Building Career-Interest Pipelines for Youth in the Food, Agricultural, Natural Resource, and Health Sciences Professions

Sustaining youth interest in one or more of the food, agricultural, natural resource, and health and nutrition (FANH) professions requires career-interest pipelines that begin in elementary school and continue through secondary and post-secondary education. Educational pipelines are not only for creating pools of career-ready students but also for educating future adults about the source of food and fiber and for instilling life skills in youth. Many organizations in South Carolina offer youth educational programs pertaining to one or more of the FANH professions. Even so, there are still gaps in the FANH-career pipelines where more educational programs are needed. Greater collaboration amongst the groups conducting programs would result in more coordinated programs and more continuous career pipelines through secondary and post-secondary education. Educators, K-12 students, and adults interested in youth education in the FANH sciences will benefit by reading this paper by learning about (a) the different groups and organizations that offer educational programs related to the FANH sciences and (b) the major gaps in the agricultural career interest pipeline (ACIP) in South Carolina and how these gaps can be closed.


Agriculture and related industries accounted for approximately 10% of US employment in 2020.1 Agriculture and forestry combined are the top revenue-generating industry in South Carolina, worth an estimated $46 billion and creating over 200,000 jobs.2 Although agriculture is often viewed as a profession centered on producing commodities such as cotton, corn, and livestock, these estimates go well beyond revenues and jobs generated on the farm. These figures also include income and employment from businesses in areas such as commodity processing, packaging, and final-product distribution and sales.

In addition to crop and livestock production, agriculture is often considered to include revenues and jobs from closely related industries such as forestry, horticulture, and natural resource management, as well as some aspects of human health and nutrition. For educational purposes, these different disciplines are often grouped together under the more general heading of agriculture. As an example, career pathways in secondary schools associated with these FAHN professions are offered as part of the South Carolina Agricultural Education Career Cluster, as will be discussed below.

Student interest in many areas of traditional agriculture is declining as students desire to pursue what they perceive as more progressive and higher-paying professions.3,4 Parents, school counselors, and the public often view agricultural professions as simple, involving few advanced technologies. However, agriculture is technology oriented, with advances in agricultural technologies as great or greater than in many other industries.5 Because of the high cost of equipment and land, few young adults can afford to undertake farming as a career. However, there are many other career opportunities in the food and fiber industries, such as those associated with the manufacturing sector involving the processing and packaging of agricultural products. These career opportunities are also becoming more technology-centered, often requiring post-secondary education or training.6

Several steps are needed to create a pool of career-ready students in agriculture. These steps are important to establishing an ACIP, leading students to eventual employment in agriculture and related professions. For discussion herein, ACIP will include the different FANH professions, with students beginning to specialize in specific FANH sciences generally in the secondary school grades (grades nine through twelve). Thus, the ACIP branches out at this stage and beyond, leading students to different FANH professions.

The first steps of an ACIP introduce students at an early age to the subject matters related to agriculture. Exposing students to these topics in early grades allows students to evaluate their initial interest in these professions. A range of organizations in South Carolina provide youth educational activities associated with the FANH professions. These agencies, community organizations, and private industries introduce FANH professions to youth, generally in the elementary school grades. Interested students can eventually enroll in the South Carolina Agricultural Education Career Cluster offered in secondary schools. These Career Cluster programs provide formal classroom instruction along with opportunities for experiential learning and the building of life skills. The fewest educational programs in the ACIP occur in the middle school grades when, ironically, student career decisions are initially made.7 Additional educational efforts are needed to increase and maintain student interest in FANH careers during the middle school grades.

Ideally, an ACIP should extend from elementary school through secondary and post-secondary education (and beyond) to assist students with their career choices rather than choices based on one-time student evaluations taken in the middle school grades.8 Although different parts of the ACIP are ongoing today, they generally are not coordinated and are conducted independently of one another. There are some points in the ACIP of South Carolina where there are shortcomings or gaps in the pipeline. Greater collaboration amongst educational organizations can close some of these gaps in the ACIP and can result in a greater understanding of what the collaborators offer, their strengths, and their limitations. In addition to collaboration, there often is a lack of communication amongst the different educational groups conducting agricultural education programs. This shortfall may be because those conducting educational programs usually have little incentive to collaborate or share information. Funding and time limitations often limit collaboration as well.

