June 29, 2017

Think of careers in agriculture and plowing fields or feeding cattle might spring to mind. The Agriculture Department at Stanislaus State, however, takes a wider view and has spent time this summer sharing its vision.

In two week-long Summer Leadership Experiences in Agricultural Development & Sciences (LEADS) Programs that wrapped up on June 23, more than two dozen participants traipsed the Stan State bio-ag field site and bio-ag dome, checked runoff through rainfall simulations and mapped trees in an orchard using GIS coordinates. Field trips and industry speakers rounded out the sessions.

“We want to let them know that agriculture is not just a sit on a farm job. There are so many opportunities and exciting careers for young, smart kids now,” said Agriculture Professor Dr. Oluwarotimi Odeh, who led the program.

“It was more than I could have ever expected,” said Trevor Wingett, a materials handling worker who hopes to go into ag technology. “They’re working to future-proof agriculture,” he said, pointing to sustainability research and tech applications he learned about in the LEADS program.

On a trip to the Modesto Junior College ag program, students saw drones checking orchards. They toured UC Merced’s MESA (Mechatronics, Embedded Systems and Automation) Lab where they participated in activities on robotics and use of drone technology in agriculture, and stopped at Hilmar Cheese for some insight into agribusiness.

“There are a lot of connections here with this ag program,” said Myrissa Gutierrez, an MJC veterinary tech student who plans to transfer to Stan State to study agriculture with a focus on wildlife. 

“Stanislaus has a lot of opportunities for ag students, no matter what your interest is,” added Megan Daniel.

Daniel is entering the general agriculture concentration of the agriculture major. The major tailors to student career goals, with foundational courses offered in ag technology, crop management and biology, agribusiness, regulations and labor issues. It winds up with a capstone project in agricultural entrepreneurship or research.

The multidisciplinary major also offers concentrations in agricultural biology, agricultural economics, general agriculture and sustainable agriculture, the area that program participant Alexandria Tyler will start in the fall.

Tyler, an incoming junior transfer from MJC, said she wanted an advance look at the program, which digs into soil, ecology, water management, organic and free range farming, low input agriculture and biodynamics. Stanislaus State was rated the most affordable sustainable agriculture program in the nation.

Dakota Browning, an incoming junior transfer from Merced College, plans to major in agriculture with a concentration in agricultural economics. “I was super excited about this program, and this week made me even more excited to get started,” said Browning, who is aiming for a career with the United States Department of Agriculture.

A USDA grant funded the Summer LEADS Program, with Stan State as the lead institution along with the MJC Division of Agriculture and Fresno State’s Department of Food and Nutrition as partners. The grant also supports the agriculture program through curriculum updates and creation of new courses to meet the evolving needs of the Central Valley’s diverse ag industry.

California grows more than a third of the country’s vegetables, two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts and 80 percent of the world’s supply of almonds. The laden orchards and chewing cattle seen from roads throughout this region contribute to the state’s $47 billion agriculture economy.

Its home in the heart of California’s fertile Central Valley makes Stan State a natural fit for ag education. The University’s program developed as a unique and complimentary extension of traditional programs at area high schools and community colleges, building on the University’s existing strengths in business administration and science.

The close-knit department was a good fit for alumni Raquel Gomez, who is starting her M.S. in Horticulture at Washington State University this fall. She stopped by the summer program to offer advice and insight to newcomers. “I got to be a part of the Stan Ag family, and I learned the skills to market myself to other programs,” she said.

MJC student Michael Neves grew up in Turlock, but said the summer program was his first time on the Stan State campus. His introduction to the ag program was a revelation, Neves said, “I want to make the public aware. I want to be a part of this school’s history.”

Opening eyes to the many roads fanning out from the agriculture major was the Summer LEAD Program’s goal, said geography Professor Augustine Avwunudiogba.

“With this program, we tried to expose them to the depth and breadth of agriculture in the Central Valley, to help them see the kinds of opportunities available to them,” he said.