., Jr. 1991. Teaching and research. Science 251:249. Nature. 1991. Education in science. Nature 350:3. (Editorial.) RigUen, J. S., and S. Tobias. 1991. Too often, college-level science is dull as well as difficult. Chronicle of Higher Education, March 27, 1991, p. Ask. Tobias, S. 1990. They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Sew and Tier. Tucson, Ariz.: Research Corporation. 50