Though challenging to accomplish, a holistic and collaborative approach to career education often results in the best career pipelines. Even so, a career pipeline can still have gaps at specific points in the pipeline where students lose interest. Who, when, where, and how to successfully introduce new curricula or programs into career pipelines to fill these gaps is complicated.

Career Pipeline Partners

The South Carolina 4-H Program

The national 4-H program was initiated in 1914 to provide youth the opportunity to learn by hands-on doing.8 Nationally and within South Carolina, the 4-H organization offers youth ages five to eighteen a range of programs in areas associated with agriculture, science, and personal development.9 The 4-H programs are coordinated in South Carolina by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. These programs are conducted by Clemson University Extension 4-H agents and their volunteers. There is generally one 4-H agent per county located in the county Extension office. South Carolina State University also offers hands-on learning for youth by way of its statewide 1890 Research & Extension 4-H Youth Development Program.10 The South Carolina State 4-H Program conducts youth development activities in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); citizenship; financial management; healthy lifestyles; and volunteerism, as well as offering summer camp activities.

Youth 4-H membership is separated by age group. The educational activities in each age group are delivered using different formats such as in-school and after-school clubs, special projects, camps, and through the 4-H School-Enrichment Program. The Clemson University 4-H Program offers educational activities to youth in the areas of agribusiness, agriculture and animals, civic engagement and leadership, healthy living and lifestyles, natural resources, STEM, and personal development.11 The 4-H organization also offers a statewide gardening program for schools where teachers are provided materials and training for growing different vegetables in the schoolyard. The Clemson University 4-H agent in each county and the 4-H leadership decide which pathway(s) the 4-H agent focuses on. Activities associated with plant science and animals are the most popular based on student participation in 2018, followed by technology and engineering, leadership and personal development, food and nutrition, and environmental and natural resource education.12

No stand-alone courses are offered in public schools by 4-H. Instead, 4-H experiential activities are made available to K-12 teachers to supplement the teachers’ formal classroom curriculum. Most 4-H members in 2018 were in grades kindergarten through five.12 Students in middle school grades six through eight accounted for about a quarter of the membership in that year.12

Of the 102,000 4-H youth members reported in 2018, about two-thirds of the youth membership resulted from student participation in a 4-H experiential activity in the school classroom.12 These activities for teachers to use in the classroom are provided through the 4-H School Enrichment Program. In order for students to qualify for 4-H membership through the School Enrichment Program, they must participate for a minimum of 6 hours in a 4-H-prepared activity. Membership can also be obtained by participating in short-term, special interest programs outside the school classroom, accounting for about 15% of the 2018 membership. The well-recognized 4-H clubs and camps resulted in an additional 11 and 6% of the annual membership in 2018, respectively. Over 3000 volunteers help 4-H agents conduct these programs across the State. With their activities, clubs, and camps, 4-H plays an important role in exposing youth to agriculture and related professions, as well as instilling in them a range of life skills.

The South Carolina Agricultural Education Program

The South Carolina Agricultural Education (SCAE) Career Cluster is one of sixteen career clusters offered in the State’s public secondary schools (grades nine through twelve). The Career Cluster consists of formal classroom curriculums in the areas of agriculture, forestry, and natural resources.13 Across the State, 119 pathway programs involving 163 SCAE teachers and over 13,000 students were conducted in the 2020/2021 school year.14 In contrast to the 4-H program, the SCAE program is primarily oriented toward students in the secondary-school grades, with a growing demand for SCAE programs in the middle school grades.

There are five pathways within the SCAE Career Cluster for teachers to focus their classroom instruction. These pathways include Horticulture, Agricultural Mechanization, Environment and Natural Resources, Plant and Animal Sciences, and Biosystems Engineering and Technologies.13 The first four are centered on general areas of employment associated with agriculture. The biosystems engineering and technology curriculum was recently revised to give students a more broad-based understanding of worldwide agricultural issues, trends, and technologies.

