Agricultural Education Continues to Grow in the Yakima Valley with New Programs for Students | Education


Already a thriving field within Yakima Valley school systems, agricultural education continues to grow, with new options for local students expected next year.

Yakima Valley College will add its first bachelor’s degree in its agriculture department for students who want to advance their careers in industry.

The West Valley School District will introduce a new agriculture and robotics pathway for students in its Innovation Center next year. This adds to the valley’s history of agricultural career paths for students in districts like Wapato, Toppenish and Selah.

Agriculture is Yakima County’s main industry, providing more than 30,000 jobs annually, according to the Washington State Department of Employment Security. The industry continues to grow, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with nearly 7,000 new jobs added between 2010 and 2020.

School officials said agriculture offers attractive employment options for students after graduation.

New YVC diploma

Yakima Valley College will introduce a Bachelor of Applied Science in Agricultural Science for the 2022-23 academic year, according to a JVC press release.

The degree will teach students leadership and management skills and will incorporate topics such as pest management, soil health, finance and plant physiology, according to the release.

Classes will include a mix of business and agricultural sciences, said YVC agricultural instructor Holly Ferguson. The program is for students who already have an associate’s degree or have earned 90 credits, according to agriculture instructor Stacey Gringas.

“We have designed the bachelor’s program in such a way that our students from our AAS (Agriculture) degrees will seamlessly enter it after these two years of AAS, but we accept applicants from any other degree obtained”, a- she declared.

Currently, the college offers Associate of Applied Science degrees in the areas of Agribusiness, Grapevine Technology, Vineyard Technology, and Production and Pest Management. But this is the first bachelor’s degree from the Department of Agriculture.

YVC offers Bachelor of Applied Science degrees in a few areas, including business management, dental hygiene, information technology, and teacher education.

Gringas said the college has been developing this credential for years, gathering feedback from community stakeholders. As part of the college’s workforce education division, the department needed to demonstrate a clear need for workers with these skills and a local interest in this pathway.

The core curriculum of the diploma included feedback from agriculture industry leaders. Some of those professionals have expressed concern about an aging workforce and the need for a younger generation of managers, Gringas said.

Trained workers are in such demand in agriculture that sometimes YVC students are hired by employers before they complete their education, Gringas said.

Ferguson said that while students with this degree will be employable anywhere, she hopes they stay in the area.

“We are trying to stimulate the economy and improve the quality of life for our Yakima Valley residents by offering this program so they can get out and get good paying jobs to support their families,” said she declared. “And in turn, they will be an integral part of our community, which is so, so agriculture-based.”

Ferguson projected that the program’s first cohort will be about 25 students. Those interested in the program can apply online until May 31, 2022.

West Valley adds a route

The West Valley School District will offer a new agriculture and robotics stream at its innovation center next year, district officials said.

The Innovation Center is the district’s career and technical education campus that opened this school year. It serves about 92 students in grades seven through ninth, but will open to older grades next year, said Russ Tuman, director of student experience at the school.

The agriculture and robotics pathway will prepare students for work in the modern agricultural industry, he said. Talking to local growers, school officials heard about the increasing automation taking place in the industry, hence the need for a path that combines the two areas.

“We want to have students who can understand the relationship between these two things and can build on that,” Tuman said.

The school works with local companies, including Byron Automation, to provide robotic equipment for students, he said.

The first cohort will include students in grades seven through ninth, up to 32 students in total, Tuman said. Apps opened last week and are due for delivery by April 1, 2022.

Tuman said he’s heard from current students at the Innovation Center interested in moving to the new path.

The school currently offers programs in STEM, Computer Science, and Health Sciences.

Juan Soto, 18, waters the seedlings inside the Wapato High School greenhouse during classes on Friday, March 18, 2022.


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