From dairy robotics and precision farming technology to the chemistry of wine making and integrated pest management, jobs in agriculture dot a diverse and varied career map in the Finger Lakes. Helping area high school students navigate ag-related vocational opportunities was the goal of the 2017 Building the Agricultural Intellect of the Finger Lakes Youth Career Day April 26.
A collaboration among the Finger Lakes Workforce Investment Board, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), the second annual event brought together 220 high school students from 17 Finger Lakes-area school districts.
Featuring field trips to the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, the Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) Viticulture Center and Hemdale Farms, a high-tech dairy with a robotic milking parlor and high-volume vegetable growing operation, the event paired ag-minded high school students with experts from Cornell, FLCC, SUNY Cobleskill and professionals from the private sector. Each location included additional exhibitors, including Fowler Farms, SUNY Cobleskill, CCE, Finger Lakes Technical and Career Center, Farm Credit East, Keseca Veterinary Clinic and Lakeland Equipment.
Marie Anselm, a CCE agriculture economic development specialist based in Ontario County, guided a group of animal science students enrolled in the Finger Lakes Technical and Career Center animal science program. “Both years I’ve participated in this event I think the students and the participating guidance counselors have walked away surprised by how many career options there are in agriculture, particularly those that involve STEM fields,” she said. “Even if students have an interest in agriculture, they may not be aware of many career options are available to them. Exposing young people to these careers, whether they be on farms, in research and technology or in sales, gives them a better understanding of the overall industry and the opportunities that exist.”
Amanda Lesterhuis, Youth Systems Coordinator for the Finger Lakes Workforce Investment Board, who also led a tour group, agreed. “When community members, including high school students, think about the ag industry, they most likely just picture farmers driving tractors in fields, and while those are all very important roles, there are so many career opportunities available in this region that require a broad range of skills and education. Exposing students to these careers early on will hopefully entice them to remain in this area after high school and college and help eliminate skills gaps that exist in this industry on a local level.”
At each stop, attendees listened intently to multiple presentations that included hands-on demonstrations highlighting real-world applications of technology in agriculture. At the conclusion of each session, students peppered presenters with pointed questions about why they chose their particular career path and how they got started.
“For me, that was the best part,” said Anselm. “Seeing how engaged the students were at each stop was very satisfying. The presenters were blown away by the students’ interest and how great the questions were.”
For Lesterhuis, the biggest – and most unexpected – takeaway was the evolving conversation between chaperones. “The guidance counselors and school-to-career counselors I spoke with were impressed how much technology and science are involved in agriculture,” she said. “They also talked about how they will adjust their recruiting tactics next year to entice more students who want to pursue science or engineering degrees, but may not know they can use those degrees in various agriculture fields.”
While organizers admit that putting together an event that excites a couple hundred teenagers from four counties while busing them to three locations is no easy task, they recognize it was their collaborative approach that made the event such a fluid and lasting experience. “The partnership between the Finger Lakes Workforce Investment Board, CCE, CALS, FLCC and Hemdale Farms was vital to the day’s success,” said Anselm. “This event really strives to represent many sectors of agriculture, and that wouldn’t be possible without our partnership. We’ve really been fortunate to have so much community support come together to make it happen.”