At the school district level, SCAE teachers provide instruction in career pathways that reflect local industrial needs. The teachers work with their secondary-school career center director and Clemson Extension staff to determine which pathways to teach. The SCAE teachers often have an advisory board to guide them in their year-to-year efforts. Although the exact numbers are not available, the Plant and Animal Science and the Horticulture pathways are the most popular pathways that students take.14

Within a SCAE pathway, students take individual courses or undertake the completer program. In the completer program, each student must complete a minimum of four credits of coursework in a selected pathway to graduate in that pathway. Even though issues in the agricultural industry can change significantly over time, it is not an easy process to add a new pathway and associated curriculum. The SCAE courses and their curriculum, or any changes to them, must be approved by the South Carolina Department of Education through a formal review process. The SCAE teachers are expected to follow the official curriculum outlined for each course. Courses must be taught by teachers certified in agricultural education, which presents the problem of too few certified teachers to meet demand in South Carolina and nationally.15

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers educational programs for youth and adults in the areas of 4-H, agricultural education, agribusiness, agronomic crops, EFNEP, food systems and safety, forestry and wildlife, horticulture, livestock and forages, rural health, and water resources. For each Extension program area, except agricultural education, there is a collaborative planning and advisory team consisting of Extension faculty and county agents who work in the team’s focus area. The Agricultural Education Extension Team is different in that Clemson faculty and county agents are not a part of the team. The Clemson Agricultural Education Extension Team consists of the Clemson Extension staff employed to advise the SCAE programs and its teachers, as well as advise the State FFA program. Although the classroom teachers for the SCAE Career Cluster are employed by the South Carolina Department of Education, the SCAE advisory leadership is employed by Clemson University.

In addition to formal classroom curriculum, the SCAE students in the completer program of a pathway are expected to conduct a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) project each year. The SAE gives applied work experience to students to help prepare them for the workforce. Entrepreneurship, internships, service learning, research, and school-based enterprises are the five areas in which students can conduct Immersion SAE projects. The SCAE teacher and student decide the SAE project for the student to conduct each year.16 A SAE project can be completed on or off school grounds. Working on the school grounds eliminates the problems associated with student travel to the site of the SAE project. Most students today are not from a farm background, so it is difficult for many of them to conduct a SAE project off school grounds after school, as was historically done when many students did their SAE project on their family farm.17 About half of the students in the SCAE program conduct a SAE project each year, which is below expectations but similar to the estimated national average for SAE participation.18

The SCAE Career Cluster program is also tied to the state and national FFA organization, which is a club-type organization providing students the opportunity to gain life skills related to leadership, career success, and personal growth.19 Students are required to be in a completer program of the SCAE Career Cluster to be a member of FFA. Unlike the classroom instruction component associated with the South Carolina Department of Education, FFA is independent of the public school system and is coordinated by Clemson University Extension leadership, who also provide teacher guidance for the classroom component of the SCAE Program. Camps, educational competitions, and conferences are vital to the FFA experience. Besides the teaching of life skills, popular FFA activities such as educational camps and contests also entice students to enroll in the SCAE Career Cluster. The FFA program is open to middle and secondary school students in grades seven through twelve enrolled in a completer program associated with formal classroom instruction. About 60% of Agricultural Education students nationally are members of FFA.18

In contrast to the 4-H program, which focuses on younger students, the SCAE Career Cluster has historically been oriented toward secondary-school students. Recently there has been increased interest in middle school SCAE programs. Nineteen middle school SCAE programs were conducted in the State during the 2020/2021 academic school year, increasing in number each year.14 Although the demand is increasing for SCAE middle school programs, there is a problem of insufficient funding to hire the additional SCAE teachers needed, which may limit future growth of middle school programs. In the middle school programs, SCAE students learn about subject matters related to agriculture, forestry, and natural resources as a part of their classroom instruction. Each SCAE middle school grade has its own curriculum. A new curriculum is being prepared by Clemson University for the SCAE middle school program.

