An MTSU School of Agriculture and MTSU Collegiate FFA annual event bringing 555 high school students to campus has expanded to include multiple university departments — and everyone’s noticing a trend of more young women attending the event with its underlying goal: recruiting future Blue Raiders.
MTSU ag faculty and students, along with several campus partners, recently conducted the fifth Raider Roundup, featuring 20-plus activities for students from East, Middle and West Tennessee during their field trips to the Tennessee Livestock Center and other facilities.
The Sept. 21 event was sponsored by MT Engage, which enhances students’ academic involvement in part with service learning and other extra- and co-curricular activities, and hosted by the MTSU chapter of Collegiate FFA.
Activities included demonstrations of veterinary science, dairy cattle and horse evaluations, land and meats evaluations and floriculture. The latter group had to name 50 plants in 30-second intervals.
“What makes this experience different is that students are placed in smaller groups, and they have an opportunity to interact with MTSU faculty to learn about academic programs and they also get interaction with multiple current MTSU students,” said assistant agriculture professor Chaney Mosley, the event’s coordinator.
Campus partners from MTSU’s Data Science Program, Department of Mathematical Sciences, MTeach and the School of Concrete and Construction Management also led workshops with the ag department, and the Tennessee STEM Education Center’s cat and dog pet nutrition event featured a guest appearance by Eskie, an American Eskimo Dog.
Jenesis Valdivieso, 16, of Murfreesboro, a Blackman High junior, wants to be a veterinarian and operate her own clinic.
“I’m grateful I was allowed to come here and learn about pet nutrition, have a comfortable environment to learn about it, and I get visuals, I get a good representation of what everything is,” she said.
‘Pretty big recruiting tool’
Raider Roundup “has more than doubled in size,” Mosley said. “Anytime you can bring students on campus is an opportunity for recruitment. … I think it’s a pretty big recruiting tool.”
In a bag with other freebies, students received an admissions brochure featuring all things MTSU during the event.
At a fermentation cheese-tasting event, senior Ellie Richter of Eagleville High admitted that “MTSU is my first choice. This is where I’ll probably go.”
Raider Roundup “allows you to understand the school and the agriculture part,” she said.
College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Greg Van Patten pitched his college and MTSU to the visitors, too.
“If this is the pathway you want to take, there’s no better place to do it than right here at MTSU,” he said. “We have a dedicated, student-centered faculty and you’ll meet some of them. They’re knowledgeable, leaders in their field, connected to leading officials in the ag industry and state government, and they are here because they are passionate about helping students succeed.”
Van Patten said Raider Roundup “is a wonderful event for learning, for making connections and to have a great time.”
“There are people who do this for a living, and you can be one of them,” he reminded the teenagers.
“You can do this, you can make a great living at it, and you can have a big, positive impact on the world around you doing it.”
Van Patten also mentioned the School of Agriculture’s more than 900 acres of farm facilities — a dairy farm, plant and soil research area, swine and beef units, and a Horse Science Center — plus fermentation research and industry partnerships.
Growing numbers of young women
Valdivieso and Richter were two of many girls attending this year’s Raider Roundup, and most of the visiting schools have women-led ag programs. MTSU senior Alana Messick, president of the student ag organization, and Collegiate FFA freshman Faith Cook welcomed the high school students.
Mosley estimated that more than 70 percent of MTSU’s ag students are female. Nearly half of the faculty are women, and the School of Agriculture is led by Director Jessica Carter.
“These high school students have excellent role models,” Mosley said, adding that when he was an MTSU student, most of his classmates were males. “It’s interesting to see the shift.”
From a drawing before the guests headed home, four received $500 scholarships. Recipients included William Farris of Franklin County High School in Winchester, Mikayla Ramsey of McGavock High School in Nashville, D.J. Moore of Cannon County High School in Woodbury and Emma Baxter of Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro.
Numerous students also received plaques for winning or placing in contests held with each of the activities.
Participating schools included McEwen, Culleoka, Green Hill, Livingston, Giles County, Lincoln County, Cascade, Mt. Juliet Christian, Lebanon, Sequatchie County, Greenbrier and Jo Byrns. Rutherford County schools also were represented by Eagleville, Rockvale, Blackman, La Vergne, Oakland, Siegel and Stewarts Creek. .
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)