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Agriculture and the Undergraduate (1992)

Chapter: 13 Positioning Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority

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Suggested Citation:"13 Positioning Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
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Suggested Citation:"13 Positioning Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 110
Suggested Citation:"13 Positioning Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 111
Suggested Citation:"13 Positioning Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 112

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CHAPTER 13 Positioning Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority C. Eugene Allen At the end of the previous chapter, Joseph Kunsman discussed where we have been. I am a firm believer that we cannot do as well in planning for the future unless we reflect upon where we have been. For the area of agriculture, it is very appropriate to think about the canvas that Karl Brandt mentioned earlier in this volume. When I think of that canvas, I do not think of a bland one, but instead, I am reminded of the richness of the different eras of agriculture and how the mural depicts the changes that have oc- curred, from Initially producing food for a small number of people at a local level to the numerous complexities of today's global di- mensions for food and agriculture. For example, in the beginning there was the labor-intensive era, when the majority of people worked to produce food for them- selves and a few others. Then, there was the mechanically inten- sive era that led to the replacement of some labor by machines and increased the productivity of each producer. This was followed by a chemically intensive era that further reduced labor inputs, in- creased productivity, and was coupled with advances in transporta- tion and preservation techniques that permitted food to be shipped longer distances. And as we modify that canvas today, those eras have not disappeared but they continue to evolve. The relative Importance of these components to each other has changed; but we still have a mixture of labor, mechanical, and chemical inputs and now, increasingly, other inputs. Perhaps what is not as clear as it was in past eras is what kind of era we are in today. That is part of what the conference was about. I would like to provide a reminder of some of the ways in which this era has been described, all of which are very important, since these topics relate to undergraduate education and to sus 109

AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE tainting the agricultural, food, and natural resource system in the United States. For example, this era has been described as an environmental decade, a biological era, an information and management-intensive age, and a global and international era; and it Is an era when we must pay much more attention to cultural diversity. Finally, many believe that this is the decade for the undergraduate as it relates to program attention and curriculum content. Thus, the conference fit that description. In each of the descriptions of this current era, age, or decade, there are major challenges and opportunities; and in each of these there is an explosion of information. So, is it any wonder that we are struggling with how to change and shape the curriculum to fit all of this together? AS others asked a number of times, what do we give up in our programs and what do we choose to put in? These are very difficult questions. As we think about the evolu- tion of the mural that Karl srandt described, we must include parts of all of the descriptions for the current era or decade. Thus, the depiction and integration of issues important in the last decade of this century are as difficult as the completion of any mural or picture. We need to address some of the challenges with regard to specif- ics, namely, the curriculum, our goals for undergraduate education, and how we are going to go about delivering on these. First, as has been described here, there are fewer people in the general population who know about agriculture. We also need to remind ourselves that more and more of our faculty come to our colleges knowing less about the breadth of agriculture. In some ways we are not unlike the Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry who did not know about plate tectonics, as described in Chapter 11 by Robert Hazen. How many of our faculty in agriculture could an- swer general questions about issues that are regularly addressed by the department next doors We also have many students who come to us who have no previous connection to the food or agricultural system. That is very different than it was only a decade or two ago. Likewise, where students are employed when they graduate Is very different, because we are working in an area where, in earlier decades, the primary focus was on production and marketing. Today, the bal- ance has changed. Production and marketing are still important; but now the incorporation of new technologies, the need to access all kinds of data to make wise management decisions, and the need to understand and communicate this information to both pro- fessional and lay audiences are issues that we cannot escape. They are part of reality today, and the public and our students are demanding knowledge in these areas. So, unfortunately, although we have fewer people, faculty, and students who know as much about the breadth of agriculture, to 1 10

UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION AS THE PRIORITY day we have more demands on what is needed to deal with a wider array of complex issues. Closely related to this is the second item that is part of our challenge, namely, that we must be more concerned about the environment, food safety, values, and ethics. These Issues must not be peripheral to the substance of an agricultural curriculum but must be part of its core. Third, there is an increasing sophistication among those produc- ers, processors, and distributors who are carrying out these func- tions for the majority of the food in the United States. Their needs are increasingly sophisticated, systems oriented, and information based. All of these factors challenge the relevance of our teaching, research, and extension programs. Fourth, we have a very serious human resource need, and this human resource need is not going to be addressed unless we do a much better job than we have done up to now by reaching out and encouraging minority populations to successfully complete educa- tional programs in our colleges. Without more women and minori- ties in our educational programs, we will fail to capture the strengths from diversity and will fail to address the increasing need for tal- ented human resources. The fifth challenge is the international dimension. The interna- tional dimensions of food production and forest products are grow- ing. They are becoming more complex, as reflected by the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. We are also frequently reminded that there are people starving to death In many parts of the world. Such problems can be addressed only as teams of educated people with appropriate tools address the task of how to feed people living in areas where population pressures are fre- quently very severe and decisions on the use of land and water are extremely critical. All of these needs require an appropriate and culturally diverse education. It requires that those who work in such places be broadly educated and possess some specific knowledge appropriate to the priority needs. It also requires a much better understanding by people who set policy and who cannot avoid feel- ing the impacts brought about by circumstances in other parts of the world. In terms of the current situation in Eastern Europe, I raise the following simple question: AS food moves into the International markets, what about the contamination of food grown and produced in places where the environment is so bad that the food is unsafe? Who is going to see where that food goes? Who is going to help correct those problems so that when that food is produced it is safe for consumption, regardless of where It is eaten? The sixth challenge is one that a number of individuals addressed throughout the conference and in this volume. That is, how are we going to teach? Not just what are we going to teach but how are we going to teach? Are we going to continue with our old ways, or 1 1 1

AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE are there new ways that can bring about an improvement on the pasty How will we use telecommunications to enrich the classroom and allow institutions to share the expertise of their faculty7 I also challenge us to think about the ideas Robert Hazen pre- sented. If faculty in colleges of agriculture would choose to teach either applied or basic concepts in the manner described by Robert Hazen, how many students would be enrolled in our courses7 1 would venture to say that if we opened our minds to these con- cepts, we would frequently have to use our largest lecture rooms to accommodate many classes, because I believe that the majority of undergraduates would find that learning from such teachers would be a refreshing and rewarding experience. More faculty are going to have to more clearly differentiate the educational needs of the majority of undergraduates from those of graduate students and future scientists. we cannot do it all the same way. I fear that too many faculty view each group of students as potential future pro- fessors, and that is not where we should start. We should all think about how we are going to deal with the topics that have been presented in this volume. These include the curricula of the departments or colleges, the courses and how they will be taught, our role in shaping the general and liberal education requirements of our universities, and the backgrounds and needs of our undergraduates. Other issues that we should consider relate to the role of disciplinary knowledge and its presentation in courses versus the interdisciplinary content and systems approaches; the use of both individual and team learning experiences; and how we can do a better Job of addressing the issues of problem solving, communications skills, and ethics across the curriculum rather than expecting students to regurgitate facts. Finally, what are our needs, the students" needs, and the needs of our students" employers? In this regard, what should we con- sider to be the requirements for bachelors, master's, and even doctoral degrees? Isn't it rather sad that we turn out so many doctorates with excellent research skills but who are so ill prepared to communicate in lay language the significance of their research or so poorly prepared to teach an introductory-level class? What about the undergraduate who is required to learn the Krebts cycle many times but who never comes to recognize its significance to energy metabolism? Or the student who learns about the role of many different nutrients but who does not begin to understand the com- plex of political, ethical, and natural resource issues that lead to death by starvation of millions of people virtually every year? Does such a curriculum seem appropriate? We need to ask questions and make changes to address such serious shortcomings. The future will be less forgiving to both those faculty and those institu- tions that fail to more adequately address such curriculum issues. 1 12

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This book presents efforts to chart the comprehensive changes needed to meet the challenges of undergraduate professional education in agriculture. The United States needs to invest in the future--in human capital and the scientific knowledge base--to revitalize one of its leading industries, the agricultural, food, and environmental system. That objective can be met by educating all students about agriculture as well as by educating others specifically for careers in agriculture.

Agriculture and the Undergraduate includes perspectives on rewarding excellence in teaching and formulating curricula to reflect cultural diversity, the environment, ecology, agribusiness and business, humanities and the social sciences, and the economic and global contexts of agriculture.

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