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Does an agricultural background benefit students in the classroom?

Does an agricultural background benefit students in the classroom?
Purdue professor shares perspective on possible differences between students with an agricultural background and those without.

With 15 years of experience teaching students both with and without agricultural backgrounds, Freddie Barnard of Purdue University's Agricultural Economics Department has sound evidence to base his opinions.

Growing up on a family farm in Kentucky, Barnard is well aware of the characteristics agriculture gives students.

First, the work ethic students get from their experiences on the farm is something that translates into their daily lives. This routine can also be seen in their class work. The characteristic is part of their routine; there is no negotiation on whether or not you should feed farm animals. The mind-set of setting a routine and doing the work is part of that routine.

Teaches all kinds of students: Freddie Barnard sees pluses for students with farm backgrounds, but says non-farm students can overcome it if they choose to do so.

Again, work ethic is a huge value for students who have put in hours on the family farm. These students realize that they can't procrastinate with work that needs to be done now. There's more at stake than their own well-being and this experience can show a change in attitude. 

Second, agriculture has a language of its own with different terms that many non-agricultural topics don't include. As with any subject, a general or more in-depth knowledge of the subject can greatly affect their understanding of the subject.

Some benefits that students with an experience in agriculture may have over their classmates are their familiarity with different terms in classes, especially agriculture classes.

"I think they have an overall knowledge of the terminology, production practices, and management tools associated with farming," Barnard says. "They walk into the class and can associate with the subject because they've had to deal with it, if not personally, then by hearing their families talk about it. When they walk into class they have the experience base that they've been responsible or held accountable for something from start to finish." 

Agriculturally experienced students may have a head start in the classroom based on their initial understanding and exposure to different things, but that doesn't mean students of a non-agricultural background are at a disadvantage. There are a few simple ways to level the playing field.

"If they like agriculture, to get the most out of it they need to embrace what's going on in the class, not just memorizing something, but understanding how it works," Barnard says. "They need to understand the overall principles and apply them to the course and also to their personal lives."

Knies is a senior in Purdue Ag Communications

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