Students get hands-on chance to prepare for agriculture careers
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 4, 2008 1:43 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- There is not a full crop of students in Mount Olive College's new agribusiness program, but college officials they say they expect enrollment and interest to increase.
Andy Meyer, left, dairy research operations manager at CEFS, is pictured with Michael Ratley, student intern, looking over one of the research devices to capture horn flies on the dairy farm.
"One of the greatest things about the agribusiness/agriscience education program here at Mount Olive College is that we are able to provide our students with experiential learning opportunities in the classroom and through our expanding internship program," said Dr. Sandy Maddox, associate director of the Lois G. Britt Agribusiness Center.
At present, seven students are completing internships at various locations in eastern North Carolina -- doing crop research, on hog farms learning about pork production, in retail establishments surveying farmers and working with plant genetics to improve crop yields.
The opportunity allows the students, many of whom have never worked on a farm, to apply what they are learning in the classroom and gain "real world experiences," Dr. Maddox said.
"Anyone can sit in a classroom and take notes and tests," said student Ben Soistman of Cordova, Md., who is interning at Hog Slat Inc. in Newton Grove. "When college is over, you need to know what is going to be expected when you enter the workforce."
Soistman competed with more than 75 students from around the country for three prized internships with the company. He previously interned at Mt. Olive Pickle Co.
David Whitfield Jr. of LaGrange has spent his summer working on a sow farm, moving, feeding, checking and washing hogs. The experience has helped narrow down his future goals.
"I have found out that I do not want to be a hog farmer," Whitfield said with a laugh. "It has been a good experience, though, because without such opportunities, I would not really know what is available in the field of agriculture."
Chris Stroud of Deep Run hopes to one day become agricultural education teacher. The 12 weeks he spent in an internship provided by the N.C. Pork Council will help him convey a "better understanding for and appreciation of agriculture," he said.
Jimmy Pollock, left, of J.C. Howard Farms in Lenoir County, and Chris Stroud, student intern, pose in front of the finishing farm where Stroud is working this summer.
Cherry Research Farm in Goldsboro had two Mount Olive College interns this summer - Eric Godwin of Dunn and Michael Ratley of Hope Mills. Both students worked with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, conducting research that could one day improve grass fed beef and dairy production.
During her internship at Monsanto, Jessica Howell of Mount Olive has learned much about soybeans. Among her daily responsibilities have been processing and packaging seeds, taking notes on soybean plant height and vigor and conducting genetic crosses and tissue sampling.
"I have learned how much work goes into preparing seed and engineering it to better the crop yield for local farmers," she said. "It has made me better appreciate the food I eat every day."
The internship effort has been successful for the program, Dr. Maddox said, as well as the students, each of whom will complete their placement in the fall with presentations and seminars.
"It is all about finding just the right balance to teach, yet not overwhelm the students, while at the same time exposing them to a variety of opportunities, cultures and personalities," she said.
With the incoming freshman class, nearly two dozen more students are expected to double the program in the new school year, college officials say.
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