The secondary-school SCAE curriculums cover similar subject matters as the educational programs of the Clemson Extension Teams. These similarities open opportunities for collaboration between the two programs. For example, it may be possible for Extension agents to assist with the SAE student programs, perhaps having the county agents serve as co-mentors for the student SAE projects or have students assist with an Extension demonstration as part of their SAE project. Of the sixteen career clusters in the public schools, the SCAE Program is unique in that it has three components for learning:

  1. Experiential learning through a SAE
  2. Experiencing life skills through the FFA
  3. Classroom instruction for increasing agricultural knowledge

There are opportunities for the Clemson University Extension agents to assist with each of these three areas. However, time limitations prevent significant involvement in youth educational programs by many Extension agents.

The SCAE and the 4-H programs can complement one another for student participation. In fact, students can participate in and be members of both programs. The SCAE provides formal classroom instruction to students and the opportunity for in-depth, experiential learning on a subject matter of the student’s interest by way of the student’s SAE project. The 4-H program, on the other hand, provides science and health education teachers with shorter-term activities for the students to conduct in the classroom that supplement the teacher’s existing classroom curriculum. The SAE projects of SCAE students are generally longer than 6 hours in duration and performed on an individual student basis rather than as a class project like for 4-H. By fulfilling the 6-hour requirement, a SCAE student’s SAE project in most areas of agriculture should qualify as a 4-H School Enrichment activity, making the student eligible for 4-H membership. Unlike the SCAE program with the FFA program, the 4-H School Enrichment Program is not directly associated with a 4-H club. Due to differences in how membership is determined between the two programs, membership numbers should not be directly compared to evaluate the amount of student interest in the 4-H versus SCAE programs.

Other Groups Offering Youth Educational Programs in the FANH Sciences

  • The South Carolina Governor’s School for Agriculture, near McCormick, SC, was initiated in 2020 at the previous John de la Howe School for Children.20 The Governor’s School for Agriculture is the third Governor’s School program in the State and is the only residential secondary school (grades ten through twelve) for agriculture in the USA. Students can live either at the facility or attend day classes. In addition to classroom instruction, students participate in experiential learning on the school grounds in one of four pathways: agricultural mechanics and technologies, environment and natural resources, horticulture, and plant and animal systems. Core academic courses are taught using agriculture as the learning tool. The overall goal of these programs is to give students a better understanding of the world around them through an agricultural lens.
  • The Clemson Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) aims to provide practical, hands-on nutrition education to both youth and adults in four core areas: diet quality and physical activity, food resource management, food safety, and food security.21 The program conducts both short- and long-term activities as a free service in the public schools for youth ages three years and up, primarily in collaboration with the school’s health science program. The EFNEP agents are housed in the Clemson Extension offices across the State.
  • The Farm Bureau Ag-in-the-Classroom Program, coordinated by the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation, promotes the importance of the sources of the State’s food and fiber.22 The Ag-in-the-Classroom Program is generally oriented towards younger students. The Program provides teachers with both resource materials and training in traditional agriculture.
  • The Project Learning Tree and Wood Magic Forest Fair for elementary and middle school students are hosted by the South Carolina Forestry Commission.23 The Wood Magic Forest Fair is an educational, 1-day event for fifth graders that mixes fun with learning about forests. Students see wood processing equipment in action while learning about recycling, forest ecology, and natural resources. Project Learning Tree activities use the forest as a “window” into the natural world, helping youth gain an awareness and knowledge of the environment and their role in sustaining it.
  • State agencies such as the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the South Carolina Energy Office offer a range of educational activities in their respective fields of expertise for teachers to use in the classroom. These agencies also provide small grant programs to fund youth-education projects.
  • South Carolina County and State Parks offer the public a variety of short-term programs throughout the year primarily related to outdoor recreation and environmental education.
  • Various private organizations offer in-school and after-school programs, many having an environmental theme or focus. This group would include organizations such as the Boy and the Girl Scouts of America.
  • Various state, county, and local governments offer adult and youth educational programs in rural communities, often centered on rural health and nutrition. These types of programs are typically oriented toward changing clientele diet and lifestyle choices rather than promoting career opportunities.

