Program Offers Work Experience Before Graduation

Teaching Innovation: Experiential learning helps train agriculture students

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By Joey Sabljic

At Guelph presents this story as part of a series that highlights University of Guelph leadership in teaching excellence and the scholarship of learning.

Prof. Andy Robinson

Prof. Andy Robinson

Career opportunities are plentiful in the Ontario agri-food industry. A University of Guelph project entering its third year is preparing senior undergraduates to take advantage of those opportunities by giving them first-hand work experience.

Prof. Andy Robinson, chair of Guelph’s Department of Animal and Poultry Science, is working with Joanne Handley, manager of sustainable production (dairy cattle, swine and poultry) at the Ontario Ministry of Food and Agriculture (OMAF), on the program, which puts students to work on several OMAF and U of G priority agri-food initiatives.

“The students basically hit the ground running,” says Robinson. “They are mentored by Guelph researchers and OMAF Agriculture Development Branch field staff through the whole process, and then we’re able to quickly get a sense of what their strengths are.”

The program is targeted at third- and fourth-year students in the Ontario Agricultural College and runs from May to September. Students go through an application and interview process just as they would for a regular job.

Five students are selected for the program. Over the summer, they head out into the field with their OMAF mentors, help review research results, assist with applied research projects and deliver information to agri-food stakeholders.

The students’ project choices are as varied as the agri-food sector itself. They could be working on anything from pest control in hops and herbs to livestock management.

Funding from the Partnership Agreement with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and the Ministry of Rural Affairs also allows Robinson and Handley to emphasize developing the students’ communication and knowledge-transfer skills. The key role of the students is to share research findings by designing electronic materials such as online newsletters and website content, and making presentations to producer groups and other stakeholders.