Why My Major Rules: Agricultural and Extension Education

This is part one of a series outlining different majors at Penn State and, well, why they rule.

All of us have that “30-second elevator speech” prepared and ready to go whenever we meet a new person and are faced with the question, “So, what are you majoring in?” I dread that question, and I know I am not alone. Even though I sometimes wonder whether or not I should take the time to try and explain my very awesome, but complicated major, it’s definitely worth it.

With over 160 majors at Penn State, some of us are met with a puzzling look when describing our major. Sometimes we end up having to be “that person” who is asked one question, but ends up talking for ten minutes just explaining what the heck we chose to study. I fit in the latter category. Quite frankly, I am tired of it, so here’s some information about my major: Agricultural and Extension Education.

This is that point where most of you give me a strange look and ask if I give lessons to cows and chickens or something along those lines. While that would make for an interesting career, the major isn’t anything like that. The Agricultural and Extension Education major, or Ag Ed for short, gives certification and opens the door for students to teach agricultural education in high schools and middle schools.

Agriculture Education classes are offered in middle and high schools across the country, most often as an elective similar to art, band, or tech ed. Even though many of you may not have heard of this option before, it is extremely popular among the schools that offer the curriculum. Ag Ed is a unique education system in that it is based on the “Three Circle Model,” which is pictured below.

This image essentially means that the complete program is made up of three parts. The first part is classroom instruction where students are taught lessons on animal science, horticulture, food science, and many other topics. The second portion is the Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE). This is a project planned, implemented, and documented by the student with some guidance from their agricultural educators as a way to apply what they are learning in the classroom. The last and my personal favorite component is the FFA, a national agricultural youth organization with upwards of 550,000 members from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

That is where the picture of Napoleon Dynamite comes in. One of the opening scenes includes Napoleon competing in a contest offered only through agricultural education. Although the movie pokes fun at it, students can win awards AND money at the national level for these events while in high school.

FFA’s mission is to prepare students for a future career, regardless of whether or not it is within the agriculture sector. The organization is unique in that it is intracurricular as opposed to extracurricular. Now, what does that mean? Instead of ski club, sports, or other after school activities, FFA is taught both after school AND is included within agricultural education curriculum. That means that the public speaking, leadership, and career development are all intertwined with lessons on anything from horticulture to agricultural literacy. Pretty cool, huh?

In addition to learning how the structure of the program looks, Ag Ed majors take classes in education and also get a taste of just about every topic within the College of Agricultural Sciences, with some choosing to specialize. Credits in Agricultural Business Management, Animal Sciences, Horticulture, and even International Agriculture are required just to graduate. That’s one of the reasons I love it so much — I get a chance to learn about so many things.

Even though many of you may have never heard of the major OR profession, there is crisis across the country. Current agriculture teachers are retiring while other schools are hoping to begin new programs and there are not enough teachers to fill the positions. In the current economy, this is one of the few professions where there are ALWAYS job openings.

Not only that, graduating from the Agricultural and Extension Education major gives you a plethora of options outside of teaching. Ag Ed majors are hired by agribusinesses, lobbying firms, or often will start their own businesses with the knowledge learned through the degree. I may be biased, I truly believe that my major leads to one of the most fulfilling career opportunities in the country.

My biggest mentor and greatest role model was my agriculture teacher in high school, and I want to be able to offer the same thing to my students some day. Some parts of the major are complicated and I am learning something new every day, but that may just be my favorite part! Nothing is ever set it stone — the profession and major are dynamic.

That may have been a lot to swallow at once since I did try and explain what I am trying to learn in four years in just a few paragraphs, but I love my major! That is why I want to hear about yours and why you love it. Format your post however you would like and submit to [email protected], but please include the following:

1. What college your major can be found in.

2. Why you chose it.

3. What some of the requirements are.

4. Why others should choose this major too.

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About the Author

Jillian Gordon

A farm girl and a smarty pants from Eastern PA. Lover of dogs, Brand New, Kitten Mittens, sunshine and Flyers hockey.

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