Student ambassadors offer expert guidance on ag, home ec study at Tennessee Tech

The two toughest questions students face in college don't appear on a final exam or term paper assignment. They're what discipline to major in and how to prepare for a career in that field.

Students considering study in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics at Tennessee Technological University now have some excellent guidance to help them with those demanding issues: other students in the program.

Eight of the college's top students have been selected as "AG/HEC Ambassadors." The students will serve as official representatives of the university at campus functions, off-campus presentations and during visits by prospective students and parents. They also will serve as role models to other Tennessee Tech agriculture and home economics students, participate in telephone campaigns and contribute as members of a team that strives to advance the college.

Still, it is in assisting freshmen and high school students that the ambassadors are expected to excel since few are better positioned to give thoughtful advice and perspective on agriculture and home economics study than men and women already in the programs. The fact that the ambassadors are close in age to prospective students and often from the same hometowns or regions enhances their effectiveness in sharing information and fielding questions, said Don Elkins, dean of Agriculture and Home Economics.

"We see this program as an excellent means of recruiting many more high-quality students to our agricultural and home economics programs," Elkins said. "It will also enhance our visibility and image on campus, in the community and ultimately throughout the state. Our ambassadors offer instant credibility with prospective students."

Jamestown's Andrea Lea Clark believes her role as ambassador is an opportunity to enlighten others about the vital role home economics and agriculture play in everyone's life.

"I grew up seeing and hearing all about my family's chicken processing plant and learned first hand how essential agriculture really is. Agriculture paid for the shirt on my back, the food on the table and my education. With this passion and my love for dietetics, I'm eager to talk about our programs of study with high school students, visitors and alumni."

Information Clark intends to share with prospective students includes details about the four concentrations offered by the School of Home Economics, which includes Clark's area of food, nutrition and dietetics, as well as housing and design, merchandising and design, and home economics education.

"Flexibility and versatility describe the home economics program at Tennessee Tech," says the program's interim director, Sue Bailey, professor of home economics. "It's flexible because students may tailor their studies to address the specific area or areas within home economics that they prefer. It's versatile because students are prepared for many diverse employment opportunities. The experiences the students encounter, whether in our newly renovated and equipped laboratories or in off-campus assignments, such as senior internships, combine with activities in the classroom to give our graduates a comparative advantage in the job market."

And that market, Bailey adds, looks very good for graduates in the coming years. "Predictions based on home economics graduation rates and job opportunities for home economists show a shortage of graduates," Bailey said. "We want to attract students to our program and believe the AG/HEC Ambassadors are vital in our recruitment efforts."

As pre-veterinary medicine major Meggan Toohey is quick to point out, excellent opportunities also await students who pursue majors in Tennessee Tech's School of Agriculture.

"I've enjoyed a great deal of personal attention by staff and faculty in the college," Toohey said. "Serving as ambassador is my opportunity to bring other students here to enjoy this same attention. Not only can I tell them about the people in the School of Agriculture, but I can also discuss the extremely diverse concentrations in agriculture that stretch from animals to plants to soil and even to engines. And I can discuss the opportunities in the field."

According to Ben Byler, director of the School of Agriculture, there's much to talk about. Since 1987, enrollment in the school has outpaced the national average, increasing by a whopping 81 percent. Enrollment this fall is up 10 percent over last year.

"There are more opportunities for agriculture graduates now than in many years," Byler said. "The reason for this is the diversity of career paths in agriculture and the diversity of our program in preparing students for solid careers."

Agriculture students at Tennessee Tech choose from eight concentrations, ranging from agribusiness management to agronomy and environmental agriscience. Students also may pursue pre-professional programs in forestry and veterinary medicine. Significant laboratory and field experiences, personal attention from faculty and the resources of the university's W. Clyde Hyder-Tommy Burks Agricultural Pavilion combine to give students the tools and understanding to excel in their careers.

To find out more about agricultural and home economics study at Tennessee Tech or the ambassador program, in particular, write to the College of Agriculture and Home Economics, Tennessee Tech, P.O. Box 5165, Cookeville, TN 38505 or call 615/372-3149.