Cultivating Student Interest In Agricultural Sciences

Iowa Farm Scene

Ag companies in Iowa are putting more effort and dollars into reaching high school and middle school students.

Published on: April 30, 2013

At a reception in Des Moines last week for Science Bound students, I met the Tello family. Science Bound is a program that began 20 years ago as a way to draw students from middle school and high schools in Des Moines, Denison and Marshalltown toward careers in agriculture, science and technology. The program is aimed at minority students and currently has 378 students enrolled, all of them in those three school districts.

Felipe Tello and wife Hermelinda, immigrants to Iowa, have been here a while. Their three children have all been educated in the Des Moines Public Schools system: elementary school, middle school, high school. The oldest is son Javier, a senior in mechanical engineering at Iowa State. He participates in ISU's Science Bound program. Irma Tello is an ISU sophomore majoring in math and education; she wants to be a teacher. The youngest is daughter Cindy, a high school senior who'll attend ISU next fall. Both of the sisters are also active in Science Bound.

PLANTING THE SEEDS: Getting students who are from urban areas interested in agriculture and science related careers is the focus of Iowas Science Bound program. Being in this program helps students see the link between science and agriculture, says Javier Tello (right), an Iowa State University senior. His two sisters, Irma and Cindy, are also in Science Bound. The proud parents are Felipe and Hermelinda.
PLANTING THE SEEDS: Getting students who are from urban areas interested in agriculture and science related careers is the focus of Iowa's Science Bound program. Being in this program helps students see the link between science and agriculture, says Javier Tello (right), an Iowa State University senior. His two sisters, Irma and Cindy, are also in Science Bound. The proud parents are Felipe and Hermelinda.

Program helps nonfarm students see link between agriculture and science related careers
These students, and the others I met and talked to, along with their parents, are seeing the important link between science and agriculture. "Science Bound is a program you can't just join," says Javier. "It's not an extracurricular activity. You are selected based on your academic performance in the classroom, and on teacher recommendations. And you have to keep your grades up to stay in Science Bound."

Science Bound is aimed at minority students beginning in junior high. It taps seventh and eighth-grade students who show math and science potential. A pre-program starts in eighth grade. If students are successful there, they move up to the high school Science Bound program. They must maintain a 3.0 grade point average on a 4-point scale and need to have at least 75% attendance at all Science Bound activities in their school. They must meet the requirement of maintaining a 3.0 grade point average (at least a B average) each semester.

Steve Benson, high school coordinator of Science Bound for all five public high schools in the Des Moines school district, explained the program. He's also a science teacher at North High in Des Moines. "We want the students to focus on academics and to be successful in school," says Benson. "At the high school level the Science Bound students meet in sessions once a week at their high school and there are two to four teachers who work with the students individually on different projects they are doing for their Science Bound activities."

Focus is to be successful in academics and in school
One thing the high school students must do is develop a career exploration project, says Benson. What do they want to be when they grow up? Students write research papers, give presentations and visit businesses and government agencies to learn about careers. One such business that works with and financially supports the Science Bound program in Iowa is DuPont Pioneer.

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On April 25 DuPont Pioneer announced a $400,000 donation to Science Bound. It's the largest corporate donation the program has received since starting two decades ago, says Connie Hargrave, ISU's Science Bound director. The gift reflects a growing interest Iowa corporations are taking in building the state's STEM workforce (science, technology, engineering, math). Pioneer's gift, to be spread over five years, will help support 500 students in the program, particularly summer education programs and internships.

Since the program began, about 250 students have earned four-year tuition scholarships. Hargrave says 10 companies and foundations help support the program. In addition to Pioneer, sponsors include Deere & Co., Smithfield Foods, Emerson Fisher and MechDyne. She says helping Iowa students better understand what scientists, mathematicians and engineers do is critical.

Program has increased its focus on agriculture, prompted by the growth of farm and bioscience companies in Iowa
Science Bound is expanding its mentoring program with companies like Pioneer. "These students don't normally have large-scale interaction with STEM professionals, but thanks to Science Bound they do," says Hargrave. The program has increased its focus on agriculture, given the growing farm and biosciences industries in Iowa.

"We are so pleased that DuPont Pioneer, an early and strong supporter of Science Bound, has expanded their commitment with their most recent and very generous gift," says Hargrave. "This will make a tremendous difference to our state and nation by increasing the number of young people who are contributing to our nation's needs in agriculture and industry."

We'll need these students' innovation, creativity and brain power
"Building tomorrow's leaders in science, food and agriculture must begin today," says Paul Schickler, president of DuPont Pioneer. "We are proud to support the Science Bound program as they develop the students who have the imagination, creative thinking and enthusiasm needed to feed the world. In order to advance food security around the world, we need to inspire and engage young people in this great challenge."

Pioneer has already added around 6,000 people to its workforce globally over the past six years, and company officials say Pioneer will continue to grow to help feed an expanding world population, expected to hit 9 billion people by the year 2050.

Jaime Sandoval, an ISU senior studying animal ecology and agronomy, says, "I never thought of a science career until Science Bound came along." He says it helped him develop an interest in natural resource conservation and sustainable farming.

Indeed, these bright young people are curious. Michael Hardat, a Hoover High School junior, is interested in how scientists are trying ways to add zinc and iron nutrients to corn grown in Iowa. It can help improve the nutrition of children across the globe, especially those living in poverty, says Hardat, a participant in Science Bound. He says he realizes the importance of farming, after studying the work of Norman Borlaug. Hardat plans to study agriculture at ISU, where he can attend tuition-free, thanks to a Science Bound scholarship.