Seth Edwards concocted a recipe for spicy miniature turkey franks from scratch, while his classmate Josh Twitty perfected his Thanksgiving dinner-inspired turkey smoothie.
Edwards and Twitty, both 2008 graduates of Lebanon High School, in Lebanon, Ind., participated in a program that combines agriculture with the practical application of advanced life science concepts. Students have challenging, college-level coursework and hands-on lab experiences—like processing an entire turkey into new products.
The Advanced Life Science (ALS) program, a joint effort between the Purdue University College of Agriculture, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and the state's science community, was designed to help combat a projected shortage of qualified life-science workers in the state.
|Madeline Wilhoite (left) and Ellen Carrell were among the more than 1,000 Indiana high school students who enroll in Purdue-developed advanced life sciences courses each year. The students' ALS Plants and Soils class at Lebanon High School attended Purdue botanist Michael Zanis' (pictured here) Introduction to Plant Science course.
The program, one of the first of its kind in the nation, puts three agriculture courses on equal academic footing with traditional college-prep science classes. The three courses, "Advanced Life Science: Animals," "Advanced Life Science: Plants and Soil" and "Advanced Life Science: Foods," satisfy science requirements for both the Indiana academic honors diploma and the Core 40 diploma—recommended curricula for students who plan to continue their education. Three Purdue credit hours are awarded for animal and foods courses, and four credit hours are awarded for the plant and soil course.
In the beginning
The ALS program is the brainchild of a life sciences task force charged to create a set of courses that would prepare students to function in a scientifically complex world. "Indiana was breaking new ground—academic science and agricultural science teachers are learning and working together to build stronger junior- and senior-level science programs for our students," says Dorothy Winchester, IDOE director of academic programs. "The strength of these courses is that they offer rigorous life science programs in the context of agriculture—an industry that is very important to Indiana's economic well-being.
"Each of the courses builds on basic science prerequisites, such as biology and chemistry, to help students better understand how Indiana's agricultural industry is grounded in science application and research."
A domino effect
Beginning with the 2004-05 school year, the courses were unveiled, one each year, in schools throughout Indiana. All three courses are now taught to approximately 1,100 students in more than 100 Indiana high schools.
"Students around the state are engaged in high-end research and laboratory work that, in the past, would only have been available to graduate students," says Roger Tormoehlen, head of Youth Development and Agricultural Education. At Owen Valley High School, in Spencer, that research includes experimenting with DNA extraction, while at North Montgomery High School in Crawfordsville, students are testing lipids and fats. Other schools performing high-tech experiments are Eastbrook High School, in Marion, where students are researching the process of osmosis, and Maconaquah High School, in Bunker Hill, where students are studying genetics and genetic mutations.
"Not only does the ALS program positively impact students' lives, but the demand for the courses has opened up new and exciting opportunities for agricultural education graduates," Tormoehlen says. Many schools either added or expanded agriculture programs just to accommodate the courses. "The schools near Indianapolis were some of the first, and it has really been a domino effect from there."