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The Career Academy folks took their agriculture/biosciences courses on the road Monday, regaling Southeast students with the propagation of corkscrew willow plants, the notching of pigs' ears and the benefits of drones on the farm.

This is the second year the Southeast Community College instructors — who teach The Career Academy’s high school students interested in agricultural and biosciences — have come to a high school to give ninth- and 10th-grade biology students a taste of what they could learn in The Career Academy pathway.

Ag/biosciences is the only one of the 17 career pathways offered at The Career Academy for high school juniors and seniors that comes directly to high schools to recruit.

But that area faces challenges others don’t: exposing primarily urban high school students to the agricultural career opportunities out there.

Of the 48 spots available in The Career Academy’s morning and afternoon slots, just 22 are taken.

“The whole purpose of this is to promote agriculture-related careers within the science fields,” said Ruth Loymeyer, the career academy counselor. “Twenty-five percent of all careers in Nebraska are agriculture-related.”

And it’s much more than working on a farm, said Tom Wheeldon, who teaches ag/biosciences courses at SCC and at The Career Academy. It encompasses natural resources and conservation work and water resource management. It can lead to degrees in everything from veterinary science and plant genetics to turf management and landscape design.

Monday, Southeast’s biology students got lessons in horticulture and they planted a portion of a corkcrew willow branch that had taken root, grown leaves and was on its way to becoming a tree.

They learned how to notch the ears of pigs — and why that’s an important part of tracking hogs in the farming business.

They learned about how drones are used in farming to map fields and gather information about soil compaction, soil composition and other data.

Both Jeremy Ondracek and Brett Gerdes, who grew up on farms and are earning certificates in precision agriculture from SCC, talked to LSE students but could see the challenges before them.

“I know what all this stuff is,” Ondracek said. “They barely know what a tractor is.”

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But that was the point Monday, Wheeldon said.

“We need to expose more students to agriculture because of all the careers,” he said, adding that the jobs are plentiful — and can be lucrative.

High school students who choose that pathway earn college credit in chemistry and biology, bio-technology, among other courses.

But unlike many of the career areas offered at The Career Academy, students don’t get much exposure to the classes at their regular high school.

That’s one of the reasons students who sign up for the pathway go to a summer camp of sorts before they start at The Career Academy, which exposes them to the career possibilities. And that’s why the rainy weather Monday didn’t deter the instructors from visiting Southeast.

“We need to break down stereotypes and show them there’s opportunities,” Wheeldon said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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