Merging State and University for Nebraska's Ag Students

The Educational Pipeline: preparing students for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

Merging State and University for Nebraska's Ag Students

Kreifels' mission to improve and expand agricultural education programs

Interview with Matt Kreifels Alexandria Lundvall

Today, fewer than 2 percent of people in the United States are farmers and ranchers, but more than 300 career opportunities are related to agriculture, representing a spectrum of opportunities for Nebraska’s young people.

Matt Kreifels serves as an associate professor of practice in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and as the career field specialist in agricultural, food and natural resources in the Nebraska Department of Education. As an associate professor of practice, Kreifels’ primary role is to prepare future agricultural education teachers; at the Nebraska Department of Education, Kreifels is the primary contact for schools and current teachers within the high school agricultural education program across Nebraska. 

Undergraduate agricultural education students have the opportunity to know the latest information before they enter the workforce. At the same time, information taught at the university is taken to teachers across the state.

As of the 2017-2018 school year, 184 schools in Nebraska offer agricultural education programs, Kreifels said. “That means there is an agriculture teacher there; they have an FFA chapter; and they’re helping students do what we call ‘supervised agricultural experience programs,’” he explained. Since 2010, 50 schools across Nebraska added an agricultural education program, bringing the total to 70 percent of high schools in the state.

“We want our students to be exposed to Nebraska’s No. 1 industry. We want our students to have a teacher in the school who can help them find a passion within the industry that employs one out of four Nebraskans. That just makes sense,” Kreifels said. 


Agricultural education has two main goals: to help individuals make informed decisions about agriculture, and to help students find their passion and prepare them for careers in agriculture.

Not every student who goes through the agricultural education program wants a career in agriculture, but the program very intentionally offers students the opportunity to become informed consumers, Kreifels said.

Agricultural education adopts and embraces the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) principles across the state, Kreifels said. STEM concepts are integrated into the teacher preparation program at the university, so teachers are able to integrate it into the classroom later. 

Agricultural education began in 1917, with the adoption of the Smith-Hughes Act (formally called the National Vocational Education Act). The Smith-Hughes Act provided federal funds to states to promote vocational education in agriculture, trades and industry. 

When agricultural education started nationwide, a large portion of the United States population was directly involved with farming and ranching, Kreifels said. As the agricultural industry evolves, so does agricultural education, he added. It has broadened to prepare students for various careers within the agricultural industry, not just farming and ranching.


Agriculture is Nebraska’s top industry, Kreifels said. The agricultural economy partially mitigated the state and its residents from the effects of the economic recession of 2007-2009 and helped Nebraskans realize the economic impact of agriculture in Nebraska, he explained. When other states didn’t quickly rebound from the recession, school administrators, parents, community members – and students themselves – realized agriculture is a strong career field.

“The impact that it’s had on school-based agricultural education in Nebraska has been phenomenal,” Kreifels said. “We have been adding programs every year since 2010.”

In 2010, the only Class A school with an agricultural education program was Norfolk. Since then, several more have been added and Kreifels sees the trend continuing. When an agricultural program is added to a large school, it creates a “buzz” about agriculture, he said. Students who are less familiar with the agricultural industry are given new opportunities to be involved in the program and become informed consumers. They may even look at and consider careers in agriculture for themselves.

“Agricultural education helps students think about themselves in a career within agriculture, to develop a passion and follow that passion,” Kreifels said.


“Agriculture today is different than it was 30 years ago, but even five years ago, precision agriculture in that particular aspect alone has changed dramatically,” Kreifels explained.

As the industry evolves, so does the agricultural education. Kreifels’ split role between the Department of Education and the university has streamlined communication between current and future agricultural educators.

“One of the best aspects has been that we’re able to take the new information at the federal level or state level that’s happening at the department of education within agricultural education and integrate it into our pre-service teacher program,” Kreifels explained.

Undergraduate students learn what’s new and innovative, Kreifels said. The undergraduate students are able to master new skills before stepping into the workforce. On the other hand, the Department of Education also is able to take what is happening in teacher education to the people in the state of Nebraska. 

“My goal in this position has been to help people involved in agricultural education feel as if we are truly a family,” Kreifels said.


The University of Nebraska–Lincoln houses the only agricultural teacher education program in the state, Kreifels said. As the number of agricultural education programs in Nebraska increases, so does the demand for agricultural educators. Additionally, many current teachers are approaching retirement. This leads to many opportunities for students interested in becoming agricultural educators.

In the 2015-2016 school year, Nebraska had 45 agricultural education positions open, Kreifels said, and 38 openings in the 2016-2017 school year, he added.