An enthusiastic crowd of more than 150 Maui and Molokai high school students made their way to the University of Hawai'i Maui College (UHMC) campus last month for a morning devoted to exploring careers in agriculture.
The event, billed as the second annual Ag Industry & Natural Resource Awareness Day, featured a variety of sessions, projects, booths and presentations to give students a taste of what a career in agriculture might be like.
Also on hand were agriculture faculty and students, as well as industry specialists from a variety of agricultural occupations who could answer questions and provide insights.
Baldwin High School sophomore Keanu Pasene checks for pests under a microscope at the second annual Ag Industry & Natural Resource Awareness Day, which was held last month at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College.
The event was hosted by the Maui County Farm Bureau in partnership with Maui Economic Development Board's Women in Technology Project and UHMC.
The Farm Bureau's Warren Watanabe welcomed the students and Isla Young of the MEDB gave opening remarks.
Young stressed the many opportunities in 21st century agriculture and pointed out that today's farming is "really a branch of science and technology." She told the group that "over half of Hawai'i's farmer's will retire within the next decade."
Young also described a variety of paid intern opportunities available to Maui County students in agriculture, relaying that interning was a way to conduct a meaningful project under expert guidance. Interning, she said, could be "a way to discover what fields they might like or not like."
Cynthia Nazario, program coordinator for the UHMC New Farmers Institute, gave a brief introduction to the three study areas in the college's agriculture and natural resources curriculum, including sustainable tropical production, landscape, horticulture, and natural resources and conservation management.
None of this was lost on the young people attending, many of whom already had their eye on specific fields of interest. Evin Kamavo'oikaika, a senior at Baldwin High School, hoped to train for a career with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in fish and game management. He said he was already making progress toward that goal by working as a volunteer. His teacher, Leo Tomita, said that about 60 Baldwin students participated in the day's activities.
Dakota Wanke-Leverette and Kellen Mulholland, both freshmen at Lahainaluna, said they were part of a group of 14 students from the West Maui school. Both were interested in continuing in ag and hoped to end up with their own farms.
Sheldon Ramacher, 18, a freshman at UHMC, served as a guide for some of the high school students that morning. Ramacher, a Maui High School graduate, credited his teacher, Ian Lowland, with encouraging him to pursue his interests in aquaponics. Ramacher said he would soon be transferring to UH-Hilo to pursue a degree in aquaculture and then start his own business.
There were plenty of activities to engage the curious. While one group was learning how to use handheld GPS devices, another was practicing spotting insect pests with high-powered microscopes. Depending on their interests, students attended sessions on native plants, aquatic resources, composting, preventing plant extinction and a variety of other topics.
In the breaks between sessions, students gathered under a large outdoor tent to visit 15 booths set up by different businesses and organizations as diverse as Surfing Goat Dairy and the Nature Conservancy.
Ann Emmsley, professor of agriculture at UHMC, summed up the goals of the day: "We see it as an exploration process. It is part a career day, but it's also a way to meet others who share your interests and learn where you might fit in."
The 2013 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Conference will include opportunities in agriculture and a wide variety of other technical and professional fields. The event will be held April 19 and 20, 2013, at the Wailea Marriott Resort.
For more information about this event and how it helps high school students, visit the conference Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HawaiiSTEMConference.