Post-Secondary School Education in the Agricultural Career Pipeline

Many careers require and recommend some level of post-secondary school education for students interested in employment in those professions. Post-secondary education can include a certificate, a two-year associate degree, a four-year bachelor’s degree, some level of graduate study, or a combination thereof.

Technical colleges in South Carolina that offer a certificate program, an associate degree, or both in one or more academic programs in agriculture or related fields of study include:

  • Piedmont Technical College, a certificate and associate degree program in agriculture and horticulture.
  • Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, an associate degree in agriculture and in food science.
  • Horry–Georgetown Technical College, an associate degree in forestry and wildlife and in golf and sports turf management.
  • Central Carolina Technical College, an associate degree in natural resource management.
  • Spartanburg Community College, an associate degree in horticulture.

For a bachelor’s degree in agriculture or related fields of study, Clemson University offers the greatest number and range of programs in South Carolina. Specific undergraduate majors offered at Clemson University related to agriculture include Agribusiness, Ag Education, Ag Mechanization and Business, Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Environment and Natural Resources, Forest Resource Management, Horticulture, Packaging Sciences, Plant and Environmental Sciences, Pre-veterinary Medicine, Turfgrass, and Wildlife and Fisheries Biology.24

Other Youth Education Opportunities Associated with Clemson University

Research and Education Centers (RECs)

Many of the Clemson University Research and Education Centers (RECs) (including programs conducted on the main campus) historically conducted tours at their facilities to show primarily elementary-school-age children where food and fiber originate from. However, these facilities are generally hosting fewer school tours today due to changes in program focuses at the RECs. Time restraints by Clemson University staff and faculty and by K-12 school staff also limit the number and types of field trips offered at the research and education centers. Financial considerations by schools are limiting field trips to these facilities. It requires significant investment for schools to take a field trip when considering the cost of a bus driver, substitute teachers, and fuel. Generally, if one class goes on a field trip, all the classes in that grade at the school are required to go as well, thus substantially increasing the cost of a field trip. Overall, more resources are needed by both the schools and the research and education centers to adequately prepare for and conduct these student learning experiences. It is also very important that the topics taught on the field trip are the ones the teachers feel are important, not the ones those hosting the field trip feel are important.25 For science-based field trips, subject matters taught on the trips are expected to address the specific subject matters of the science teaching standards established for each grade. Thus, the FANH sciences need to be demonstrated or shown in the context of the specific topics of the science teaching standards.

Research Grants

Many federal grants require a public outreach or educational program that extends beyond university undergraduate and graduate students. These grants also encourage building upon existing agricultural youth programs such as 4-H. A longer-term goal of including K-12 education in grant proposals should be to increase K-12 student interest in FANH careers, resulting in more undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees and entering the workforce in those areas.

Extension Agents

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service has teams that provide adult education in the areas of forestry and wildlife, horticulture, water resources, livestock and forages, food systems and safety, agribusiness, agronomic crops, rural health and nutrition, and agricultural education, which are also important areas of youth education.26 County agents in each county are generally focused on adult education. However, agents could also be collaborators, serving as resource people for youth agricultural education programs. Some Extension agents already participate in both youth and adult programs, contributing to the success of the youth programs.

Colleges and Departments Offering Majors in the FANH Sciences

Colleges and departments need to conduct student recruiting activities and programs throughout the year to maintain or increase student numbers. Student numbers are close to or below 50 students in some undergraduate programs in the FANH sciences at Clemson University (table 1), indicating more student recruiting efforts are needed to increase enrollment. To combat low student numbers in some areas, consolidating programs has been one approach to addressing low enrollment numbers. However, merging majors and departments to keep student numbers above threshold levels has its limitations. Too many mergers can result in broad majors with no central focus. New educational efforts are needed to attract more students to agriculture and to maintain student interest in post-secondary education. This approach may include greater student recruitment efforts in youth organizations such as 4-H and SCAE/FFA. More effort is also needed to educate students that many of the agricultural and related professions are STEM-based.

