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Getting schooled in agriculture

With more students coming from non-farm backgrounds the University of Manitoba is pumping up its ‘experiential learning’ efforts

Growing up in Winnipeg, Antonio Deluca didn’t have much exposure to the farm.

These days however, he’s enrolled in the agriculture diploma program at the University of Manitoba, one of an increasing number of non-traditional students pulled into the program by the promise of interesting work and strong employment opportunities.

He recently got a hands-on introduction to the industry through work with Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives (MBFI).

As a student who excelled in agriculture communications courses, he took on the task of building up the organization’s website design and social media presence to educate urbanites during the summer of 2017.

“It was a special experience for me,” said Deluca. “I didn’t come from an agriculture background and I went in at MBFI on that premise. I learned so much about the MBFI research, brand and the goals of the organization.

One of his target audience was other students at the university.

Growing need

Michele Rogalsky, chair of the School of Agriculture, says partnerships like the one between the MBFI and university give students without an agriculture background an opportunity to learn practical lessons about the sector as well as giving students from the farm insight into other sectors.

She also noted stakeholders like MBFI will be vital to increasing the amount of experiential learning in the school’s new curriculum.

“Industry stakeholders were actively involved in shaping the revised diploma curriculum and are partnering to help deliver it,” she said. “This year MBFI has provided opportunities for students to apply these skills as developing agricultural professionals.”

Amanda Yu is one student who’d already benefited from this closer connection.

Yu was contracted by MFBI to help out as website developer, a practical agricultural position that helped her secure a permanent position in the agri-food industry after her December graduation with an agribusiness degree.

Kristell Harper, MBFI research co-ordinator, demonstrates some of the technology she uses in the field to students at a recent lunch event.
photo: Duncan Morrison

MBFI highlighted its involvement with a recent lunchtime meet and greet with diploma students to introduce them to MBFI, and highlight projects involving students at the Fort Garry campus.

Mikayla Rouire also worked with MBFI. She first developed a passion for agriculture communications last winter while taking an advanced communication and rural leadership class taught by Rogalsky and Bruce D. Campbell Farm and Food Discovery Centre manager Myrna Grahn.

Rouire, a second-year student, organized the lunch event as one part of a project she created with MBFI last fall. She said the gathering helped showcase the great potential between the MBFI and the University of Manitoba agriculture program.

“This project has given me the opportunity to forge valuable relationships with members of the industry that wouldn’t arise in a classroom setting,” said Rouire. “I strongly believe the special project option has allowed me to gain real-world experience in the agriculture industry.”

Rourie’s project is part of a special project course Rogalsky instructs, a three-credit hour elective course which allows a student to make a practical application of scientific knowledge acquired to intensify the study of a topic of particular interest. Students are active participants in developing the course and project requirements so that it can meet their individual learning objectives. Over the past year, Rouire has interacted with industry members, attended an on-farm extended grazing producer event at MBFI, developed communications materials, updated the website and organized an on-campus information booth.

Welcome addition

The work of Rouire, Deluca and Yu was welcomed by MBFI as will the work of any new students via the special projects opportunity or summer employment opportunities.

“At MBFI, we utilize science-based research and innovative farming practices within the beef and forage industry to boost producers’ economic success and environmental sustainability, and to engage the next generation of consumers on topics of public trust,” said Ramona Blyth, MBFI chairperson and a beef producer from MacGregor. “So for MBFI to build this relationship with the University of Manitoba students like Mikayla, Antonio and Amanda is a valuable step on all of our key fronts.”

While she enjoyed her experience, Rouire was not sure where her agricultural future lies after graduation. Like Deluca, Rouire did not come from a beef or forage producer background before her MBFI project. The Rouire family runs a grain operation near St. Claude, Man. But Rouire says that the public engagement that is so paramount to MBFI success crosses all agriculture streams.

“It was a different learning experience,” said Rouire. “There was more hands-on learning, and not as much textbooks. I quickly learned that the success of this industry and our evolving society relies on having an educated consumer base.”

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