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It all STEMs from agriculture

August 26, 2013
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

I have the privilege of serving on several boards, committees and advisory councils locally and around the state.
 
In most cases, I find these opportunities not only a responsibility but a blessing.

It should be no secret to regular readers that I thoroughly enjoy my job.

However, you knew the other shoe was about to drop. There are times when I get frustrated. My frustration in this case is justified in that well-educated people should know better.

There is a buzzword today in education, which is STEM. Actually it isn’t a word but an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Yet whether it is the on the elementary, high school or college level, everyone fails to recognize the science in agriculture.

For example, a preveterinary medicine major takes the exact same courses as a premed student. The only difference is the prevet student takes most of his or her electives in the college of agriculture instead of the college of life sciences.

Well, of course, many are thinking that veterinarians are animal doctors, after all.

Here is a statement from Dr. Cheng-i Wei, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland, College Park: “Food, nutrition and human health, genomics, biotechnology, energy, economics, animal diseases and welfare, and the environment — all vital and thought-provoking topics and hallmarks of the 21st century  — are being studied in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland. These topics, covering the entire biosystem spectrum ranging from the molecular to the ecosystem level, and including the human community, make it an exciting time to be part of our college.”

Am I the only one that sees STEM all through that statement?

So how can agricultural science students be deemed second-class citizens in the high school setting? I know in the high school curriculum there are such offerings as biotechnology, horticulture and power mechanics, to name a few. In those courses, students study biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, math and engineering.

Please do not tell me such classes are given lower status because they are not on the standardized testing list sent out by state boards of education.

Let me say, first and foremost, I am not here to bash teachers or the educational system, but I am trying to see the rationale.

 I have earned two degrees — a Bachelor of Science in animal science from West Virginia University and a Master of Science in the physiology of reproduction from the University of Connecticut. During my undergraduate studies, of the 128 credit hours I earned, all but 26 were in the areas of science and math.

In my graduate work, I took 24 graduate-level credits, all in science and math, along with two research projects, after which I wrote and defended my thesis. Again, while there might not have been any technology or engineering, there was plenty of math and science.

I am happy to stack my science education up with anyone’s.

Let me emphasize I am just trying to see why people don’t see science in agriculture.

Let’s bring it a little closer to home. Simply growing a tomato is packed with science. Below ground, you have the biodynamic soil that is full of life (bio) and chemistry. Above the ground, there is so much biology and chemistry contained in the leaves, stems and fruit that you could write a book.

I could go on and on about the physics, biology, chemistry and math on the farm from the angles, simple machines and physics of putting corn in a silo to the biology of raising a pig or breeding a cow. However, my intention is not to drone on but to awaken an appreciation in the hearts of nonagrarians to the science of agriculture.

So I leave you with the words of a great American mind of science who would have identified himself as a farmer and did on many occasions:

“Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth.”
— Thomas Jefferson

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at jsemler@umd.edu.

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