Educating the next generation of agricultural industry leaders is critical as the nation faces growing concerns for food production and sustainability. University of Maryland Extension’s (UME) Agriculture & Food Systems program takes this seriously, which is why faculty hosted nine student interns this summer through a competitive workforce development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture - National Institute for Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA), as well as funding through UME agent project grants.
The interns came from various institutions and backgrounds to learn about the comprehensive science and multifaceted outreach offered through the cooperative Extension system. Interns work directly with UME faculty to educate the public and provide service to farmers within their own communities throughout the summer internship program, now in its second year.
“It was interesting to see how information flows from the university to Extension and from Extension to the community,” said Dan Gustitis, who recently graduated with an Associates in Sociology from the Community College of Baltimore County, and worked with Neith Little, senior ag agent in Baltimore City, through the 10-week internship program. “It really helped me understand agriculture communications and how my skills can be useful in that community.”
Hands-on field experiences, in conjunction with traditional outreach and educational activities, provided the interns with opportunities to learn about agriculture in Maryland, but also helped build core competencies like critical thinking, teamwork, communications, work ethic, and much more, said Shannon Dill, Talbot County senior ag agent and one of the program leaders for the Creating Leadership and Professional Development through Extension Internships program. “This goes beyond the campus experience, providing leadership and career readiness for students, as well as mentorship skills development for the faculty,” Dill said.
Students participated in data collection and analysis in both crop and animal science, worked with 4-H students and community members during outreach events, and engaged in an on-campus residency, all arranged by the team of project leaders including Dill, Andrea Franchini, Nicole Fiorellino, Alan Leslie, Sarah Potts, Darren Jarboe, and the faculty mentors.
“You’re doing something new every week, which is really exciting,” said Cheyenne Van Echo, a University of Maryland animal science undergraduate and former 4-H member from Rocky Ridge, Md.
While gaining scientific skills and learning how to relate that knowledge to the public, the students were also privy to learning how the agriculture industry works and how many different factors affect the industry and the resulting food supply. “It was interesting to see what goes into agriculture besides just going to a grocery store and picking up a product,” said Byron Thibodeaux, an undergrad in agriculture economics at Southern A&M University in Louisiana.
“Getting to see real life application was a great opportunity,” said Emily Stamper, an environmental studies major at Hagerstown Community College. The students all agreed, citing the multitudes of opportunities they had for networking amongst their peers and mentors, learning field science, and interacting with farmers and the public to develop their career readiness skills.
“This was a very rewarding program for everyone involved,” said Darren Jarboe, Program Director for the UME AgFS team. “I appreciate the work our team has done to provide meaningful experiences for our students.”
To learn more about the full cohort of 2023 interns, their mentors, and the work they accomplished this summer, check out their weekly blogs at https://extensioninternships2023.blogspot.com/.