Crowder College agriculture program delivers outstanding students
By Terri Nighswonger
Crowder College has been educating students in its agriculture programs for the past 50 years but the comprehensive education the college provides has been called a well-kept secret.
With a lot of enthusiasm, Jorge Zapata, animal science and ag business instructor, is eager to get the word out.
“Student gets a customized educational experience here,” Zapata said.
No matter what they are interested in – horses, business, nursery or landscape, animal science – instructors will work to help students get the experience they need.
The college offers options for an associate’s degree and for students who want to continue their education at a four-year institution.
“We have two-year degrees and then they can go to the workforce, which includes livestock management, agronomy, horticulture and nursery landscape,” he said. “We have an associate of arts degree which transfers to four year institutions.”
Partner schools include University of Arkansas, Oklahoma State University, University of Missouri, Missouri State University and other schools in the area that have agriculture programs. About 60-70 percent of students transfer to a four-year institution.
“We find that our associate of science degree students that are done in two years are going back to the farm or going back to a family business of some sort,” Zapata said. “So they are getting two years of pretty precise training of some sort, some education and they are going back to their family operation.”
Zapata describes the Crowder agriculture programs as a “hands-on, holistic approach.”
For example, animal science students are castrating, vaccinating and dehorning cattle in their first semester. Agronomy students are out in the field identifying weeds and understanding what weed control methods are available.
“This is hands on, not power pointed, not looked in a book, not a video,” he said. “They’re in the barn doing the work. Everything that we’re doing is to an endpoint where they can use it. That’s our goal.”
Meat science students have access to a meat lab where they can understand the butchering process but also learn about the effects on the meat at pasture level and how that affects the hanging carcass.
“My goal isn’t to butcher but I want them to be a very informed consumer or producer,” Zapata said.
“Our leadership development is something we’re super proud of,” Zapata said. “We are part of an association call Post Secondary Ag Student organization (PAS).
Students involved in PAS learn everything from resume writing to public speaking, as well as knowledge about their specific field of study.
“They compete against other colleges across the nation in these specific areas so our Crowder students put their resumes against resumes from Minnesota, Arkansas and Idaho – all the universities that have this program.”
“We get to see how our students stack up,” he said. “I’m super proud to say that at the state level, we do very well. This year, we took 25 students to our state contest and 22 are going to nationals. That’s a pretty good percentage.”
At the national level students also do well.
“We tap into the competitive nature of the ag kids,” he said. “They get fired up about being good representatives of Crowder. We have a 15 year record in that. We’ve done very, very well in that.”
Crowder ag students also have the opportunity to travel. A group of 24 students just recently returned from a trip to Hawaii.
“This past trip they were out in the fields helping harvest these taro plants and they were knee deep in mud helping the farmers,” Zapata said. “Then we processed it down to the end product called poi. It was a super great experience because they will never get to feel that mud between their toes again. They’ll remember that. I call it a rocking chair experience because some day when they are 85 years old they’ll say, “remember that time we were in that taro field knee deep in mud.”
Students have visited farms and ranches, small gardens, mom and pop farms and major corporate agriculture facilities.
“Students are getting some very broad opinions and ideas about agriculture,” Zapata said. “We’ve gone everywhere from Maine to Hawaii to Florida, Peru and Costa Rica.”
One of the most important lessons the students learn is the funding of the trips. Students are required to be involved in the fund raising efforts. They receive points for participating. The ones with the most points are the ones who go on the trip.
“The one who has the most points is the first pick and the one who has the 22nd or however many slots gets the last pick,” he said. “If you have number 23 you don’t get to go. It’s like real life. When we send out the sign up sheets for students to participate they get filled up really quickly.”
Students have to hustle to get their points, working weekends and after school.
“When you crowd eight kids in a concession stand serving 100s of hamburgers and hotdogs, there’s a lesson in that,” Zapata said. “You hustle now and you get to do some cool things later. We’ve been working on raising those funds since July 2016 and we just took the trip in January.”
Likayla Stacy, a student from Stockton, Mo., was one of the students who went to Hawaii.
“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “We got to work in a taro field which is a common plant to Hawaii.”
Students also visited with locals and learned about the process of making poi. They visited a cattle ranch and helped work about 60 head of cattle.
Stacy will be graduating in May and transferring to Missouri State University. She has already secured a part time job that will turn into full time when she graduates.
“I have a job offer from Rockin’ R ranch,” Stacy said. “I’m mainly going to be their stable manager for their horse program.
She will work part time doing chores on the weekends until she graduates.
“I have met so many people through Crowder and have gotten so many leadership opportunities,” Stacy said. “Being here at Crowder has opened up a lot of job opportunities to me that I didn’t even realize existed. I never even thought that I’d be getting to work for a ranch.”
Zapata has been at Crowder for 16 years in various capacities with six years as an instructor.
“I see a lot of students that we brought in wide eyed and unsure about their future and now I get to call them my peers,” he said. “That tells me we are doing something right.”
Zapata likes the family atmosphere on campus.
We’re not afraid to walk with our students on campus and chew on ‘em a little bit,” Zapata said. “I know my students by name, I’ve met their parents. This is a great place. I love working here.”
Stacy also likes the family atmosphere at Crowder.
“We’re a little family here and we get a lot of one on one with our professors,” Stacy said. “We get to see a lot of our professors outside of class. Just anytime I need anything I can go to any of our ag professors and even if it’s not a problem with their class, they’ll help me.”
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