One of the first schools to offer the courses was Lebanon, which previously didn't have an agriculture program. The school committed space to agriculture classes, acquired an agronomy farm and hired Purdue animal science and agricultural education graduate Byron Ernest to bring it all together. "We started our agriculture program four years ago and built the curriculum around the advanced life science courses," Ernest says. "Once we started offering the courses, they soon became very popular with our college-bound students."
As the recipient of a Distinguished Fellow Lilly Teacher Creativity Grant last year, Ernest was able to bring his "ALS Plants" students to Purdue for Michael Zanis' Botany 210 lectures and labs. "I try to make sure that the courses are a mirror image of the equivalent concurrent credit courses at Purdue," Ernest says.
Kick start to college
Beyond working in laboratories in their own schools and at Purdue, ALS students have the opportunity to visit agri-science companies to get a first-hand look at the agriculture industry outside of farming. That way, whether or not students have a farm background, they can find interest in other areas of the industry.
"I didn't grow up on a farm and don't really have any farming experience, but through the Lebanon agriculture program I learned that agriculture is so much more than farming," says Cayla Mustin, a 2008 graduate of Lebanon High School. "I started to develop an interest in horticulture, so when the ALS classes came to Lebanon, I signed up. I'm in awe of the program, and, when we visited Purdue, I got a real feel for what I want to study in college."
Mustin's former classmate Madeline Wilhoite was raised on a hog and grain farm, but found that farming wasn't the only aspect of agriculture that interested her. "My family farms, and I show cattle, hogs and sheep, so I grew up knowing I was interested in agriculture," says Wilhoite, also a 2008 Lebanon graduate. "But, even so, the plant and soils class and the hands-on science field trips helped me to know that I want to study horticulture at Purdue."
Wilhoite and Mustin, also a horticulture major, entered Purdue already having science credits and experience in college-level labs and coursework. Edwards, who is studying agronomic business and marketing at Purdue, and Twitty, a livestock production major at Ivy Tech, have hands-on research—and inventive food processing experience—to go along with college credit earned. "Showing relevant and practical science applications early on helps students to see that there is a purpose to what they are learning," Tormoehlen says. "Plus, when they graduate high school, they already have college credits and are well on their way to exciting careers."
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