ACROSS THE BOARD .... What is an agricultural systems degree? An agricultural systems degree combines an understanding of the agricultural, biological, and physical sciences with business, managerial, and technical skills. Graduates with this type of degree find careers in the production and processing of agricultural products into food, fiber, feed and fuel, and the distribution of agricultural products and services. Careers in renewable energy, biofuels, and environmental quality are emerging. Students focus on the application of engineering principles, the study of technology used in agriculture, and the integration of business management concepts in the agricultural and food industries. However, the skills taught in agricultural systems courses are applicable in many industries, and a significant number of students find employment in other industries. This degree is ideal for those interested in technical sales or technical management for an agriculture-related business involved in production, processing, or manufacturing. Why do the university programs have so many different names? Prior to the early 1990s, most of the programs were simply called agricultural mechanization. Careers for agricultural systems graduates have expanded far beyond mechanization. Many universities have changed the scope of their programs to focus on emerging technologies as they apply to food, energy, and environmental systems, in addition to traditional agricultural systems. These programs address society’s need to efficiently utilize natural resources and protect the environment. The names reflect the philosophy of the school in responding to these issues. So, although they may have different names, these programs are often quite similar. Program names currently in use are: • Agricultural and Environmental Technology • Agricultural Engineering Technology • Agricultural Operations Management • Agricultural Systems Management • Agricultural Systems Technology • Agricultural Technology Management • Agricultural Technology and Systems Management • Bioresources Engineering Technology • Engineering Technology Program • Mechanized Systems Management • Technical Systems Management Consult the individual universities with questions regarding the direction and focus of their programs. How does a degree in agricultural systems differ from a degree in agricultural engineering? Today, engineers and agricultural systems graduates both work with the same types of buildings and equipment, the same crops and animals, the same sensors and computers, and the global society, yet there is a distinct difference in the work they do. The engineer is trained to analyze and design a process, system, or mechanism, while the agricultural systems graduate is able to identify system problems, formulate possible solutions, analyze the impact of alternatives (including social and economic dimensions), and then implement the best solution. Agricultural systems graduates get a broad and basic background in agriculture and the physical sciences, along with courses in business, economics, and management. When comparing agricultural systems to engineering, you will find that agricultural systems programs are less theoretical and more practical. Emphasis is on hands-on experiences with equipment, and many courses have laboratory sections. What do I need to know to get into the program? An aptitude for science and math, plus an interest in solving problems, is really necessary for this field. You should also have an interest in electronics, computing, and business management. In high school, prepare well in mathematics, physical and biological sciences, English, and agriculture. Take the most advanced high school courses available to you in these areas and, if possible, take courses such as CAD and information systems. You don’t have to be a math wizard to be an agricultural systems student, but mathematics is used a great deal. Do I need a background in agriculture for this major? No. This curriculum has the flexibility to allow students from rural, suburban, and urban backgrounds to develop a program to meet their personal career objectives. Is this a good option for women and minorities? This field is a great option for women and minorities. The number of women and minorities entering the field continues to rise. Are internships available? Yes. This curriculum offers many opportunities for internship work experiences in a variety of companies and organizations. Many experiences are paid internships. For some programs, internships are required for graduation. GET DOWN TO YOUR OPTIONS ... How can I find out what schools offer programs in agricultural systems? The schools currently offering agricultural systems programs are listed on page 27. Be sure to check with the school in which you are interested regarding its particular program. Begin your search in the agricultural and biological engineering departments where these programs are typically administered. How do I select the school that is a good fit for me? The Internet is a great place to begin your search. Many universities provide detailed information about their programs— including course requirements—on their web site. (See page 27 for a list of universities and web sites.) When you have narrowed your choices, visit the top schools on your list. The faculty, staff, and students will be happy to meet with you and show you their facilities. By visiting, you will get a sense of whether their program and setting is right for you. What are the course requirements like in these programs? There is no single curriculum for ag systems. In fact, they can vary somewhat, but the foundations are similar. ASABE has suggested guidelines: math/science 15%, technical ag 15%, management 15%, ag systems management 15%, humanities/ social sciences 10%, and composition/communication 15%. These programs integrate a broad education with expertise in the agricultural sciences, applied technology, and business management. Courses are relevant to all phases of the food, agricultural, natural resources, and environmental industries. Graduates will be able to integrate and apply advanced agricultural technologies and equipment through student experiences in machine and power systems, computer applications, materials handling, food and materials processing, environmental resources management, electrical/electronic systems, and information/ decision support technology. Required coursework balances hands-on knowledge of technology with instruction in agricultural and environmental sciences and agribusiness principles. Supporting courses provide a foundation of mathematical, chemistry, computer, economic, and communication skills. Computers are used to collect and analyze data and then act on that information to control machines and processes, in addition to communication and information retrieval. CAD (computer aided design) programs are used to plan equipment and building layouts. How many hours a day will I need to study? Will I have time for extracurricular activities? How much time you devote to your studies depends upon you and your expectations. Many colleges say that for every hour you spend in class (often 15 hours/week) you should spend approximately two to three hours studying outside of class. Tougher courses may require more time, easier courses less. Much depends on an individual’s ability, attitude, and motivation. That said, students shouldn’t be expected to study at the expense of all outside activities. Employers are looking for well-rounded new hires who can balance study with involvement in student activities. You will be able to build your leadership, communication, and organizational skills by being involved in clubs or sports. Most schools have an agricultural systems club. Be sure to check out the ASABE student branch on campus. (See page 30 for more information about ASABE.) Can I afford the education? Typically, the cost of an agricultural systems education is comparable to most other college programs. These costs will vary depending on the school you choose. Don’t let the cost of higher education prevent you from attending the college of your choice. Most students today need some kind of financial assistance. Numerous types of financial aid are available such as grants and scholarships, loans, work-study programs, and part-time employment. They are available from many sources, including the federal government, state agencies, professional agencies (such as ASABE), and universities. When visiting a school, be sure to stop by the financial aid office to find out what programs the school has to offer. What is the career outlook? What types of companies will I work for? Agricultural systems graduates are in great demand. Many agricultural systems schools have a placement rate approaching 100%. The starting salaries are highly competitive and are among the highest of college agriculture majors. Employers and career opportunities are vast and varied. You could be working for major equipment manufacturers such as Caterpillar or AGCO, seed and grain companies like Monsanto or ADM, government agencies such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service, or the Peace Corps, companies like Frito-Lay, Toro, ConAgra, or emerging companies in the biofuels industry. Agricultural systems students are also hired by smaller businesses, such as cooperatives, cotton gins, regional manufacturers, and construction companies, to name a few. Or you could start your own business! The opportunities are endless! Research and editorial assistance provided by Associate Professor Thomas Brumm, Iowa State University; Professor Joe Harper, University of Illinois; and Professor Stephen W. Searcy, Texas A&M University. Thank you!
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