Pilot Program Offers Agronomy Class, Scholarships to High School

December 20th, 2005

Ames, Iowa — This semester high school students from Chicago have taken an online course from Iowa State University as they prepare for careers in the agriculture industry. With a little extra effort, they’ll get paid for doing it, too.

In the College of Agriculture pilot project, 12 juniors and seniors at the Chicago High School of Agriculture Sciences (CHSAS) are enrolled in an agronomy course to learn about crop production and soil management principles. Those who complete the course with an A or B and then enroll in agriculture full-time at Iowa State will receive a $1,000 scholarship from the College of Agriculture.

"I am taking the class because it is giving me the opportunity to dabble in something that I might be dealing with in college, seeing that I will be going into horticulture," said Brittney Kee, a senior at CHSAS, where the curriculum focuses on agribusiness and plant and animal sciences.

One of Kee’s goals is to get the grade that will earn her financial assistance. "The scholarship is a great motivator. I need all the money I can get for college. I am trying my best to get a good grade. Although the class is difficult, I am sure I will get through it because I would really like to receive that scholarship," she said.

Iowa State offers the course as an extension of its agronomy department. "We have one of the best agronomy departments in the world," said David Acker, associate dean for academic and global programs in the College of Agriculture. "However, you would be hard pressed to find very many 17-year-olds in Chicago who could tell you what agronomy is all about. So, with the help of a donor’s support, Steve Fales, chair of our agronomy department, and I decided to use this experiment to introduce an exciting major to a new audience."

Acker noted that while Iowa students are always the number one target for ISU recruitment, this program was geared for out-of-state students. "As the size of high school graduating classes declines in Iowa, we will work to offset that decline by recruiting in states where they have a growing number of high school graduates. Illinois is an example of such a state," Acker said. "We also are interested in attracting more urban students to increase the diversity of perspectives among our students."

CHSAS students interested in plants and in trying out a college course were eligible to take the online introduction to agronomy. The course is the exact same one that ISU students take on campus as their introduction to crop production, said Gina McAndrews, course instructor. The students use Computer Integrated Multimedia Program for Learning Enhancement (CIMPLE), an interactive computer program that includes digitized tutorial videos, practice learning exercises, self-quizzes and problem-solving scenarios, she said. Subjects range from plant anatomy and grain quality to plant breeding and tillage practices. One difference of the distance class is that students have hands-on lab assignments to help them learn the material.

"Working on the labs is a very important part in this class because it’s a great way for us to use the concepts we’ve learned from the class online and then apply them into a hands-on experience," said Ryan Jameson, a junior at CHSAS. "This class helps me prepare for college and get a sense of what school is after high school," he added.

Jameson, who is considering majoring in agricultural finance, said the flexibility in taking an online class is a benefit to high school students who are involved in many extracurricular activities. "You get to learn the concepts and do the assignments when you have free time; you never have set times where you must work on the class. With this class, we can work on it whenever we want."

The College of Agriculture and the agronomy department hope to increase the number of students involved, in other states and in Iowa. The course is open to Iowa high school students as part of the Post Secondary Enrollment Options Act (PSEOA). However, only one Iowa high school student enrolled in the distance education class this fall.

"We plan to evaluate the success of the pilot program and make plans for expansion next fall, including a special marketing program in Iowa," Acker said.


David Acker, College of Agriculture, (515) 294-6614, dacker@iastate.edu
Gina McAndrews, Agronomy, (515) 294-7832, gina@iastate.edu
Lucille Shaw, Chicago High School for Agriculture Sciences, (773) 535-2500
Alicia Clancy, Ag Communications Service, (515) 294-4319, aclancy@iastate.edu
Ed Adcock, Ag Communications Service, (515) 294-2314, edadcock@iastate.edu