WANTED: Ag College Grads. Send your resume to Industry

By Kevin Hursh

Saskatchewan high school students are starting to view the University's College of Agriculture as a serious option. There are 666 undergraduate BSA students this year. That's an all time high.

In all previous years, high school graduates with the required classes and a minimum 65 percent average could enroll. This year, due to increased interest in the College, the effective admission average rose to 67 percent. Other colleges are seeing their admission averages decline. A few years ago, Arts was in the low 70's. For the past couple of years, it has been back to 65 percent. The College of Commerce dropped this year from 79 to 78 percent. Secondary Education dropped from 68 to 65 and the College of Engineering dropped from 73 to 70 percent. Only the College of Agriculture bucked the trend.

Many observers say it's about time. You don't need a farm background to have a career in agricultural science and employment opportunities are very good.

Glen Hass is the registrar for the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists. The SIA represents ag professionals in the province, filling much the same role as the Medical Association does for doctors and the Bar Association does for lawyers.

Hass tells about his own daughter going to high school in Saskatoon. When she expressed an interest in the College of Agriculture, her guidance counsellor asked, "Why would you want to go there? You don't want to farm, do you?" As it turned out, Carol Hass did end up farming. She married another student from the College of Agriculture and they farm near Gull Lake. However, only ten to twenty percent of grads have been going to farms in recent years. Another ten to twenty percent have gone on to Graduate Studies.

More than 60 percent have been securing employment with agri-business firms or government. The range of jobs descriptions is staggering. Herbicide research, seed sales, ag lending, animal health and nutrition, fertilizer recommendations, food processing. In the last couple of years, companies have complained about the lack of grads to fill the positions available. But still, high school students seem to discount agriculture as a career option. Judie Dyck in an agriculture consultant with her own business. One stormy winter day she was on the road between Saskatoon and Regina. Road conditions became so bad that she was forced to stop in one of the towns along the way.

She soon tired of coffee shop banter and decided to go to the local school to see if she could be of assistance in any way. With the support of the principal and guidance counsellor, Judie conducted a little experiment with the Grade Ten class. She asked them to guess her occupation.

Judie was dressed in a sharp business suit prompting the students to guess "banker" and "lawyer" and a whole host of other occupations. No one thought she might have a job in agriculture. Not one of the students knew the term agrologist. They did not see agriculture as an opportunity in their future plans. And this was a rural High School.

Slowly old stereotypes are breaking down. And the Ag College is not resting on its laurels. Major curriculum changes are about to be implemented. As Assistant Dean for the past three years, Gary Storey has been the driving force behind the changes.

Storey says the entire curriculum will be delivered using "an integrated, issues oriented approach to learning". A new specialization major and minor in Environmental Science has been added. As well, a new Agri-Business minor will be available.

Perhaps the most wide reaching change will be a Cooperative Education program. Students choosing this approach will spend a total of 16 months working for agricultural firms as part of their training and experience. Storey says the faculty is 100 percent behind this new approach. It will produce more knowledgeable students while drawing the College and ag employers closer together.

And it will be another reason why high school students and their guidance counsellors should consider the College of Agriculture.

Hursh is a Saskatoon communications consultant and a graduate of the College of Agriculture (BSA `80).