Student Stories: Alum teaches students about diversity of agriculture

October 24, 2010

University Park, Pa. — On weekdays, John Siefert's day begins at 7 a.m. He has to feed the animals, prepare labs and answer e-mails. No, Siefert isn't a farmer, or a researcher. He's a teacher at Conrad Weiser High School in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Although officially Siefert is an "ag" instructor, he teaches biology, biotechnology and food science, as well as agricultural classes. With his agricultural and extension education degree, acquired in 2009 from Penn State, Siefert found a perfect fit at Conrad Weiser.

The high school has a barn, vineyard, professional laboratory, greenhouse and animal science room. "We're very fortunate," said Siefert. "Other schools should have these educational tools. More schools should discuss these topics, whether or not they are called 'ag.'"

Siefert works hard to make his lessons interesting and engaging. "I try to conduct at least one lab exercise each week, with several demonstrations or activities daily. I'm a very hands-on learner, so I try to offer that to my students."

Siefert credits Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences with preparing him for the challenges of being a teacher of agriculture. "Preparing agriculture teachers is very difficult because 'agriculture' means so many things," he said. "Penn State's program does a good job of making teachers aware of the diverse subjects they may have to teach."

Siefert's job keeps him very busy; sometimes he stays hours after school ends. But he feels the extra time is needed to prepare his students for their future careers, and not just for those who want to go into agricultural fields. "Our agriculture department really stresses laboratory skills and personal research in many science fields," he said.

"Students conduct research in microbiology, viticulture, food science, tissue culture and more. When a student leaves the program, they should be able to excel in a laboratory course at college."

  • John Siefert prepares his students to handle the science of agriculture.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010