University of Arizona Sees Growth in Demand, Opportunities for Agriculture Grads

2013-06-07 15:08:02

Agriculture is a critical component in Arizona’s economy. The movement of goods and services related to agriculture and food products feeds millions, is worth billions and makes up a large part of the desert Southwest’s economy.

With growing demand for jobs in agriculture, degrees are at a premium.

At the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), undergraduate enrollment has increased nearly 18 percent since 2008, with students gaining the hands-on, real-world skills required to land a job after graduation.

Also, the college is experiencing growing diversity among students. Nearly 70 percent of CALS students are women and half of all students come from rural communities such as the growing program at UA-Yuma.

Tanya Hodges, academic program coordinator for CALS in Yuma, said virtually all of her students are placed in jobs, many before graduation. On average, her graduates start with salaries of $40,000 or higher.

“All of our degrees are grassroots, meaning they come from industry,” Hodges said. “We survey industry, asking them where they need people to work. We look at the needs of our industry and our community in workforce development.”

Among the degrees offered are sustainable plant systems with a crop production emphasis, agriculture technology management and family studies and human development.

The college prepares many graduates to work in the leafy greens industry. Consider this: Yuma processes 18 million pounds of lettuce each day in the cool months, which is distributed throughout the U.S., Mexico, Canada and Europe.

“It takes somebody that really has that background and training, whether they want to become a pesticide applicator, whether they want to go into food safety or the finance, marketing and sales area,” Hodges said. “It’s a very fast and furious industry.”

She said technology in agriculture is rapidly evolving, and CALS is preparing students for the future.

“The challenge of feeding the world and taking care of the world really is the responsibility of those in agriculture,” Hodges said. “Agriculture continues to set the pace for our entire nation’s standard of living.”

CALS, the oldest college on the UA campus and a founding member of the BIO5 Institute, draws students who are interested in feeding the world’s hungry, curing and preventing disease, improving the ecosystem, finding a solution to dependency on foreign oil and other global challenges.

“We are working to ensure that when our students graduate, they are ready for employment,” said Joy Winzerling, the UA Bart Cardon associate dean for academic programs and career development. “In certain disciplines, including agribusiness economics and management and agricultural technology management and education, we are seeing 100 percent placement in jobs among recent graduates.”

The best and brightest students are needed to address these challenges in the future. To expose teens to careers in agriculture, UA offers AgDiscovery Camp to students ages 12 to 17 from Yuma and around the state. They spend one week in Yuma at Arizona Western College and the second week in Tucson, where they gain experience through hands-on labs, workshops, field trips and other group and team building activities.

At the end, each student needs to do a research project relating what they learned and how it affected their career goals, Hodges said.

Agriculture generates 22 million jobs in the country – most of them off the farm. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicate expected growth in most agriculture-related fields.

“We do cows, we do plows and we do so many other things in agriculture and the life sciences,” Winzerling said of a CALS education.

From sustainable plant systems to water policy, biosystems engineering, nutritional sciences, retail, child development and race track management, CALS offers a diversity of majors.

“We are almost like a mini-university because of the breadth of the majors we have,” said Kyle Sharp, coordinator of career services at CALS.

Said Winzerling, “The disciplines have evolved to match the needs today and address what the needs will be in the future. It’s science at work.”

CALS students participate in global research. Among the areas of study: a NASA partnership investigating the possibility of growing food on Mars; developing non-toxic strategies to protect crops from pests around the globe; reducing global water shortages and stemming the spread of disease.

“We are combining science and technology and applying it to real world problems,” Winzerling said. “Science moves at a rapid pace. At the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, we put that science to work.”

CALS partners with other UA colleges, including engineering, public health, medicine and the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship in the Eller College of Management to prepare graduates for careers and continuing education.

“Many of our graduates are prepared to go on to medical, dental and pharmacy school,” Sharp said.

For more information:

• College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Career and Academic Services —

• UA Yuma —

• AgDiscovery Camp —