Students learning about agricultural and environmental science in Tony McCaul's classes at the Careerline Tech Center in Holland never have a shortage of animals or plants to care for and feed.
From bedding plants to rabbits, chickens and even yaks, the variety of growing things in the Tech Center's greenhouses and animal pens open a multitude of learning opportunities for students who want to pursue a career linked to Ottawa County's rich agricultural heritage.
Environmental and Agricultural Sciences instructor Tony McCaul's class attracts more than 40 students from nearly 20 Ottawa area schools with 80 students enrolled for the 2013-14 school year. He says they bring with them a passion for getting their hands dirty and training to become veterinarians, foresters, fisheries managers and farmers.
"This industry isn't just about being a farmer anymore," Tony says. "Students here are interested in animals and agriculture. My class exposes them to the wide variety of professions they could enter into outside of the typical 9-to-5 career choices."
Agricultural and environmental science is high-tech industry contributing more than $91 billion annually to the state's economy. Careers in this industry are in demand and create new opportunities for students at the college level.
"Some students who aren't particularly interested in the traditional academic classes find their passion in this class," Tony says. "They are shown that they can go on to college programs, that there is a place for them post-high school graduation."
Tony also introduces students to FFA, formerly the Future Farmers of America, which helps students develop career, leadership, and life skills. Students participate in FFA state conventions and run their own chapter at the Tech Center. CTC student Katrina Klaes was recently named state winner in the proficiency award of Agriscience Research at the Michigan FFA State Convention.
"I don't think I would have even known a career in animal breeding and reproduction or animal research was possible if it weren't for CTC and my teacher, Mr. McCaul," Katrina said.
"These students come into my program as juniors and seniors and never had that experience of stepping out and being a leader. I think it's a critical part of their personal growth," Tony says. "That leadership component is actually what makes my students thrive."
Katrina sums up the feelings of many students at CTC when she says, "any student who has Mr. McCaul for a teacher is one of the most fortunate people in the world."