Finding community and corporate support for ag ed.

It was 2001 when the National Science Foundation developed a program to elevate education and advance learning across the board in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, now known as STEM. With a commitment of federal funding and scientific practice, this initiative was added to kindergarten through college, giving talented students throughout the country much-needed education, mentorship and opportunities.

As we moved into the 21st century, the Rhode Island School of Design produced the concept of STEAM, in reference to the integration of art and design in scientific and technological education. Despite a goal of drawing additional students to these fields and demonstrating the need for a more well-rounded workforce, STEM and STEAM have remained hidden in the background, struggling with funding and securing leadership opportunities.

From Arts to Ag

Though as marketers we can recognize the correlations and seamlessness from STEM and STEAM to ag, it’s undoubtedly missing from the national conversation. STEM and STEAM programs, though integrated with ag, continue to be promoted as forums for general science education, while ag ed flies under the radar.

Let’s look at today’s standard curriculum for ag education. We reviewed the University of Illinois, University of California – Davis and Texas A&M, three institutions that have rigorous degree standards for ag majors, not to mention a wide variety of options within those majors. From degrees in poultry science, agricultural engineering and entomology to rangeland economy and management, gone are the days when one simply received a nebulous degree in ag. Ag programs are now developed in tandem with environmental and life sciences, technology and economics. To reflect the all-encompassing fields within ag, the ideal skill set now includes a broad understanding of crop and animal science, biotech and agribusiness, with a healthy dose of experience. And when industry can participate, this demonstrates the commitment to understanding the importance of education and supporting the path to get there.

One of the best examples of how agribusiness participates (in this case) in the STEM spectrum is through a Climate Corporation sponsorship of the University of Illinois College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) and the University of Illinois Department of Computer Sciences dual degree in crop science and computer science. In addition to facilitating the degree program, STEM collaborates throughout the institution and with a variety of external partners in industry, government, museums, non-profits and local school districts, to provide Illini students with experiences to expand their learning and concept of the working world. ACES then constructs their education, outreach and initiatives with these partners, integrating the real world of ag with academia.

Invest in the Social Responsibility

However, the value of STEM and STEAM extends beyond what students gain from its advantages. As marketers, it’s worth noting that there is a vast corporate social responsibility that comes with participating in the education of students. Between FFA, the National Farm to School Network and the Agriculture Future of America Leader program, there are numerous ag education grants and projects that are critical to spearheading ag education starting as early as grade school. It’s about giving back to the community, engaging in the learning process and building relationships. Teaching the students of today means establishing a relationship with the customer of tomorrow. The goodwill invested in mentorship, coaching and instruction now might be the farmer, rancher or fellow agribusiness owner of the future.

Therefore, we recommend that as ag brands, businesses and organizations, you open yourselves to the potential to substantiate, participate in and endorse these STEM and STEAM programs and other avenues of ag education. From elementary to higher ed, their value far outweighs any time and financial investment. And both are possibly the time and financial investment most well spent.