REDMOND, Ore. — With so many high schoolers gathered in one place at the same time, the Oregon FFA State Convention is a veritable gold mine for college recruiters.
“This is our opportunity to get to meet these kids from all over the state,” said Nick Nelson, agriculture instructor at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Ore. “We figure, of all the spots we can recruit, this is number one.”
A diverse group of colleges and universities from Oregon, Idaho and even northern California were on hand for the 2019 convention, where an estimated 1,700 students from 102 Oregon FFA chapters arrived March 22-25 at the Deschutes Fair & Expo Center in Redmond.
For BMCC, that meant a chance to talk with prospective students about new programs and facilities at the college, including the Precision Irrigated Agriculture Center in Hermiston and Facility for Agricultural Resource Management, or FARM, on campus in Pendleton. Both buildings opened in 2017.
The BMCC Agriculture Department has about 160 students enrolled now, Nelson said, though with the recent building projects he expects the classes will soon be able to expand.
“We could probably double (in size) and be good,” he said.
At the BMCC booth, kids stopped to fill out forms with their names, schools and career aspirations, which the recruiters will use as a springboard to talk about the college and its programs — everything from crops and livestock to agriculture technology and drones.
The recruiters also offered a game, in which students would take a leather tag marked with a number and try to find a matching tag hidden somewhere on the fairgrounds, which they could return for prizes. Nelson said the goal is for kids to explore as much of the convention and meet as many new faces as possible.
Preston Winn, an instructor and head of the Agriculture Department at BMCC, said recruiting at the FFA convention allows them to meet students directly and to network with advisors and high school teachers who might also encourage their students to attend the college.
“This is our audience,” Winn said. “I think we’d be sunk if we weren’t here.”
Matt Ross, a teacher and FFA advisor at Sheridan High School, took each of his eight students around individually to meet with the different college recruiters and decide which programs were best for them. He stopped with Isaac McCarthy, a 16-year-old junior, at the Chemeketa Community College booth to chat about the school’s Electronics, Robotics and Industrial Systems program.
Ross, a former computer numeric controlled, or CNC, machinist himself, began teaching two years ago in order to better prepare future employees for the workplace.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “I am excited to be able to assist them in making a huge life decision.”
Chemeketa also offers studies in horticulture and winemaking, though Charles Sekafetz, the electronics program chair, said mastering robotics and automation is an increasing need within all fields of agriculture.
Food processors and beverage producers especially need workers who are capable of working on and operating the machinery, Sekafetz said. Or, as he put it, electronics are not just limited to microchips. They play just as big a role in cow chips and potato chips.
“Some dairies have cattle with radio-frequency identification tags around their necks. That’s electronics,” he said. “I have a huge passion for integrating our electronics with our agricultural food production and beverage industry to help them out. That’s why we’re here.”