Students at a public high school in Florida are receiving some hands-on experience and invaluable mentoring from the staff at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a result of a USDA grant.
Project Grow aims to educate high school students about careers and college education requirements for career positions with NRCS in an agency effort to meet future staffing needs. NRCS is shifting to a younger age group for recruitment to evaluate if it’s effective in raising awareness for potential new staff members.
The grant in 2012 helped fund workshops for this school year and the next for high school students at TERRA Environmental Research Institute in Miami-Dade County. The 1.5-hour sessions share the educational requirements for various NRCS positions as well as hands-on activities to demonstrate skills, methods and tools used by staff.
Each workshop is personalized from the perspective of the NRCS staff member who shares their unique educational background, experiences and career path. So far this year, NRCS soil scientists, district conservationists, soil conservationists, agricultural engineers and resource conservationists have presented.
Next school year, NRCS staff in southern Florida will present on career positions specializing in natural resources inventory, engineering, soil science, range conservation and grazing lands management.
“The presentations and hands-on activities have been very instrumental in providing my students with many lessons,” said Surey Rios, a teacher at TERRA. “We are looking forward to the next presenters.”
The visits from NRCS staff were important because it helps students see the real-world applications of concepts that they are learning and hear the life stories of other adults, Rios said. She also said they enable students to learn about careers beyond those of their parents and about different education tracts.
Project Grow is funded through a two-year grant from NRCS in partnership with Florida International University, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens and TERRA. TERRA is a public high school for students who excel in math and science, coinciding with the background for many NRCS positions in the management of natural resources on private lands in the United States.