A Cal Poly club, Latinos in Agriculture, gave high school students from economically disadvantaged areas of California a 26-hour tour of the university’s agricultural offerings last week.
Together with the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES), the club hosted the 20th annual 26 Hours of Science and Technology in Agriculture event last Thursday and Friday.
The conference brought together 140 students from 13 California high schools. Latinos in Agriculture adviser and agricultural education and communications department chair Robert Flores said the event occurs because “we want our student population to mirror the population of California’s high schools – it doesn’t.”
He added, “We have a college of agriculture here of about 3,700 students and we haven’t met our target in terms of serving the needs of all of California’s student population. Meaning, the CAFES needs to diversify.”
Participating students spent 26 hours at Cal Poly, and attended workshops and presentations about horticulture, livestock evaluation, agricultural engineering, soil science, embryo manipulation and even a chemistry “magic” show by Phil Bailey, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. Students and faculty conducted the presentations.
“It’s exposing them to just about every department, not all of them, but it’s enough to give them a pretty good taste of what we’re about,” Flores said.
Dairy science professor Rafael Jimenez had a presentation about the various careers available in the dairy science field Thursday and showcased an episode of the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” which was filmed at Cal Poly. The goal of his presentation was to “show them there’s more to agriculture than just kicking dirt,” he said. At one point, he pointed out to the students that dairy products are used in pharmaceuticals, paint and cosmetics. Jimenez said people often “associate agriculture with boring jobs or low-paying jobs – it’s a very hard sell.”
Latinos in Agriculture president and agricultural science senior Salvador Hurtado said the presentations helped the students to understand that agriculture is a profitable job that requires a higher education and a sense of technology.
High school sophomore Joe Jaurigue, 16, said the event changed his mind about college. “I kind of got away from college like nah, I don’t want to go there,” he said, “I came and was like ‘whoa, it’s not too bad.”‘
High school freshman Earl Reed sat at the back table during Jimenez’s presentation and was not enthused.
“When I get older I’ll probably start thinking about that. But right now, I’m not really into thinking about the future,” he said.
Cal Poly alumnus and agriculture teacher at Perris High School in Riverside Maria Barrera, 26, said the presentations had a noticeable effect on her students.
“They weren’t planning on going to college before because they thought it was not affordable with their income and their parent’s income, so once we got here they’re like, ‘I have to force my parents to let me go,’” she said. Barrera added that the program influenced more than just the students in attendance.
“(The students) go back to the school and they share all this information with the other students and they inform them of the possibilities of going to college where before they didn’t think it was possible,” she said.
Another Cal Poly alumnus and agriculture teacher at Gonzales High School Eric Morasca, 25, said that before his high school was invited to come to Cal Poly, one of his students begged to go with him.
Flores said the event has been successful. “We’re bringing students in, but as you well know, change is very, very slow,” he said.