Over the past year the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has announced major plans to lift its agricultural and natural resources offerings to a new level — the cutting-edge, world-class level.
Those changes are being guided by a well-crafted road map that sets out sound priorities. With UNL’s fall semester underway, it’s encouraging to see how the changes are taking shape.
UNL — specifically its Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources — has added expert faculty and is expanding research opportunities. IANR is putting particular emphasis on high-quality instructional methods on ag and natural resources issues.
Course work and lab work will be rigorous when it comes to the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). As a result, the instruction will be both high-quality and have direct relevance to the needs of the modern workplace.
Those changes will strengthen the university’s ability to prepare its graduates for the Midlands’ considerable job opportunities in agriculture and natural resources occupations. Those jobs range from in-the-field work with livestock, soils and plants to lab and office positions involving plant genetics, entomology, soil science or environmental studies.
Matt Kriefels, who works on ag curriculum in his posts with the state Department of Education as well as with UNL, cites more than 300 job options available in Nebraska in agriculture, food systems and natural resources. Having a well-trained work force for those positions is a crucial long-term need for Nebraska’s economy.
This is why Omaha Public Schools, at the encouragement of local business leaders and using a major grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, commendably began a well-designed ag curriculum last year at Omaha Bryan High School — a first for the Omaha area.
Students in Bryan’s Urban Agriculture and Nature Resources Career Academy are learning not only the basics of planting crops but also higher-level matters including environmental science and machinery operations, all with applications involving science, math and engineering principles. Natural resources tangents are woven into the students’ studies in other classes such as social studies and English.
One of the main areas that IANR is focusing on is science literacy both for UNL students and for K-12 students across the state. The aim is for young people to understand key scientific issues involving food, fuel, water, environment and society, as well as proper stewardship of our resources.
IANR will be offering professional development opportunities for Nebraska schoolteachers on these issues.
The University of Nebraska was already a leader in a variety of ag and natural resources issues. It’s a source of pride for our state that the university is now raising its ambitions to an even higher level.