When the University of Nebraska Board of Regents established the College of Agriculture in 1872, it did so with little enthusiasm. At that time, there was a general intolerance of "book farming" among farmers and non farmers. The teaching of farming in schools was regarded as a somewhat futile task.
Fast forward 145 years, and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska– Lincoln is experiencing record enrollment for incoming students and producing a record number of graduates.
So what has changed?
"Our global society is counting on us to feed a growing population while preserving our natural resources for future generations. The need to sustainably feed a growing population is no longer just a challenge for the agricultural industry – it's a challenge for our global society," said Tiffany Heng-Moss, interim dean of CASNR.
This widespread challenge is why the demand for skilled graduates in food, agriculture, renewable resources and STEM is on the rise. Between 2015 and 2020, the United States Department of Agriculture expects 57,900 annual openings for graduates with bachelor's degrees or higher in those areas. It's timely then, that CASNR produced its highest number of graduates in 2016 at 563.
"CASNR's enrollment numbers reflect our commitment to attracting and retaining students who will make a difference in our shared future," said Heng-Moss. "Our goal is to foster an inclusive environment that empowers students to be difference makers in the college, the state and the world."
Our goal is to foster an inclusive environment that empowers students to be difference makers in the college, the state and the world. Tiffany Heng-Moss
Not only is CASNR producing its most graduates in history, but those graduates are prepared to work in a wide variety of fields. Students are prepared for careers in everything from animals to plants, soil to climate, golf to business, mechanization to leadership and food to forensic science.
While students have a wide range of different career paths to pursue, CASNR ensures that science is at the root of their learning. "Science Literacy 101: Science and Decision-Making for a Complex World" is the foundational course for all CASNR students. The course introduces students to the scientific, social, economic, political, cultural and ethical dimensions of current issues related to food, energy, water and landscape systems.
"A lot of the science knowledge we learn happens out of context of why we should truly care about it," said Jenny Dauer, lead instructor of the course and assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources. "In this course we use socioscientific issues as the background for students to practice systems thinking and decision-making about difficult topics."
Between 2015 – 2020, the U. S. Department of Agriculture expects 57,900 job openings for graduates with bachelor’s degrees in the areas of food, agriculture, renewable resources and STEM.
Once they have completed Science Literacy 101, students can take their systems thinking to the feedlot while conducting ruminant nutrition research, or in the Department of Agricultural Economics commodity trading room, which provides students real-time access to commodity markets. Or maybe they'll implement their systems thinking while studying in Australia learning about the unique biodiversity of the continent.
It's a good thing the scope and acceptance of "book farming" has expanded over the past 145 years, because the challenges facing the planet have also expanded. As CASNR looks forward to its next 145, the college is focused on turning those challenges into opportunities.