Why Our Ag Majors Are Growing

By Jennifer Ryder Fox, dean of the College of Agriculture

After reading the January 19, 2012 Yahoo Education article “College Majors That Are Useless,” one might be led to believe that the author, Terence Loose, has something against eating, wearing clothes, enjoying a natural landscape, or smelling a bouquet of roses. What other reason could he have for singling out Agriculture, Animal Science, and Horticulture as three of the five most useless degrees? Mr. Loose’s rationale and indeed the original ranking mentioned in the article are certainly not based on fact.

In contrast to the Yahoo article, a Purdue University study funded by the USDA projected an estimated 54,400 annual openings for college graduates in food, renewable energy, and the environment between 2010 and 2015. The study projected only 53,500 qualified graduates will be available each year and stated that employers have expressed a preference for graduates from colleges of agriculture and life sciences that tend to have more relevant work experience and greater affinity for those careers.

Further demonstrating the need for educated agriculturalists, the November 2009 Monthly Labor Review projected particularly strong (double-digit) growth in certain agricultural careers such as agricultural inspectors, animal scientists, food scientists and technologists, natural sciences managers, pest control workers, soil and plant scientists, and veterinarians. A mere two weeks ago, the Washington Post printed the results of a Georgetown University study showing that recent college graduates with degrees in agriculture and natural resources were among those with the lowest unemployment rates in the nation at 7 percent, surpassed only by graduates with degrees in health (5.4 percent) and education (5.4 percent).

Across the country state support of public universities is dwindling, and the consequence of budgetary decreases is seen with some universities making choices about programs to reduce or eliminate. In a few states, agricultural programs have been targeted for reduction or even elimination. State supported universities in California have also been affected by reduced state budgets, but there’s no talk of eliminating any of the universities’ agricultural programs, as agriculture is the top economic driver in California and generates over $33 billion in revenue for the state while producing over 350 products. Rather, the effect of reduced state support has been to tighten our belts and look to external grants and contracts and other funding sources so that we can serve our increasing number of students.

The California Community College Centers for Excellence recently completed an environmental scan of the agriculture value chain in California and found that there are currently 2.5 million individuals employed in more than 800 job titles within the agriculture value chain in the state. The average annual salary for agricultural value chain workers is $50,000. While the number of production jobs is expected to decrease in the next five years, a net increase of 181,000 jobs is expected throughout the entire agricultural value chain, which includes support, research, technology, production, processing/packaging, marketing, and sales and distribution. No one disputes that with advanced technology and mechanization, skilled production jobs in agriculture (or any field for that matter) have decreased and will most likely continue to give way to mechanization.

Here at CSU, Chico, the optimism for agricultural careers can be seen in the 50 percent enrollment growth in programs offered through the College of Agriculture during the past five years. And across the country, agriculture programs are seeing a surge in student interest. Clearly, our students and those in other ag programs are seeing the tremendous career opportunities available in agriculture and are jumping at the opportunity to pursue them, Mr. Loose’s puzzling attack on their choice of major notwithstanding.

Steady Pace Towards Olympic Dreams

Scott Bauhs, BA Social Science, 2008

Scott Bauhs was a standout distance runner at Chico State from 2004 to 2008. He is now working out at a USOC Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., where we caught up with him. He spends time both at the sea-level training center in Chula Vista and in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., where his team, Mammoth Track Club, is based. Bauhs took time out of his busy training schedule to answer a few questions.

Q: How long have you been preparing for the qualifiers (Olympics)?

A: I have been running for around 15 years, which certainly helps as I prepare for the Olympic Trials. I began truly seeing my potential in my later years at Chico, and I have been running full time since 2009.

Q: What is your training routine? Is there anything special you do to prepare for a race?

