Challenging Agricultural Governor

Challenging Agricultural GovernorAbstract

In 2001, a Governor's School of Agriculture was formed to bring 85 students to Virginia Tech for a 28-day residential program involving Agricultural Economics, Animal Science, Veterinary Medicine, Natural Resources, and Plant and Soil Science. The students were accustomed to highly technical home and teaching environments; 94% had home computers and 88% had modems. Eighty to 88% had used spreadsheets, databases, and slide show software and all had used the Internet at school. Nineteen percent had used satellite positioning systems and 25% computer-aided drawing programs. About 20 students elected to study geographic analysis (GIS) software. Ninety-three percent of those students reported that using GIS software made the agriculture subjects more interesting and 47% said it increased their interest in studying agriculture. Eighty-one percent said they would use their new knowledge at home, and 65% said it would help them in school. Thirty-one percent said they planned to take similar courses in college. Teaching agricultural subjects with sophisticated software and equipment appears to be a successful way to introduce the subject to non-traditional students in an exciting and challenging manner. This model is offered for others to consider when addressing high school students with the aim of recruiting them into collegiate agricultural programs.

Today's students live in a highly technical world. At home, they are surrounded by sources of digital video and audio, the Internet, and video games that portray a three-dimensional virtual reality world of racing, fighting, sports, and adventure games. As students, they are exposed to videos, computer slide shows, instructional software, and the Internet in their classrooms. Their learning environment is more graphical and visually oriented than before, and the increase in visual information has raised the bar for teachers who want to capture their student's interests. Getting the attention of and impressing students accustomed to such a loud, bright, colorful, fast-moving world is an increasing challenge for teachers, especially for conventional science subject classes. Success can be gauged by how often the teacher hears slang expressions of excitement or interest form the students during lectures or field trips.

As the number of farming and ranching families declines nationwide (, college agricultural teachers are faced with an increasing proportion of agriculture students with nontraditional backgrounds. Nontraditional students may need more background material than students who were raised on a farm or ranch. Background instruction must be provided in subjects such as crops, vegetation, soils, hydrology, animal science, economics, and land-use history to assist urban students to improve their image of agriculture, to gain an understanding of the agricultural environment, activities, and land-use choices, and to portray agriculture as a source of rewarding careers (Falvey and Matthews, 1999). Agriculture clubs and classes at the high-school level may provide this background but they are not available at many urban, private, or home schools.

New and innovative ways to appeal to potential students are needed to improve the image of the colleges of agriculture to facilitate attraction and retention of the best and brightest students from various backgrounds and schools (National Resource Council, 1996). Wildman and Torres (2002) reported that agricultural departments face a difficult challenge to recruit students who have not been exposed to prior agriculture experiences. The agricultural and environmental educators must contact high-achievement students in secondary schools, increase their knowledge and awareness level about employment opportunities in agriculture, and spark their interest in the subject. Those students who then find they have a high interest in the agriculture or environmental sciences and employment opportunities will become potential students to study those subjects in college. Contact with high-school students may be achieved in traditional ways through high school clubs (FFA, 4-H, Rodeo) and teachers or through nontraditional ways such as summer residential Governor's Schools.

Agricultural Governor's Schools

The first Governor's School was established in North Carolina in 1963, and as of 1996, there were 100 such schools. The National Conference of Governor's Schools ( lists schools with Governor's School for the Agricultural Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). Each school is a two weeks to six week residential summer program for gifted and talented youths of high school ages, has highly selective criteria for student selection, and are supported entirely or in large part by their state legislatures and educational funding (http://n Because recruitment is open to students from all backgrounds and public, private, and home schools, the schools offer new opportunities to expose students to new or innovative technology that may not be available to them and to introduce them to various agriculture sciences.

At Penn State, 64 of the state's top high school juniors and seniors spend five weeks learning about agricultural sciences. More than 700 students have attended the school since its inception in 1997. Nearly all of them have gone on to college, and many have chosen to attend Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences (

The Virginia Summer Residential Governor's School for Agricultural (VGS) was established in 2001 and follows the format of the Pennsylvania School. According to the information presented to Virginia high school teachers and prospective students, the mission of the program was "to provide hands-on, cutting-edge scientific and academic instruction to the future leaders and scientists to develop their understanding of the scope, opportunities, challenges, and both academic and scientific rigor of the broad fields of agriculture and natural resources" (

This paper presents a description of a one-week specialized course using global positioning systems (GPS) equipment and geographic information systems (GIS) software meant to capture the interest of students who grew up in an environment full of digital graphic images and electronic devices. The GPS and GIS training appear to be a unique offering among Governor's Schools. GPS devices are becoming more common for use by hikers and in automobile guidance systems. GIS software is a set of tools that relate different imagery, environmental, geographic, and demographic data at a common location (Independent Publishers Group, 1999).

Pedagogy for collegiate agricultural instruction using GIS is beginning to emerge in the literature. McCallister et al. (2001) report the successful development of a class combining land use planning and soil survey reports using GIS technology. Student response to this exercise was almost uniformly positive. Lee et al. (1999) produced a similar course introducing students to on-line county soil surveys and the STATSGO database using GIS. At the University of Arkansas, Scott and Smith (1995) are using GIS in a soil physics laboratory. In their evaluations, some students requested that additional time in the class be devoted to this area. These references all report a very positive student response to this new data management tool.

Many web-based articles and trade journal reports discuss the positive response of secondary education teachers and students to GIS technology ( ails.html#honorroll). The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia is an example of secondary schools that offer a pre-collegiate program that stresses the geosciences, especially GIS (McGarigle, 1997). However, there are few publications that report the effect of colleges teaching GIS to high school students. The McMaster University GIS High School Outreach Program was created in December 1999 to teach, improve, strengthen, and promote GIS in high schools and, to date, has educated more than 1,750 high school students and teachers (Maynard and Vajoczki, 2002). This program sets an example of teaching GIS to secondary students but does not focus on agricultural sciences.