Agriculture program director wins innovation award

Peter Floess

Staff Writer

In late January 2017, Parkland Agriculture Program Director and instructor Jennifer Fridgen won the Innovation in Engagement Award for this year.

Fridgen won the award for being a major part of securing a $200,000 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation for her work on the Precision Agricultural Curriculum Enhancement which started at Parkland in the summer of 2016.

“The PACE project will help Parkland meet industry needs by addressing the current precision agriculture education gap through improvements at all levels of pre-graduate education including at the high school level,” says Fridgen. “This project is providing us with the opportunity to update, enhance and expand our Precision Agriculture curriculum. We created the first dual enrollment course for Precision Agriculture for high school seniors through this project.”

Precision agriculture is when technology is utilized for agricultural purposes.

The use of agricultural technology can be “something as simple as using the GPS on an iPhone/iPAD for collecting information in the field to collecting data from the sensors on a combine, in order to make site-specific management agronomic, economic, and/or environmental decisions,” says Fridgen.

An example of precision agriculture is when Frigden had a class plant a field, next to Interstate 57, using technology from the program to spell out the word “Parkland.”

Frigden believes that this process of planting would not have been possible without technological advances.

“Without all of the technology components on our equipment, we would never be able to change rates or turn on/off individual rows to plant so precisely,” Frigden says.

Fridgen says the PACE project at Parkland helps  “modernize our equipment and teaching tools so that our students will learn how to utilize and apply the newest technologies in agriculture.”

One of these newer technology is drones. In agriculture, drones can be used for field and soil analysis, crop spraying, crop monitoring, irrigation, health assessment of crops, and in the near future planting of crops.

As part of PACE program, Parkland is working with many different industry partners to make a curriculum. This committee includes Helena Chemical, United Prairie, GROWMARK, SST Software, and CNH Industrial.

Precision agriculture freshman Ethan Sieg remembers that in the introduction to precision agriculture course, they tested out drones. It was Sieg’s favorite part of the course.

Sieg says the students would see how clearly the drone’s images were “cast back from the sky to the computer.”

Sieg is applying to an internship at Beck’s hybrid and DuPont Pioneer. He hopes to look at moisture in soil samples using precision agriculture technology during his internship.

“It just amazes me how much technology now influences agriculture” says Sieg. For him so far, the precision agriculture program has been a “positive eye-opening experience.” He considers Fridgen “a fantastic teacher.”

“Parkland’s administration is extremely supportive of our program, from the department chair to the Dean of Career and Technical Education to the Vice Presidents as well as the President of the college,” says Fridgen. “Without their complete support, this program would not have the freedom to grow and change to meet student and industry needs.”

Fridgen enjoys her work as well, especially the interactions she gets to have with students.

“My favorite memories and/or times teaching at Parkland are obviously watching the students grow in their knowledge from the first day of class of their first semester to their last day of class in their final semester,” says Fridgen. “I have to say that because I’m an instructor but honestly, my favorite is being able to laugh with the students and playing UNO! with them.”

Fridgen will be honored at an innovation celebration in the Student Union on March 3.