Most agriculture students did not grow up on farms

Marissa Stubbs, senior in food science and teaching assistant, combines a high-protein flour mix in preparation for food science class. (Alanud Alanazi | The Collegian)

Full of livestock producers, harvesters and agriculturalists, the Kansas State College of Agriculture appears to be the college full of those who grew up on a farm. However, according to the college’s orientation and enrollment records, less than 25 percent of the college’s students come from a farming background.

“I did not know anything about agriculture before joining the College of Agriculture,” Kel Keeling, senior in agribusiness, said. “I came straight from the suburbs of Olathe, and I thought agriculture was just about farming and that’s it.”

Keeling started his college career as an open option major, and he said he knew he wanted to end up in business.

“But then I just wasn’t feeling it after my first two business classes,” Keeling said. “And that’s when I talked to Dr. (Zelia) Wiley, who at the time was the dean of multicultural students in agriculture. She told me all these great things I could do in agriculture, but I was still really hesitant.”

It ended up taking Keeling a year to declare an agriculture major, as he said it took him that full time to believe that a major in agriculture was really for him. Keeling waited until the last day of his sophomore year to declare an agriculture major, and he said he has not looked back since.

“There’s a lot more cowboy boots over here,” Keeling said. “But other than that, it was not a huge culture shock for me.”

Marissa Stubbs, senior in bakery science and management, said she came to the College of Agriculture even with no background in agriculture because of the unique programs it had to offer.

“I grew up with a love for baking, and I wanted to turn that passion into a career,” Stubbs said. “I just did not want to take the pastry school route, and the program at K-State is a great four-year degree option, and I have really enjoyed these years here.”

Not coming from a farming background, Stubbs said she started the program with little confidence about how well she would fit in and if she was going to start her classes already behind those who had been around wheat their whole lives.

“This actually wasn’t the case at all,” Stubbs said. “My classes started at square one. My professors took the time to pretend we had never even heard of wheat and covered all the basics right away.”

Stubbs said the classes first appeared to have been easier for those who grew up in agriculture, and she did have to spend more time than others learning the key elements of wheats and harvest.

“I did play a little bit of catch up, but I have learned so much more than I ever expected to know,” Stubbs said. “Now I can rattle off the classes of wheat just like anyone else.”

Similarly, Max Roby, junior in agribusiness, said that while coming from St. Louis, Missouri, he had not been exposed to some of the more common areas in agriculture.

“I mean I had seen a cow and a field of corn before,” Roby said. “But my knowledge of both was not very strong. I actually remember I was sitting in ASI 102 (Introduction to Animal Sciences), and we were talking about cattle. I remember having to ask Cayden Daily what the difference was between a cow and a bull and a heifer. I was just like, what the heck is the difference?”

Cayden Daily, junior in animal sciences and industry, said this question gave him a whole new outlook on what it means to be in agriculture, and just how diverse this industry is growing to be.

“When (Roby) asked this question, it hit me that not everyone in agriculture knows the general knowledge of agriculture that I once thought was common stuff,” Daily said. “There are so many different fields in agriculture, and people can come in from any background and be just as successful as someone who came from a traditional background.”

Even though Roby grew up in the suburbs really close to downtown, he said there never has been a time where he did not feel welcome in the College of Agriculture.

He said everyone in the college genuinely cares about and looks out for each other. With the very broad field of agriculture, Roby said anyone can find a path for themselves.

“It is crazy how many different routes you can take in agriculture,” Daily said. “I didn’t realize it before, but there is something for all different backgrounds. The diversification is needed in agriculture; we need more ideas, opinions and view points in a field that is working to grow and diversity for the better.”

Hi, I'm Kaitlyn Alanis, former news editor for the Collegian and a May 2017 graduate in agricultural communications and journalism. I have never tried a hamburger and I hate the taste of coffee, but I love writing stories and sharing what I learn with our readers. By writing for the Collegian, I can now not only sing along when the K-State Band plays "The Band is Hot," but I also know that most agriculture students did not grow up on a farm, how to use an AED to save someone's life and why there is a bust of MLK Jr. outside of Ahearn Field House. Thanks for reading!