Partnerships to Enhance Rangeland Education and Career Interest: Charting a Path for Secondary Agricultural Programs in the West
Currently, only nine U.S. universities offer undergraduate rangeland degrees that are accredited by the Society for Rangeland Management (SRM). There are 28 additional American colleges and universities offering courses and degrees that prepare students for a profession in rangeland management (SRM; www.rangelands.org). The number of students majoring in Rangeland Science has declined over the last 20 years (McClaran 2000). The major reason for low student numbers given by university rangeland programs is poor awareness of rangelands and range science among students and high school teachers and counselors (Schacht and McInnis 2003). As the number of rangeland graduates is decreasing, the demand for trained professionals with the technical skill set necessary to conserve and manage rangelands is on the rise. Increasing the awareness of high
school students and teachers about rangelands and rangeland management is the first step to increasing the number of students graduating from universities prepared to enter rangeland professions. There is currently no comprehensive curriculum focused on rangelands available for use in high school classrooms. A strong foundation of education resources, expansion of existing curricula, and a comprehensive rangeland curriculum fully integrated into agricultural and natural resource education programs is needed to prepare students to matriculate into advanced degrees and rangeland careers. Each year, teachers guide high school youth through agriscience education programs such as the National FFA. Career Development Events (CDEs), an established component of the FFA program, gives students a first-hand look into career opportunities in agricultural science and natural resource management.
Currently, the Idaho, Utah, and Nevada state FFA programs each host a separate event focused on rangelands. With the help of dedicated rangeland professionals who engage with the youth competing at these CDEs, perceptions of career opportunities are enhanced. A unique partnership of universities, state agencies, high schools, and rangeland organizations in Idaho, Nevada, and Utah have come together and propose several pathways to increase the understanding of students and educators about rangelands and career opportunities related to their management. Our ultimate goals are to increase the number of students seeking University degrees in Rangeland Management and to provide a well-qualified workforce to meet the growing demand for career professionals in the field of rangeland management. Our educational program strategy to achieve these goals is closely linked with the Educational Needs
Areas identified in the SPECA program. These specific SPECA Educational Need Areas and our educational program approach to address these needs are as follows: 1) Enhancing Agricultural Education Through Curriculum Improvements -- Western Region Rangeland Resource Guide and Curriculum; 2) Increasing Faculty Teaching Competencies -- Tri-State Teacher Workshop; 3) Expanding Career Opportunities -- Western National Career Development Event.