The U. S Census Bureau predicts the Latino population in America will triple in size by the year 2050, ultimately making up 29% of the American population (Passel & Cohn, 2008). The increase of Latino students will also be reflected in the schoolage population, which leads to the question: how will we recruit diverse students into agricultural education programs? Esters and Bowen (2004) stressed the importance of recruiting nontraditional students, more specifically, "[the] opportunities to maintain a pipeline of future agriculturalists will depend on the ability of secondary agricultural education programs to attract students from nontraditional backgrounds" (p. 25).
As a "nontraditional" student, I understand the importance of recruiting underrepresented student groups. I am Mexican American with a limited background in agriculture. I was raised in a predominantly Latino community. Soledad, California my hometown- is located in the "Salad Bowl of the World," the Salinas Valley. Our community takes pride in our local Mission, the Pinnacles (a national park), and our rather new high school, which was established in 1999. Before entering high school, my perceptions of FFA and agriculture were different than they are now. I knew an organization called FFA existed and that "FFA people" raised pigs for fairs and wore Wranglers and boots - little did I know how this organization would change my perceptions!
When the high school guidance counselors came to sign my peers and me up for freshmen classes at the end of 8th grade, I decided to look past my perception of FFA and signed up for an agriculture class. I vividly remember being the only student in my history honors class to sign up for an agriculture class. Being the only one of thirty students to sign up for agriculture was extremely out of character for me because I was shy and often felt comfort in being in the majority. In addition to the daily curriculum, the agriculture program challenged me to become a leader. I was quickly won over by the welcoming and supportive atmosphere within the agricultural classroom. I noticed my two agriculture educators, Ms. Richmond and Mrs. Ramirez, spent a lot of time after school helping students with public speaking contests and supervised agriculture experience projects. The encouragement and motivation from my agriculture teachers inspired me to get involved with the Best Informed Greenhand (B.I.G.) contest.
Our team, composed of seven females and one male, spent a great deal of time studying for the contest. It was also a time to develop friendships. While at the sectional B.I.G. contest, our advisors told us that we weren't allowed to sit by each other, rather we were encouraged to meet people from different FFA programs. Building relationships was emphasized in our agriculture program. Similarly, establishing new relationships is very valuable to the Latino community. Within a month of being enrolled in my agriculture class my perception of FFA and agriculture changed. I realized that FFA was more than "cows and plows"; it was about developing friendships, learning about agriculture, and becoming a leader. In addition, the professional rapport I built with my agriculture teachers made me feel a sense of belonging and ultimately motivated me to take additional agriculture courses throughout high school. Agricultural education shaped my future plans in life and gave me a new love and passion for FFA and the agriculture industry.
During my junior year of high school, the possibility of future involvement in the agriculture industry started to seem more of a reality. I attended a program called 26 Hours of Science and Technology in Agriculture sponsored by Latinos in Agriculture, a student organization at CaI Poly, San Luis Obispo. The college was an hour and a half south of my hometown. Seventy-nine other high school students and I had the opportunity to experience college life for 26 hours. …