Table 1. Undergraduate enrollment numbers for majors in the Clemson University College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences in 2021 and 2022.27

Undergraduate Major Students Applied Students Admitted
2021 2022 2021 2022
Agribusiness 123 147 49 59
Ag Mechanization and


53 89 21 14
Agricultural Education 47 52 23 14
Animal and Veterinary Science 888 1182 454 510
Environment and Natural Resources 410 495 242 245
Food Science and Human Nutrition 381 469 256 229
Forest Resource Management 68 78 27 26
Horticulture 27 46 12 20
Packaging Science 83 61 37 26
Plant and Environmental Sciences 28 50 19 29
Turfgrass 24 23 5 6
Wildlife and Fish Biology 115 138 57 53

Community Partners in ACIP

Farmers and their family members also give farm tours to school groups to generate additional income for the farm and to promote the farming profession. Field trips to farms are primarily aimed at younger students to introduce them to topics associated with farming since so few students today come from farm backgrounds. As stated above, the Clemson University research and education centers historically hosted educational tours on crops to school groups. Since the livelihood of farmers often depends on diversified sources of revenue such as school tours, it may be best to let farmers and their families offer farm tours for younger students and have state agencies, like Clemson University, provide more science-oriented programs for students at higher grade levels.

Community and parents. Adults in this group probably play the smallest role in guiding students into agricultural careers, as very few adults nationally are familiar with farming and other careers associated with the rural landscape. Adults need to be better informed about agricultural careers so they will better appreciate the FANH professions as careers for their children. One uncertainty to achieving this goal is how to best reach out to and educate parents and community leaders about a subject matter they know little or have preconceived opinions about.

School Guidance Counselors. These educators guide students into a career cluster and career pipeline in the student’s area of interest. However, many counselors need to understand that the SCAE Career Cluster is for more than just students interested in farming. Counselors also need to realize that many careers in agriculture are STEM oriented and utilize modern technologies.

School Core Science Programs as Partners in ACIP

The South Carolina Department of Education has developed a set of teaching standards in science for teachers to follow to ensure that all teachers teach the same subject matter within a grade in the public school system. The science standards also provide students with opportunities for in-depth exploration of core ideas of the natural and human-built world around them. The teaching standards center on a small number of disciplinary core ideas, so all students learn to some depth what is most important for proficiency in these disciplines.28 Teachers are also provided performance indicators for each science standard which define what students should learn and understand about the core disciplines related to each science standard. Both classroom instruction and project-based learning are encouraged as methods of teaching students about subject matters associated with the science standards.

To complement their classroom instruction, teachers need science projects that integrate as many of the subject matters or disciplines of the science teaching standards as possible. Projects should align with what the students are expected to learn within each of the science standards. Thus, activities or projects related to agriculture need to address the student learning expectations (performance indicators) for the science teaching standards. Many aspects of the FANH sciences align with the performance indicators of the science teaching standards and can be developed into project-based learning activities for the science classes.

The South Carolina science teaching standards developed in 2014 will change in the 2023/2024 school academic year.29 With the changeover, science projects will be needed to address the new science teaching standards for each grade. Such projects are expected to show students cross-cutting concepts like cause and effect, patterns, and change; cover different areas of science such as the physical, life, and earth sciences; and demonstrate the application of engineering and technology in science.30 Science teachers are expected to teach the subject matter using the steps associated with the science and engineering practices, which are similar to the steps of the scientific method used by research scientists. Teachers are also encouraged to take a problem-solving approach for student projects where students examine the world around them and conduct research to explain what they observe or to discover solutions to the problems they identify.31 Problem-solving research projects for students in the FANH sciences can address these expectations. Using agricultural sciences as the teaching tool for the science standards can result in the core science classes becoming a greater part of the ACIP.

