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Advice for teens who want to farm

At a recent AgStar Outlook conference in Mankato, Minn., a participant asked, “What advice do you have for a 17-year-old?” I always enjoy my time at these events, as Minnesotans are generally high-energy lifelong learners and the record crowd did not disappoint at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Here is my response to the question as a University professor who has taught over 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students at Virginia Tech and Cornell University.

First, your son or daughter does not necessarily have to go to college or university. In some cases, a vocational or technical school program such as diesel mechanics or other trades can be an educational focus that provides practical experiential education and a good educational foundation for a young person. Remember, education is a lifelong endeavor as the pace of change in our economy accelerates.

Next, as a product of community college myself, I know it can be an avenue for excellent education with smaller classes to build confidence, particularly for young people from rural areas. Some of the general courses can be taken inexpensively and it allows a young person to explore and find their passion. For example, I had an excellent economics professor who was finishing his doctorate at Syracuse University who ignited my interest in macroeconomics. He was extremely demanding, but fair and very approachable, which really helped build students’ confidence.

This brings me to another piece of advice. Take the professor rather than the course. It will pay dividends in the future. Find the good professors, and even become their undergraduate assistants. Good professors have a passion for their students and the subject matter they are teaching, which brings life to their classes.

If one is interested in agriculture, I strongly recommend balancing science, business and economics with courses on written and oral communication and listening skills. Many 17-year-olds have already been introduced to technology, so education in the soft skills and human interaction will be valuable.

Seek work experiences or internships, at least two out of the region, and one outside the country. Experiences in Europe, Oceania (Australia or New Zealand), South America or Canada can broaden a young person’s horizons and expose them to a bigger world outside of Mankato, Minn., or any other locality.

Finally, make sure the child pays for some of their education to assist in deeper engagement in the educational process. Remember, education is not linear and the combination of formal education and experiences will set a person apart in the employment world and personal life.

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