One of Nebraska’s fastest growing high-school based agriculture education programs is about as far removed from the farm as you can imagine.
Omaha Bryan High School is in its fifth year of offering its agriculture career academy program, jump-started with a grant from the Howard Buffett Foundation, which provided initial funding for an ag teacher.
Students must apply to be accepted to the program, which is limited to some 60 students each year.
Faculty member Tyler Schindler now leads the Omaha Bryan ag academy. “Over the course of five years, students have identified the ag program as a really good place to be,” he said. “We have more technology than in the past, which is important since agriculture is constantly changing and technology is helping drive that change.”
“Not a lot of metro kids know that one in three jobs in Nebraska is related to agriculture. A lot of them believe that they don’t need ag and that it doesn’t really impact their lives,” Schindler said. “This program is helping open their eyes to the possibilities and opportunities that exist within agriculture and food production, whether you’re interested in science, engineering or business.”
The program also serves as career preparation and awareness for students who may not be exposed to agriculture on a daily basis. “There are a lot of students who want to become a veterinarian, an agronomist or get into another type of career related to food or animals,” Schindler said. “This program is a great place for them to discover more about those careers.”
According to Schindler, having a FFA chapter as part of the ag education program at Omaha Bryan has actually become part of the program’s “cool factor.” “FFA is a national organization that provides opportunities for students to develop leadership skills, attend conferences and visit other schools,” he said. “It gives students the chance to have a unique identity in high school because of the organization they’re in.”
Several Omaha Bryan students have fared very well in state and regional FFA competitions. The Nebraska Corn Board invests in the Nebraska FFA Foundation, which supports FFA chapter activity across the state, including the Omaha Bryan program.
Stephan Becerra, general manager of Hoegemeyer Hybrids in Hooper, Nebraska, was instrumental in providing the impetus for the Omaha Bryan program. “I had seen a similar program in Chicago while I was working for John Deere and I recognized both a void and an opportunity to do something in Nebraska’s urban areas,” Becerra said. “About 42 percent of Nebraska’s high school students are in the Omaha Public Schools, so if we’re going to develop the talent pool for agriculture’s future workforce—and help create advocacy for issues vital to our industry—a program like this is critically important.”