In addition to increasing student knowledge, new science projects in the core science classes are expected to promote the development of student life skills in areas such as creativity and innovation, critical thinking, collaboration and teamwork, and communication, which are skills most often sought by employers.32 These are also the life skills taught as a part of the 4-H and SCAE/FFA programs. Project-based learning activities need to be affordable and structured so all students can participate and so the activities can be completed in the time allotted. Project-based learning needs to result in improvements in student academic performance regardless of the student’s demographic background.3,4,33,34 To contribute to the ACIP, the science projects should demonstrate the subject matters as part of real-world settings and introduce potential career opportunities related to the subject matters.35 Thus, a well-planned project in the FANH sciences has many logistical facets to consider but could have a significant impact and be widely implemented across South Carolina if integrated into core science classes. This opportunity to integrate some aspects of the FANH sciences into the core science programs statewide represents an avenue for the ACIP to reach many students in the public school system.


Educational ACIP should extend from elementary school grades through secondary school and post-secondary school education. In South Carolina, 4-H and other organizations conduct good programs that introduce different aspects of FANH careers to younger students. Programs for younger students are generally achieved by way of informal education, such as field trips or by way of short-term activities for the students to conduct in the classroom. In secondary-school grades, students can take classes associated with one of the SCAE Career Cluster pathways. Like the 4-H activities for younger students, the SCAE Program encourages secondary students to conduct SAE projects as a means of experiential learning. The SCAE projects developed for older students are usually longer in duration and more in-depth than 4-H activities. However, the SAE projects could be considered 4-H School Enrichment projects for purposes of 4-H membership.

Compared to the secondary school grades of nine through twelve, there are fewer SCAE middle school programs in South Carolina. Membership in 4-H also declines during the middle school grades. Reduced school travel budgets and the more recent COVID restrictions have limited school field trips and, therefore, student exposure to agriculture and related professions. All these factors combined have contributed to gaps in the ACIP during the middle school grades.

Middle school core science programs need project-based learning activities focused on giving students a better understanding of the world around them. This need for projects represents an opportunity to integrate the FANH sciences into the core science programs as teaching tools for the science standards. Benefits from educational projects are generally greater the longer the projects are conducted within a grade and if the project program continues over several grades.25 Thus, each middle school grade should ideally have its own science project(s) to supplement the classroom science curriculum and be structured so that the project(s) builds upon the learning experiences from the project(s) conducted in the previous grade(s). With proper approval, project-based learning activities based on the FANH sciences could be counted as 4-H School Enrichment Program projects and possibly as class SAE projects for the middle schools having a SCAE program.

In terms of structure, experiential and project-based learning activities can benefit from taking a problem-solving or inquiry-based approach, which are highly effective approaches to student learning.30 The South Carolina Department of Education promotes and supports educators using science and engineering practices as a method of teaching and for student learning, similar to the steps used by scientists to conduct research. Developing new research projects for students to conduct may be beyond the scope of what public-school science teachers can do on their own. Collaboratively, higher education institutions with research and education missions can assist schools in developing problem-solving, research-oriented projects for the core science classes.

Finally, additional means of maintaining student career interests in post-secondary school education are needed for some FANH professions. Perhaps there can be greater student recruitment within the FFA organization for certain college majors. The ACIP needs to be a continuum for students. There is no reason to foster interest and motivation in a FANH career if career education cannot be pursued in later grades or into post-secondary education. Changes in recruiting strategies and possible changes in college admission policies may be needed to allow admission of more students into undergraduate majors where secondary-school student interest is high, but few students are enrolled as undergraduate students.

Many organizations conduct educational programs related to the ACIP in South Carolina. These groups generally work somewhat independently within their area of expertise, with communication sometimes limited. The ACIP would benefit from greater collaboration and coordination among these organizations. Time and financial restraints often limit collaboration, as well as a lack of understanding of what others do and a competitive rather than collaborative mindset. Therefore, short- and long-term incentives may be needed to foster greater collaboration within and among organizations.

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