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Published September 30, 2013, 05:08 PM

When do they sleep?

From tasting raw sugar in Brazil to starting a business from scratch, the students at the University of Minnesota-Crookston seek opportunities for real world experiences.

By: Sarah Dykowski, Agweek

From tasting raw sugar in Brazil to starting a business from scratch, the students at the University of Minnesota-Crookston seek opportunities for real world experiences.

“I never thought, being a small-town farm girl from Debs, Minn., [I] would end up flying to a whole other continent, to a country that speaks an entirely different language with 13 people I barely even know, and I did it,” says Ashley Hoffman, senior agronomy and agricultural business major. “And I have to say it was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had.”

Hoffman says she came to the university because of its proximity to Debs and its small class sizes. Now she interns with an agronomist from her home area.

“I’ve gotten an internship, and I’m actually going to work there next summer after I graduate. So that’s kind of helping me get out in the real world,” she says.

She says working with an independent agronomist has helped her figure out what she wants to do in her own career.

“I can go kind of a lot of different directions with both degrees, but I do want to work independently like my boss,” she says. “It’s more for the growers, I feel like. You don’t have to meet a certain quota or certain numbers or prices. You can tell them exactly what you think.”

She is not the only UMC student making plans for a career in agriculture.

“I started a business back in my home town of Staples, Minn., in June of last year doing seed advising and sales and a little bit of independent crop consulting,” says Dustin Smith, senior agronomy and agricultural business major.

“Trying to maintain and grow my business while at school three hours away is difficult, but my hope is to be able to get it to a point that I can make a living with it right out of school. If I can’t grow that much, I’m looking at attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities for a master’s degree in Agricultural Education and becoming a high school agriculture teacher or a director of agronomic research for a public institution.”

Senior Brian Oachs shares not only Hoffman and Smith’s double major, but also their ambition.

“Upon completion of school in December of 2014, I hope to be sitting in the position of already having a job waiting for me,” he says. “My plan as of now is to possibly stay away from home for a few years to get a taste of agriculture in the Red River Valley or in the west and southern parts of Minnesota. I think this is a good option because it is easy to go back to your comfort zone and never leave, while, if you explore, you can gain a better understanding and a more well-rounded perspective of the world and ag.”

Oachs says his passion for agriculture began at his family farm in Herman, Minn., and the fields that neighbor UMC’s campus make him feel right at home. He thinks his internship experience with the ag co-op in Herman, as well as his work on his family’s farm, will give him the tools he needs to succeed in the job market. But he says his favorite experiences in college relate to the organizations he joined.

“I am president of the Ag Business Club on campus, involved in Agronomy Club and involved in North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture,” he says.

Smith also values his extracurricular experiences.

“I think that my experiences through extracurricular activities will be most beneficial to me as I look to the job market,” he says. “Through my experiences in FFA I have developed exceptional personal and professional leadership skills and met a wide variety of highly influential people in agriculture.

As the chairman of the UMC chapter of NACTA, I have had to manage a personnel of 29, coordinated transportation, housing, tours, schedules and meals, and managed the accounting and fundraising for the $20,000 trip to Texas.”

While these activities keep Smith incredibly busy, he has no plans to slow down.

“I’ve built up the mentality over time that I want to make the most of every opportunity that can make me a better me. There are many days that I would consider myself overly stressed, but I find that if I keep a smile on my face, I can look back with pride on the project that I had so much invested in,” he says.

Intense but personalized

A rigorous but personal classroom experience rounds out these students’ time at UMC.

Oachs describes his weed and seed identification class last spring this way:

“It was a course based heavily on memorization. We would get 10 to 20 new seeds or plants a week, get quizzed on them on Wednesday, then tested on them on Friday. With each new set of seeds or plants you would get study guides to help you learn each one’s individual characteristics. Each quiz had 50 to 60 seeds or plants on them, then the test had 100 seeds or plants. The tests usually had a mix of seeds and plants once we reached the plant ID part of the course.”

He says the course was intense.

“You had to figure out what studying method worked out for you quickly.”

Likewise, Hoffman says her plant breeding and genetics course was the most difficult so far, but she says courses get easier and more interesting as she learns more about her majors.

Despite the difficulty, she cautions freshmen not to write off those general classes.

“If I could go back I would tell myself that certain classes at the beginning were more important than you would think they would be,” she says. “Now even since I started my internship, I realize that maybe I should have paid a little more attention in some of them.”

Although the courses are demanding, students say the faculty makes the experience much easier.

“The agriculture program here at UMC, I feel, is very sound,” Oachs says. “The teachers in the department care about how you perform and are willing to work with you with whatever questions you may have.”

Hoffman shares Oachs’ positive impression of the faculty.

“I love it. I love the small classes and the fact that I can go to any of my teachers’ doors when they’re around and they know who I am and they talk to me whenever.”

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