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Educator says parents need to be guidance counselors

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A Virginia Tech educator is calling for parents — especially those engaged in farming — to be involved in preparing their children for career paths long before they finish high school.
Dr. Susan Sumner, associate dean for academic programs in the univerity’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said in a recent interview that parents need to help their students start making decisions about high school electives as early as sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
She bases her recommendations on her work with students at the college who want to earn a degree in some of the agriculture majors offered at the university and finding that they are not prepared for a four-year college because they have not taken math and science courses.
“What do I think I want to do?” is the question she suggested that a student be encouraged to ask and consider. Sumner said there are many excellent paths open to young people depending upon their answer.
Some students may want to enter the workforce directly from high school while others want to earn an associate degree from a community college, which she called a “fantastic start” on a path to an agricultural degree and can help students financially and emotionally as well.
Another path for young people who really like agriculture is a two-agricultural technician program.
Sumner urges taking the most rigorous courses offered in high school if a student’s goal is being accepted to Tech or other four-year universities.
She reported that students wanting to enter CALS sometimes find they are not prepared for it because they do not have a firm foundation in math and science.
Many have concentrated on ag courses and worked in FFA and 4-H thinking this is the path to an agriculture degree from Virginia Tech.
While these are part of the mix, Sumner said they are not enough without the basic science and math preparation.
Summer is an advocate for taking AP and dual enrollment courses in high school in preparation for a degree from CALS.
“It is much harder to get in Virginia schools if the student has not gotten some AP courses,” she said.
Sumner said students don’t have to take every hard course but do need to have a mix of them in their electives.
One path she suggests is attending a community college to earn these essential credits before transferring to Virginia Tech or another four-year college.
“Be aware of what you need. Our majors have to take chemistry and math,” she said.
“We want you to be successful,” she added, and preparing for college and being accepted tis not an exact science.
However, she pointed out that each school has a benchmark potential students must reach to be accepted into its program.
While college administrators appreciate that potential CALS students have taken ag courses in high school, they want them to have a foundation in the tougher courses, she continued.
They help students learn to deal with the rigor of university studies and learn time management as well, she finds.
She urges students to take some financial courses if they are going into farming so they can understand bookkeeping and business.
The administrator stressed repeatedly how important it is for parents to provide guidance for their students early in their school careers.
She said she tells students that “there is not one path to it, but there is a path for you.”