Fertile ground: Morningside to add major in agricultural education

July 6, 2018, in Latest News, Applied Agriculture and Food Studies

This fall Morningside College will become the third college in Iowa to offer a major in agricultural education. The major will certify graduates to teach agriculture at the middle and high school levels.

Consultants at the Iowa Department of Education strongly encouraged Morningside to develop this program in response to a severe shortage of teachers in this area, said Dr. LuAnn Haase, dean of the Sharon Walker School of Education at Morningside.

“Morningside College welcomes the opportunity to become a leader in the preparation of secondary agriculture teachers in the state of Iowa and in this region of our country,” Haase said. “Continued collaboration between Morningside College and its K-12 school district partners benefits students, agriculture-related businesses, and, ultimately, our economy as Morningside graduates help close the gap in this labor market need.”

Agricultural education has been a teacher shortage area in Iowa for 14 of the last 17 years, in South Dakota for the last nine years, and in Nebraska for three of the last four years.

At the same time, demand is growing, said Dr. Thomas Paulsen, associate professor and department head for the Regina Roth Applied Agricultural and Food Studies Program at Morningside.

“Schools are starting to understand that the agricultural sector, broadly defined, has tremendous career opportunities,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects about 58,000 job openings per year for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture – and only about 35,000 graduates to fill those openings.

That could explain the rapid growth of Morningside’s agricultural and food studies program. It has grown from about 10 students when it started in 2014 to almost 70 students four years later.

The program offers an overview of agriculture that is accessible even to students with limited experience in the field. Then students minor in specialties such as agribusiness, agronomy, environmental policy and law, food safety, political science or mass communication.

Paulsen called education a logical growth area.

“We have an excellent education department at Morningside College. Very well respected,” he said. “We’re partnering with that experience.”

Most agriculture programs can be found at large public universities. It is rare to find a small college with professors whose full-time job is to teach courses in agriculture, according to Paulsen. He said Morningside is a truly unique option for students who want the small-college experience.

DeAndra Fritz will be one of the first agricultural education majors at Morningside. Her mother is actually an agricultural education professor at a large university, but she thought a small college like Morningside would be a better fit for her.

“I chose a small school rather than a big school because I learn better in a classroom that is not a lecture hall,” said the Morningside College sophomore. “I learn better when the teacher is going to know my name and I can ask questions rather than a big university where there are 200 students in a class.”

There were five students in her first agriculture class at Morningside.

Even though Fritz’s mother is an agricultural education professor, there was no agricultural education program at her high school. She said her Morningside professors have been great about helping her get the experiences she needs to be successful.

For example, Paulsen helped her get in touch with an area high school so she could watch FFA practices.

“Students wanting to come here for an ag education, know you’re going to get a lot of personal experience with your professors, and they’re going to know you,” she said. “They’re going to make sure you get the education you need in order to be successful.”