Empowering students to communicate more effectively about contemporary issues in agriculture

Fally Masambuka-Kanchewa standing in front of a classroom, instructing a group of seated students.
Fally Masambuka-Kanchewa, assistant professor of agricultural education and studies, introduces a topic of discussion to students in her Communication Contemporary Issues in Agriculture class last semester. The students' final project in the class was to create podcast episodes, during which they discussed controversial agriculture topics of their choosing.

By Whitney Baxter

Conversations about contemporary issues in agriculture can be intimidating for students, especially when they involve controversial topics.

An important goal for Fally Masambuka-Kanchewa is to empower her students to feel more confident addressing and communicating about such issues before they graduate.

Masambuka-Kanchewa, assistant professor of agricultural education and studies, created the AGEDS 463X: Communicating Contemporary Issues in Agriculture class through her participation in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Innovation and Entrepreneurship Faculty Fellows program.

Inspiration for the course came from her experience doing research and interacting with students. She wants students to learn to be open to listening to others’ opinions.

“I feel that if students take time to listen to others who hold different views, they will be willing and ready to listen to people who may be ‘misinformed’ about agriculture and appreciate where they are coming from, thereby making the students more effective communicators,” Masambuka-Kanchewa said. “An effective communicator is willing and ready to listen to understand and not respond. Once they understand, then they can effectively develop a message to better address misconceptions or disagreements.”

Students in the inaugural section of the course were tasked last semester with producing podcast episodes for the Contemporary Issues in Agriculture Podcast.

Each team of students selected a current or emerging issue facing agriculture and natural resource management in Iowa and beyond. Chosen topics included sustainable agriculture, cover crops, ethanol production and show cattle versus production cattle. Then, they identified three sources to interview for their podcast episodes.

Before recording the episodes, the students put together a list of questions and a script to follow, making sure to keep the conversation neutral and not lean toward one side of the issue.

“We’re learning to tackle issues seen often in agriculture and how to better communicate about them,” Hannah Everhart, junior in agricultural communication, said about the class.

Maddilyn Klemme, senior in agricultural communication, said the completed podcast will be a great addition to her portfolio when applying for jobs.

“I’m getting experience now that I’ll need to pursue a full-time career,” Klemme said.

The class is required of all agricultural communication majors and is open to students in other majors.

Zachary Riedemann, senior in agricultural studies, enrolled in the class to gain a broader understanding of agriculture from both the producer and consumers’ point of view.

“I want to be able to bridge the gap between consumers and producers and gain experience facilitating conversations about current agricultural topics,” Riedemann said.

The introductory and overview episode of the Contemporary Issues in Agriculture Podcast series is now available. Episodes created by students in the class will be uploaded monthly. Additionally, there will be bi-weekly episodes, during which agricultural education and studies graduate students will discuss questions or comments submitted by CAP podcast listeners.