A: At Mammoth Track Club we do the bulk of our running in the morning, which usually ranges from 8 to 12 miles followed by a 4- to 6-mile evening run for most days of the week. On Wednesday we typically run a medium-long run of 13-16 miles, and on Sunday we run 18-22 miles. We also do supplementary exercises like plyometrics [a type of exercise in which the muscles are repeatedly stretched and suddenly contracted] and weight lifting every day but Sunday.

Q: Congratulations on setting a new personal record in Houston! What was the experience like? How did you feel about the race?

A: Thank you. A lot of work went into running my race in Houston, and it was great to see it pan out the way it did. I’ve learned that you can never take the good races for granted, and I am very happy with my weekend. As with any race, there are things I could have done differently, like starting a bit quicker or keeping the pace a bit more; even that might improve my result next time, so we’ll see.

Q: What was the toughest moment during racing in general?

A: In distance racing there is always a point where you start to really feel the fatigue, but the finish isn’t quite in sight yet. In bad races, this point usually comes pretty early, and in good races it doesn’t seem to be as strong, but pushing through that is essential to being a good runner.

Q: What sparked your interest in pursuing

2010 Zappos Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in Las Vegas

Olympic-level racing?

A: Well, I think just about any competitive runner out there has an interest in Olympic-level running. I first started noticing that it might be possible for me while I was improving each year at Chico.

Q: What’s your most memorable moment running for Chico State?

A: Winning the 2007 10,000m title, followed by finishing 1-2 with Charlie Serrano in the 5000m at the NCAA National Championships.

Q: Any advice for aspiring runners?

A: Always focus on getting a little bit better, and eventually you will be great. Communicate with your coach your ideas for training and racing but always listen to your coach’s advice in the end.

Q: What’s next on your journey to the Olympics (and in your life)?

A: I will do a few races between now and the Olympic Trials, and I will be training as well as I can.

Man vs. Wild, Huber Style!

Scott Huber leading a family bird-watching trip.

Scott Huber, Education and Research Coordinator, Ecological Reserves

I have the world’s best job. As the education and research coordinator for CSU, Chico’s Ecological Reserves I get to do both of the things that I love most: sharing my love of nature with others and getting my hands dirty as I help protect the reserve’s natural resources.

Dr. Paul Maslin pointing out the effects of fire on native trees.

On Tuesdays and Saturdays I work with the field manager, Paul Maslin (professor emeritus, biological sciences). First thing in the morning we load up an ATV with tools and head out – sometimes all the way across the creek to isolated Musty Buck Ridge. Typical tasks include creating fire breaks, removing invasive plants, and maintaining trails.

Northern saw-whet owl, the subject of two research projects at CSU, Chico Ecological Reserves.

On other days I join biologists as they work on their projects. I sometimes assist owl researchers: During the day we track radio-collared northern saw-whet owls with telemetry, scrambling up steep, brushy slopes to record the exact location of the owl; at night we use a recording to lure owls into a mist net, then we weigh, measure, and band them to aid in understanding their migration.

Other recent projects I’ve assisted with were helping a grad student determine what areas of the reserve would be best for studying foothill yellow-legged frogs and helping a Department of Fish and Game biologist choose a spot to capture and study band-tailed pigeons.

An educational session at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve.

In the spring and fall I have the privilege of sharing my enthusiasm for wildlife with school children as I visit classrooms and host class field-trips on the reserves. Our excellent staff teaches the kids about birds, turtles, geology, and Native American history, attempting to instill in them an outdoor ethic and appreciation for their natural surroundings.

I have the world’s best job.

You can keep up with Scott’s adventures on the BCCER’s Facebook page.

The Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve contains 3,950 acres of diverse canyon and ridge habitats, including 4.5 miles of Big Chico Creek, and is home to many species of plants and animals. Our mission is to work together with the CSU Research Foundation’s Ecological Reserve System to preserve critical habitat and to provide a natural area for environmental research and education. BCCER contributes to the understanding and wise management of the Earth and its natural systems by preserving critical habitat, and providing a natural area for environmental research and education. You can learn more about the reserve at their website.