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Minority students explore ag sciences
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi State University opened its doors and the minds of 11 high school students to reveal insights into potential careers in agriculture for minorities.
The June 21-25 Mississippi State Agriscience Institute for Minority Students provided a glimpse into the value and diversity of non-traditional, agriculture-related fields.
"The colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Forest Resources tend to fall behind in the percentage of minority students that we attract," explained Jacquelyn Deeds, coordinator of the program and professor of agriculture information science and education. "A lot of them just don't know about us or understand the wide variety of careers that are available in the agriculture sector."
The term agriscience encompasses a multitude of degree options available at land-grant universities such as MSU. These programs include careers that allow people to work with agricultural products rather than the more traditional agriculture fields like plowing crops or raising livestock. Students participating in the week-long summer program learned about careers in biochemistry, genetic engineering, food sciences, clothing design and agriculture economics, just to name a few.
"This workshop was designed to provide students an opportunity to see that agriculture is more than just production agriculture," Deeds said. "Production agriculture is a very important part of our work here, but we want to let students know there are many other careers related to the science of agriculture."
Deeds said the success of this year's program may mean it will be offered again in the future, potentially becoming an annual event. Participants in this first program now plan to encourage younger students at their high schools to take part in future programs.
On the last day of the students' stay at MSU, they shared rounds of laughter and tears as they reminisced about the past week and prepared to leave their new circle of friends. But despite their sadness, all the students were optimistic about the prospect of being reunited after high school graduation.
Cordarryl Hubbard, a student at South Delta High School in Rolling Fork, said his experiences during the week gave him a clearer picture of what he wants from his future.
"I already had planned to play football here (at MSU), but this week gave me a little bit better idea of what I want to study," Hubbard said, adding he is considering a career in agriculture business or maybe landscape architecture. "We went to the Hunter Henry Center, and I really liked the design of that building."
Tribetta Spires said the week changed her career plans rather drastically.
"Before, I wanted to be an OB-GYN, but now I think I'm going to be a veterinarian," said Spires, a student at Murrah High School in Jackson. "I really liked the animal sciences -- we went to the South Farm and saw a horse getting an ultrasound. I love working with animals. I think it's something I'll enjoy for the rest of my life."
Major funding for the agriscience program came from the BellSouth Foundation, and foundation president Mary Boehm was on-hand at the June 25 awards program to congratulate participants for taking part in the activities. She urged the students to work hard in high school so they can eventually study agrisciences as college students.
"Please take advantage of the opportunity this week has provided you. Do what you have to do to continue your education here or somewhere similar," Boehm said. "There are not enough African-American students in universities in the South. We need you, we want you, and that's why we're happy to help make this opportunity available to you."
The Mississippi State Agriscience Institute for Minority Students is for high school students who have completed their sophomore or junior years. Students must be nominated as academically able and interested in participating by a science or agriculture teacher or faculty member from their school.