Beyond the Blackboard: Developing Leadership Skills in Agricultural Education Students

By Brown, James | The Agricultural Education Magazine, September/October 2010 | Go to article overview

Beyond the Blackboard: Developing Leadership Skills in Agricultural Education Students


Brown, James, The Agricultural Education Magazine


Agricultural leadership has never been in higher demand. Before his death last September, Nobel laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug stated that farmers need to produce more food in the next 50 years than in the last 1 0,000 years combined. Launching the 21st century's "Food Revolution" requires pushing the boundaries of science to expand food production while educating the opposition. Agricultural education students must take a lead in educating others about technologies and processes used to increase global food supplies. This is why developing leadership skills in agricultural education students is vital to the future of American agriculture.

The current status of milk from rBST treated cows demonstrates why teaching leadership skills to agricultural education students must be a priority. In response to consumer mistrust of rBST, many national grocery chains, including Safeway, WalMart and Kroger, only carry milk from non-rBST treated cows. This is despite the FDA stating that there is no significant difference in milk from treated and non-treated cows. This highlights the need for agricultural education students to correctly educate the public and take the lead in introducing new technologies to consumers. Feeding a growing world by leveraging technology and government policy requires 21st century agricultural education students to develop ten leadership skills:

1. Communication: Employers in agricultural trade organizations and businesses from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to Hormel Foods state the three most important skills they seek when hiring employees at all leadership levels are oral communication, written communication, and critical thinking. The Montana State University (MSU) Agricultural Ambassador program develops its members' communication abilities by teaming up veteran ambassadors with first year ambassadors to allow first year ambassadors to observe experienced speakers and have a coach at their side to ask for suggestions. In addition, this group has all official documents peer reviewed to enable the ambassadors to improve their written communication abilities by giving and receiving constructive criticism.

2. Critical Thinking: Most modern agricultural issues, such as world hunger, are extremely complex. According to the United Nations, one in seven people worldwide are undernourished, but 30 to 40 percent of food in both developed and developing nations is lost to waste. It is up to agricultural education students to raise hard questions such as, "What actions can minimize this waste and in turn reduce global hunger?" Students must be trained to think critically. When students ask advice on how to complete a project, before giving your opinion ask, "What does your gut instinct tell you?" Then, you can ask follow up questions that train your students to approach decision making in a systematic way.

3. Collaboration: The life cycle of agricultural products involves professionals from numerous disciplines. Therefore, agricultural leaders must be trained to work in interdisciplinary teams from production to marketing, quality control, product development, and beyond. This is achieved by creating groups for students to work in that they would not self select. At Montana State University (MSU), Dr. Jane Ann Boles, Associate Meat Science Professor, understands the power of interdisciplinary teams and designs groups of students with diverse academic backgrounds to develop hypothetical beef alliances in her meat science class.

4. Global Perspective: With the USDA reporting 2009 U.S. agricultural exports reaching $99 billion and agricultural imports totaling $71 billion, American agriculture is steeped in global trade. Understanding the global context of agriculture requires providing students the opportunity to travel abroad and visit both end users of agricultural exports as well as the source of American agricultural imports. For the past 14 years, professors at MSU's College of Agriculture have been teaching courses, such as Follow the Grain and Extension in a Global Context which are semester long courses with guest speakers discussing global trade, differences in production, and use of commodities across the globe. …

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